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Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup Gift Guide II

Breaking Bad: The Final Season: Blu-ray
The final season of “Breaking Bad” was greeted with almost impossibly expectations by critics, longtime fans and newcomers hoping to jump on the bandwagon before it left town. Considering how far the AMC phenomenon had already pushed the envelope on content deemed appropriate for basic-cable subscribers, it wasn’t likely the show’s five-season run would leave its audience hanging, as was the case with “The Sopranos.” Indeed, twice as many viewers followed the final episodes as those in the fourth stanza. For those recording the show for future binging, each week presented a new test of their ability to ignore water-cooler conversations, talk shows and Internet chatter. This was especially true as “Breaking Bad” grew increasingly dark and meth-kingpin Walter White’s debt to the devil was nearing its due date. The newest Blu-ray compilation contains the show’s final eight episodes – what constitutes a season in TV-to-DVD packages remains a mystery to me – as well as a generous supply of bonus features. They include a funny “Alternate Ending,” as well as a rare “making of the alternate ending”; extended and deleted scenes; several making-of and background featurettes; scene breakdowns; table reads; “evidence” and “confession” tapes; a gag reel; and commentaries with creator Vince Gilligan, actors Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Laura Fraser, R.J. Mitte; writers Peter Gould, Gennifer Hutchison, Moira Walley-Beckett and Peter Gould, and various other tech supervisors and producers. All that’s missing is a bindle full of “Heisenberg.”

Lilyhammer: Season One: Blu-Ray
Fish-out-of-water stories don’t get much crazier than Netflix’s first original mini-series “Lilyhammer.” After the beloved pet dog of a New York crime underboss is killed in an assassination attempt, Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano (Steven Van Zandt) takes his revenge by agreeing to testify against his chief rival. His choice for a new home under the witness-protection program is Lillehammer, Norway, which Tagliano remembers as being a nice setting for the 1994 Winter Olympics. In his mind, Lillehammer would be one of the last places anyone from back home would think to look for him. Once there, Tagliano makes friends and allies by fixing their problems and generally being a pleasant guy. One thing leads to another and, before long, the newly rechristened Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen has carved out an organized-crime infrastructure in the placid Nordic community. Although he doesn’t set out to do any such thing, it’s tough to turn down the keys to the city when they’re handed to you. The show’s primary conceit is making Tagliano/Henriksen a dead ringer for Tony Soprano’s cold-blooded consigliore, Silvio Dante, right down to the bouffant hairdo and alligator shoes. It takes him a while to adjust to the Lillehammer winter, which normally would require him to put on boots before tromping through the snow or trade his overcoat for a parka. Like Dante, Tagliano/Henriksen’s face appears to be frozen in a permanent scowl. Once he finds a girlfriend and turns a local watering hole into a PG-13 version of the Bada Bing!, however, he begins to feel right at home. What he doesn’t anticipate is the investigation set in motion by local cop and Elvis impersonator, Geir, who, while inept, stumbles onto just enough clues about Tagliano/Henriksen’s identity to be dangerous. “Lilyhammer,” which confuses the city’s name with that of the character’s late dog, Lily, is a truly inventive and entertaining series. It’ second season begins in December.

Bruce Weber: The Film Collection: 1987-2008
Known primarily for his sexually charged fashion photography and advertising campaigns, Bruce Weber also has made several cutting-edge documentaries. The titles included in “Bruce Weber: The Film Collection: 1987-2008” are “Broken Noses,” “Chop Suey,” “A Letter to True” and Oscar-nominated “Let’s Get Lost,” a profile of musician/junkie Chet Baker. The documentaries are distinguished by a fascinating mix of melancholy jazz vocals and instrumentals, color-modulated footage and photographs, and revealing interviews with artists who live outside the mainstream. Made in the emotional maelstrom of a post-9/11 world, “A Letter to True” is framed by a letter written as if to a son or daughter, but, instead, to the youngest of his prized pet Labradors. “Broken Noses” is about former Olympic contender and prizefighter Andy Minsker, whose mission it’s become to use boxing as a tool to keep boys in his Oregon home town on the straight-and-narrow path. The juxtaposition of cool jazz and boxers, some of whom bear a striking resemblance to Baker or James Dean, is as tantalizing as it is unexpected. “Chop Suey” interweaves mini-profiles of Frances Faye, Diana Vreeland, Jan-Michael Vincent, Robert Mitchum (singing!) and wrestler-turned-model Peter Johnson (think a young Matt Dillon). The films are as “beat” as anything by Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsburg. “Let’s Gets Lost” is also available individually, from Docurama.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: Unrated Rich Mahogany Edition: Blu-ray
In anticipation of the December 18 launch of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” Paramount has sent out “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: Unrated Rich Mahogany Edition.” It includes the 94-minute theatrical cut, a 97-minute extended cut and the feature-length “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy,” which is comprised entirely of deleted, alternate and leftover material. It’s described as “the chaff from the wheat, the skim from the milk, the pudding from the all-you-can-eat lobster buffet.” Anyone who’s seen more than one Will Ferrell comedy, or watched more than five minutes of a local newscast, pretty much knew what to expect going into “The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” For most of the second half of the 20th Century, television news outlets were bastions of male chauvinism, inconsequential journalism and plastic hairdos. The hiring of a pretty blond reporter, played to perfection by Christina Applegate, brings out the worst in the good-ol’-boys at San Diego’s dominant Channel 4 News. Before demonstrating her superior news-reading skills, none of them could imagine a woman in anchor seat. They think she’s there simply for their horny hijinks. Inexplicably, Veronica Corningstone falls for Burgundy after hearing him play “jazz flute” at a local Mexican restaurant. As it turns out, they have more in common with each other than anyone else in the newsroom. They fall in love, but only until her ambitions clash with his, and it sends Burgundy into a tailspin. If “Anchorman” hasn’t aged well, it’s only because a decade’s worth of look-alike satires — featuring such crowd-pleasers as Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carrell, John C. Reilly, Ben Stiller and Jack Black – have diluted the stream of dumb-and-dumber comedies. It will be interesting to see if “Anchorman 2” suffers sophomore slump, as have so many other anxiously anticipated sequels and prequels. Besides a coupon for a free movie ticket, the bonus package adds “anti-commentary” tracks, 36 deleted and extended scenes, a blooper reel, “Afternoon Delight” music video, Burgundy’s “ESPN Sports Center” audition tape, five PSA’s, cast auditions, read-throughs and trading cards.

Rutles: The Rutles Anthology: Blu-Ray
Six years before “This Is Spinal Tap” skewered the conventions of the heavy-metal scene, but a full decade after Frank Zappa’s “We’re Only in It for the Money” lampooned Beatlemania, Eric Idle decided the time was right for another such parody of rock ’n’ roll. Monty Python was between projects and Idle must have sensed a vacuum for the troupe’s special blend of satire and sketch comedy. The Beatles themselves had, years before, gone their separate ways and the void the Liverpudlians left behind was even greater. As would become typical of such mockumentaries, the idea for a stand-alone spoof was grown from a small seed. The Rutles originally began as a sketch on Idle’s UK show, “Rutland Weekend Television,” showing the band playing a slower version of “I Must Be in Love” in their movie “A Hard Day’s Rut.” In it, Idle played guitarist Dirk McQuickly to Neil Innes’ Ron Nasty. After the bit was shown on “Saturday Night Life,” Lorne Michaels decided it might make a good made-for-TV, with members of the original “SNL” cast sprinkled into the ensemble. And, thus, “The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash” was born. Twenty-three years later, “The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch” revisited Rutlemania, but, this time, through more jaundiced eyes. Among the celebrities interviewed for the sequel were David Bowie, Billy Connolly, Carrie Fisher, Jewel, Steve Martin, Mick Nichols, Conan O’Brien, Salman Rushdie, Tom Hanks, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Garry Shandling and Robin Williams. (Cameos in the original were supplied by, among others, Bowie, Mick Jagger, Michael Palin, George Harrison, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray and Ron Wood.  “The Rutles Anthology” is comprised of both features, the original “Rutland Weekend” sketch and a new interview with Idle. The music isn’t bad, either.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition 
If it’s true that “no one in Hollywood sets out to make a bad movie,” explain how “Mystery Science Theater 3000” lasted as long as it did, without running out of material to ridicule. It’s entirely possible that “Moon Zero Two,” “The Day the Earth Froze,” “The Leech Woman,” “Gorgo,” “Mitchell” and “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die!” would have been allowed to live out their natural lives in Saturday matinees and drive-ins, then be resurrected on the same late-night TV shows that  inspired SCTV’s “Monster Chiller Horror Theater.” Almost no one, especially the stars who had scratched the titles off of their resumes, would be sad to see them go. With the introduction cable television and VHS cassettes, such cheeseball movies were repurposed to fill the need for inexpensive titles available for further exploitation. The cost to show them – if rights could be determined with any exactitude – ran from cheap to non-existent. In 1988, Joel Hodgson and a few other Minneapolis movie geeks came up with a bright new way to replicate the urban moviegoing experience by adding a running commentary track, supplied by robot puppets and doomed astronaut Joel Robinson. Instead of merely being lost in space, the unfortunate dweebs were force-fed some of the worst sci-fi and horror flicks ever made. It wasn’t long before Twin Cities viewers discovered for themselves how funny the crew’s crude comments could be and would try to top them with jabs of their own. “MST3K” would go national on Comedy Channel/Comedy Central and, later, the Sci-Fi Channel. By the end of its 11-year run, “MST3K” logged 197 episodes and a feature-length movie. The series won a Peabody Award in 1993 and was nominated for two Emmys. DVD technology would extend the show’s expiration date another 14 years. The movies in the “25th Anniversary Edition” coincide roughly with the transfer of power from Hodgson to Mike Nelson, as well as a noticeable improvement in production values. The package also includes the three-part documentary “Return to Eden Prairie: 25 Years of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000”; “Ninth Wonder of the World: The Making Of Gorgo”; “Last Flight of Joel Robinson”; “Life After MST3K: Mary Jo Pehl”; “MST Hour” wraps; the opinions of Leonard Maltin; an interview with Marilyn Neilson; original trailers; and four exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance. It’s available in a limited-edition collector’s tin, as well.

Argo: Declassified Extended Edition: Blu-ray
With all of the attention being paid the newly announced deal on nuclear weapons between Iran and United States, the arrival of “Argo: Declassified Extended Edition” could hardly have been better timed. The first Blu-ray release of the 2013 Best Picture winner contained only glorified EPK’s as bonus featurettes. Fans who waited patiently for an “extended cut” edition have been rewarded with a package worthy of the film’s prestige. The Blu-ray “Declassified” edition includes the 120-minute theatrical version and a 130-minute extended cut supervised by director/star Ben Affleck. I can’t tell precisely what was added, but the extra 10 minutes neither help nor hinder any enjoyment of “Argo.” The set’s second disc adds insightful interviews with then-President Jimmy Carter, CIA agent Tony Mendez, former Director of the CIA George Tenet, the filmmakers and other key figures; “Ben Affleck’s Balancing Act,” in which the actor/director faced the challenges of balancing competing elements in the film; “A Discussion With the Cast,” with Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Clea Duvall and others; “Tony Mendez on Tony Mendez,” in which the career spy provides an overview of his career; “The Istanbul Journey,” about the Istanbul location shoot; “Argo F*** Yourself,” a clever look at the film’s catch phrase; “Picture- in-Picture: Eyewitness Account,” from the first Blu-ray release, with commentary by Carter, Mendez, hostages Mark and Cora Lijek, Bob Anders, Kathy Stafford, Lee Schatz and USMC hostage Al Golacinski; commentary with Affleck and writer Chris Terrio; “Rescued from Tehran: We Were There”; “Absolute Authenticity,” a short production featurette; “The CIA and Hollywood Connection”; and “Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option,” a 2005 television documentary commemorates the 25th anniversary of the “Canadian Caper.”

The Jack Ryan Collection: Blu-ray
It’s been 11 years since we last saw Jack Ryan on film. With another entry in the series expected in a couple of months, Paramount picked an opportune time to release the long-awaited Blu-ray set, “The Jack Ryan Collection.” It arrives, as well, with the news of author Tom Clancy’s death fresh in our memories. Alec Baldwin played CIA analyst Ryan in the tense 1990 Cold War thriller, “Red October,” opposite Sean Connery’s Soviet submarine commander. Harrison Ford took over the role in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger.” In the former, as punishment for interfering in an assassination attempt on Britain’s royal family, Ryan’s own family is targeted by IRA killers. In the latter,     Ryan is drawn into an illegal war fought by the U.S. government against a Colombian drug cartel. In “The Sum of All Fears,” Ben Affleck must save the world from a nuclear holocaust after a dirty bomb, allegedly planted by Russian terrorists, goes off in Baltimore. In the upcoming “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” which isn’t based on a Clancy novel, Chris Pine takes Ryan back to an earlier time in his career. I think it’s safe to say that “Hunt for the Red October” would qualify for the best and most popular entry in the series and it looks and sounds fine here. The bonus features have been culled from previous releases of the film.

The Gene Autry Show: Complete TV Series: Collector’s Edition
Although fans of Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger might disagree, the only cowboys who mattered in the early years of broadcast television were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. If nothing else, the fact that they could sing and ride a horse simultaneously set them apart from dozens of other pretenders to the throne, including “Singin’ Sandy Saunders” (a.k.a., John Wayne). Autry’s diverse skills would earn him five stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, one each for radio, recordings, motion pictures, television and live performance. He made a name for himself initially by replacing Wayne as Republic Studio’s singing cowboy. After starring in dozens of B-movies, he made an easy transition into television in “The Gene Autry Show.” Unlike most other cowboys in the early 1950s, Autry and Rogers were allowed to keep their own names and exist in the mid-20th Century. They had comic sidekicks and horses that became as popular as any other character in television. Sponsored by Wrigley’s Doublemint Chewing Gum, the series followed Autry as traveled through the Southwest fighting crime and maintaining law and order. Shout!Factory’s “The Gene Autry Show: Complete TV Series: Collector’s Edition” is comprised of 14 DVDs and a bonus disc, with material created by the star’sFlying A Pictures, which produced five popular half-hour Westerns: “The Gene Autry Show,” “The Range Rider,” “Annie Oakley,” “Buffalo Bill Jr.” and “The Adventures of Champion.”

ZatchBell! Megaset: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2
It’s almost impossible to synopsize a Japanese anime series in less than a couple of thousand words. They’re so complicated, only teens and pre-teens are able to keep all of the characters and subplots straight. “Zatch Bell!” is based on a shōnen manga series written and illustrated by Makoto Raiku. The primary conceit involves a competition that takes place on Earth once every 1,000 years between mamados (demons) for dominance in their kingdom. In order for the many mamodos to use their powerful spell books, they need a human partner. Kiyo is a brilliant but aloof 14-year-old. Kiyo’s father, an archeologist, finds a mamodo child named Zatch unconscious in a forest. He sends the goodhearted Zatch to be his son’s mentor. It is then up to Kiyo and Zatch to translate the book together. The unsuspecting Zatch and Kiyo must defend themselves against the ambush of mamodo-king wannabees. The English adaptation of the “Zatch Bell!” anime premiered on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block on March 5, 2005, running 77 episodes.


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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