MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Gift Guide Wrapup

One or more of these DVD/Blu-ray packages should make an appropriate gift for last-minute shoppers.

Shrek: The Musical
For decades, the turning of musicals and plays into movies was about as unusual as a sunny day in Los Angeles. Although far less common today, the occasional “Rent,” “Chicago,” “Dreamgirls” and “A Chorus Line” still manages to squeak through, as if offering a certain segment of Academy voters something to embrace. When Broadway was going through some creative doldrums in the latter part of the last century, though, Hollywood came riding to its rescue, by allowing its dramas and dramedies with Top-40-influenced soundtracks to be adapted for the stage. “Sunset Boulevard,” which opened in London in 1993, became a perfect example of an unlikely marriage of drama and original music. When Disney decided to adapt “Beauty and the Beast” for the stage, a very different sort of hurdle presented itself. In the early 1990s, the ever-expansive company knew that the G-rated blockbuster would stick out in Times Square like Minnie Mouse at Scores gentlemen’s club. Instead, the company waited until it could fumigate “40 deuce” and welcome family audiences to the “new” Broadway.  The 1994 sensation would be followed by “The Lion King,” in 1997; “Mary Poppins,” in 2006; “Aladdin,” in 2011; and, last year, “Newsies,” a live-action movie musical that flopped big in 1992. (Disney wouldn’t invade Las Vegas, even in its family-friendly iteration, until “The Lion King” opened in 2009 at Mandalay Bay.) Ironically, the Disneyfication of Broadway opened the door for other family-friendly enterprises, including, in 2010, a musical version of DreamWork’s mighty “Shrek.” It opened in December, 2008, and closed in January, 2010, before embarking on a national tour and a longer stint at London’s Royal Drury Lane Theatre. It would garner one Tony, out of eight nominations; three Drama Desk Awards; a Laurence Olivier Award; and a Grammy nomination for its soundtrack. It was greeted with some very positive notices, from important critics, and the album climbed to No. 1 on some charts. Mounted at an estimated $24 million – a pittance in Hollywood and Las Vegas, but a fortune on Broadway – “Shrek: The Musical” proved too expensive to sustain its momentum in New York. DreamWork waited until the musical finished its tours of the U.S. and the U.K. before releasing it this year in DVD and Blu-ray.

Now … what can fans of “Shrek: The Movie” expect from the long-awaited “Shrek: The Musical”? Mostly, to be entertained beyond their expectations. Just as adults were surprised by how much they enjoyed the first movie in the series – especially for the many clever references to classic cartoon characters – everyone in the family should find something to their liking here. Who knew, for instance, that Shrek was such a talented singer? Not me. Veteran stage actor Brian d’Arcy James not only has the voice one would expect to hear from such a hefty ogre, but he’s also able take the character in a different direction from Mike Myers’ interpretation of the character, first drawn by children’s book writer and illustrator William Steig. As Princess Fiona, the multitalented Sutton Foster is every bit as fun to watch. Both leads were honored by the Outer Critics Circle with best-acting awards. (Sutton also starred in adaptations of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Young Frankenstein.”) Among the other credits are lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire; music by Jeanine Tesori; Daniel Breaker as Shrek’s donkey sidekick; and Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad. Tim Hatley’s set and costume design captured prestigious awards, as well. Among the bonus features are “Shrek the Musical Songbook With Sing-Alongs” divided into a jukebox assemblage of songs and a version for karaoke nuts; and “From Swamp to Stage: The Making of ‘Shrek the Musical’,” which features Cameron Diaz as host.

Big: 25th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Like “Shrek,” the age-change comedy “Big” was given a go on Broadway, if only for a much shorter tenure … no surprise there. Tom Hanks’ presence may not have been the only reason “Big” scored so highly with audiences and critics upon release, but, after watching it for the first time in 25 years, it’s impossible to imagine the movie – or musical, for that matter – without him in it. Already 32 when the movie was released, in 1988, Hanks was required to play a precocious 12-year-old trapped in the body of a 25-year-old dweeb. Along the way, Sean allows his pubescent cherry to be broken by a sexually experienced senior executive at the toy store in which they both work. Imagine if the roles were reversed and Elizabeth Perkins was playing a 12-year-old girl in MILF clothing. In both of their accomplished hands, the scene isn’t nearly as off-putting as it sounds on the page … but, just barely. Even without it, though, “Big” would be memorable. As the story goes, young Josh is a pipsqueak not tall enough to get on the coolest rides at a carnival. He’s as impatient for his growth spurt to arrive as he is anxious to cop his first feel at the local passion pit. After being turned away from the ride, while in the company of his school’s shiksa goddess – he turns to a robotic soothsayer for guidance. Overnight, he learns the meaning of the admonition, “Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true.” Newly 25, Josh and his closest pre-teen buddy go on a spending spree, buying everything they’ve ever wanted to possess. After impressing a store executive (Robert Loggia) with his ability to predict what toys kids will force their parents to buy for them, Josh is hired as a consultant. If he acts like a kid in a toy store, well, that’s what he is.

After realizing his greatest fantasy, Josh begins to wonder if he might not be happier as a 12-year-old, again. Among other things, he misses his mom (Mercedes Ruehl) and playmates. His best friend locates the soothsaying machine and demands that Josh come to his senses. Like any adult cad, Josh is careful not to hurt Perkins’ feelings too much when he kicks her to the curb. That’s how “Big” looks from a distance of 25 years, anyway. Teens and young adults will find the movie to be as charming as most viewers did when it was first released.  Neither has the giant floor-piano sequence lost any of its charm. Hitting a grand-slam home-run in only her second feature proved to be something of a mixed blessing for Penny Marshall. It put her on the A-list, but raised unrealistically high expectations of a stellar directorial future. “A League of Her Own” was her only other really big hit, commercially and otherwise. After “The Preacher’s Wife,” however, Marshall’s career started to go in reverse. Then and now, women in Hollywood’s power positions have too score big every time out, not every now and then. “Big” is the real deal, however. The Blu-ray/DVD anniversary package arrives with a sound chip embedded in its slipcover; “Zoltar” fortune-teller cards; a significantly longer extended cut; commentary and interviews with writers/co-producers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg; deleted scenes, including five with Marshall’s intros; the featurettes “Chemistry of a Classic,” “The Work of Play,” “Hollywood Backstories: ‘Big’’; four trailers and TV spots; and the original theatrical cut. (Some are from an earlier Blu-ray edition.) Whatever happened to Tom Hanks?

Omnibus: Gene Kelly: Dancing: A Man’s Game
“Omnibus” was one of the most enlightening, prestigious and fondly remembered series in the history of television. In a very real sense, the 1950s’ variety show was “The Ed Sullivan Show” for intellectuals and people who spell “culture” with a capital-C. The only thing like it today is “CBS News: Sunday Morning,” which is buried so deep on the television grid even Tivo can’t always find it. It was produced by the Ford Foundation, which actually believed such shows could “raise the level of American taste” with educational entertainment. As quixotic as that might sound in 2013, “Omnibus” lasted eight seasons – 164 episodes – on all three of the broadcast networks consecutively. “Gene Kelly: Dancing: A Man’s Game” is an example of the kind of show that wouldn’t last 10 minutes on the Big Three networks today, let alone an hour. Basically, host Alistair Cooke handed the entire episode to the hoofer extraordinaire and said, do something interesting with it … and he did. The first thing one notices as Kelly moves onto the main stage of the studio are men in sporting outfits of all stripes mimicking what athletes in the same uniforms might do for a living. At second glance, however, it becomes obvious that these aren’t actors impersonating athletes, but a veritable Hall of Fame of athletic talent. Among Kelly’s guests are Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, Bob Cousy, Sugar Ray Robinson, Dick Button and dancers Edward Villella and Patrick Adiarte. In his introductions, Kelly demonstrates how their layups, pitches, punches, twirls and passes mimic common dance movements. As the show’s title suggests, this isn’t an empty exercise. Without spelling it out letter by letter, Kelly is making the point that modern dance, show choreography and ballet aren’t disciplines reserved for women or “sissies,” any more than professional sports are the exclusive domain of rock-headed jocks. Even inadvertently, athletes employ the same muscles, movements and timing in their jobs as dancers do on stage. The difference can be appreciated in how dancers extend the same motions for the purpose of artistic expression, not to knock out an opponent or hit a home run. Sometimes, it appears as if Kelly is creating dances on the spot, combining individual movements to create a unified whole. He also dances alongside Button, one on wood flooring and the other on ice. Kelly’s message isn’t lost on anyone who’s witnessed the homophobia that emerges when a son or friend announces that he wants to join the ballet or work his way up from a chorus line, or, for that matter, the feigned shock that accompanies news that a professional player has exited the closet. (Magic Johnson made it abundantly clear, up front, that he tested positive for HIV, after heterosexual congress.) Kelly, of course, was famous for adding the common man’s touch to movie choreography. Fred Astaire did the same thing, but more frequently in a tuxedo. In any case, it’s a wonderful show, as relevant today as at any time in the last 50 years. If more kids were exposed to shows like this in high school, tolerance would be something that doesn’t need to be taught or legislated. The DVD arrives with a collectible booklet, with analysis by biographer and film historian Patricia Ward Kelly.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: Blu-ray
Last year, Paramount released the boxed-set “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” in time for holiday gifting. The collection marked the Blu-ray debut of the first three pictures: “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” (At the time, only “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was available on the format.) Now, the Blu-ray titles are ready to go individually. I can’t imagine many people who don’t own the series in one format or another, but there’s almost no argument about “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – the one in which Our Hero escapes the giant rolling rock — being the best of the lot and, in high-def, it only gets better.  Moreover, smart shoppers can find a decent price, whether they’re standing at the checkout line of a supermarket or on the Internet. All three of the blockbusters have been impeccably restored, visually and aurally. The new features on “Raiders” include the half-hour-long featurettes, “From Jungle to Desert” and “From Adventure to Legend,” as well as five making-of pieces and a dozen backgrounders, covering the entirety of the series.

Masterpiece: Downton Abbey: Deluxe Limited Edition: Blu-ray
On January 5, the fourth season of “Downton Abbey” arrives on most stations in the PBS universe (times and dates vary wildly in some markets). But, of course, you knew that already. For those people on your list who have given up ever catching up with the elegant British soap, there’s “Masterpiece: Downton Abbey: Deluxe Limited Edition.” The holiday break provides plenty of time for binging. For veteran fans, the Amazon-only boxed set adds a fresh collection of deleted scenes from the first three seasons, new cast interviews and 11 minutes of clips and interviews from Season Four. The non-exclusive sets contain “Making of ‘Downton Abbey’: A House in History,” “Great British Heritage Pass, a promotional spot for British tourism,” the “Downton Abbey Christmas Special,” “Fashion and Uniforms,” “Romance in a Time of War,” “House to Hospital,” “A Journey to the Highlands,” “‘Downton Abbey’ Behind the Drama,” “Shirley MacLaine at Downton,” “The Men of Downton,” “Downton in 1920” and subtitles in English. I don’t think I’m the only person out there who knows macho men who are in love with the mini-series so, ladies, surprise the only nearest to you.

Impractical Jokers: Season One
I was surprised to learn that Allen Funt, the creator and host of “Candid Camera,” introduced the concept on ABC Radio in 1946 as “Candid Microphone” and extended it to film with “Candid Microphone,” before its television launch on August 10, 1948. Funt dominated the comedy sub-genre for decades, until the concept became so generic as to invite inventing new interpretations of the gag. In the 1970s, Funt took the show into R-rated territory with “What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?” and “Candid Candid Camera.” I think it can be argued the “Jackass” is the most radical extension of “Candid Camera,” but why bother? Those guys would tempt death on video tape, even if they weren’t getting paid for it. TruTV’s “Impractical Jokers” borrows from a “Late Show With David Letterman” staple by conducting crazy man-on-the-street interviews in which a non-professional (Larry “Bud” Melman, in Letterman’s case) is fed rude, crude and sometimes obscene questions from other cast members, with a hidden camera recording the responses. Watching the interviewer grimace as he repeats the question delivered to his earpiece is often more funny than the answers. Framed as a contest, the cast member who able to keep a straight face the longest is the winner. The cast is comprised of veterans of the improve troupe, The Tenderloins. “Impractical Jokers: The Complete First Season” is comprised of 17 episodes, plus bonus features. It has been renewed for a third season of 15 episodes and adapted by stations in the U.K., Holland, Belgium, Brazil and Lebanon. The only problem I have with the show is that the cast members feeding the gags to the guy with the microphone frequently crack themselves up to the point where you can’t hear the targets’ answers.

When all else fails …
… may I suggest giving the gift that keeps on giving and is always appreciated by movie buffs. Nothing could be more welcome than a subscription or gift certificate to Netflix, Amazon Instant, Facets, Movies Unlimited, Blockbuster or Hulu Plus, which allows access to the entire Criterion library. Netflix’s original programming – “Lilyhammer,” “House of Cards,” “Orange Is the New Black” – is especially impressive. – Gary Dretzka

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


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

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

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

Quote Unquotesee all »

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