MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

Blue Jasmine: Blu-ray
Although Meryl Streep shows few signs of slowing down, her rival for top gun in this year’s Best Actress category, Cate Blanchett, has been made the prohibitive favorite in the contest. For her brilliant work in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” she’s already been rewarded every prize worth winning, but, if she loses, I wouldn’t be the first to call for an inquest. As is evidenced in Allen’s San Francisco-set dramedy, Blanchett shares with Streep the ability to disappear so far into her roles that she’s almost unrecognizable. Career-wise, her dance card is filled at least through 2015, with jobs in nine typically diverse pictures. (In “The Monuments Men,” due next month, she reteams with George Clooney in another WWII drama.) No matter what anyone thinks about the rest of “Blue Jasmine” – an unqualified critical and commercial success for Allen – Blanchett’s interpretation of a New York socialite driven to the edge of sanity by her husband’s financial missteps is worth the price of a ticket or rental, alone. Actually, we’re introduced to two Jasmines in the same body here. The one we meet in flashbacks is a snobby Material Girl, who prefers not to know how her financier husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), maintains his fortune. She sits on the boards of important Big Apple charities and institutions and is too blind to notice her husband’s philandering. The second Jasmine is a woman very much like the first, except zoned out on Xanax and an emotional wreck. She still flies first-class and carries Louis Vuitton bags, but there’s no guarantee she’ll ever be able to pay her credit-card debt. She’s on her way to San Francisco to impose herself on the adopted sister she barely acknowledges. In a flashback, we learn how Hal swindled the life savings of working-class Ginger and Augie (Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay) when they were visiting New York. Although Jasmin remains delusional as to her own role in causing her sister’s financial problems and divorce – more than one critic has compared her to Blanche DuBois — she expects Ginger to forgive and forget. The rest of the story involves both of the precisely-drawn sisters’ search for recovery. If there’s one character with whom Allen has consistently nailed in his movies, it’s the pampered socialite. He’s been less perceptive about men and women from the blue-collar sector. Here, Clay does what he can with a character very much like the one he impersonates on the comedy circuit. As soon as Augie and Ginger catch a break by winning $200,000 in the lottery, he allows himself to be talked into investing it in one of Hal’s get-rich-quick schemes.

Nevertheless, the newly broke sisters are reunited in Ginger’s tidy San Francisco flat, which would be considered a bargain at $2,000 a month. With Augie in her rear-view mirror and kids to feed, Ginger settles for another rough-hewn chap, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who sees right through Jasmine, but is about as classy as the average Oakland Raiders fan. Allen isn’t cruel to either man, but the galoots clearly aren’t worthy of Ginger’s attention. Hawkins was deservedly awarded a nomination as Best Supporting Actress in “Blue Jasmine,” but is nowhere near the mortal lock that Blanchett appears to be. Like Cannavale, Baldwin and Clay, standup comic Louis C.K. does a nice job as Ginger’s friend and Allen’s surrogate. As usual, the Blu-ray package is devoid of any insight by Allen, but replete with EPK material. – Gary Dretzka

The Prey: Blu-ray Terraferma: Blu-ray Anyone who fell in love with Guillaume Canet’s French adaptation of Harlan Coben’s thriller, “Tell No One,” should find a copy of “The Prey.” While no carbon copy of Canet’s exciting story of devious deception and confused identity, “The Prey” shares the same paranoid tone and frantic energy. Here, veteran hard-guy actor Albert Dupontel plays a convicted bank robber, Franck Adrien, who breaks out of prison with eight months left on his sentence to protect his wife and daughter from his former cellmate Jean-Louis Maurel (Stéphane Debac). Although the alleged pedophile was anything but a monster in stir – even refusing to take breaks with other inmates — it’s easy to see there’s something fishy about him. Frank had believed his story about being set up and protected him against being beaten by prisoners offended by his crime. Because Franck had been beaten, himself, by prisoners hoping to find out where he’d hidden the money from his last bank job, he could appreciate how it felt to be targeted by three psychopaths and a sadistic guard. In feigned gratitude for protecting him, Maurel asks Franck to call him when he gets out. Before that could happen, however, Maurel commits an act so foul, it effectively nullifies any positive feelings we may have mustered towards him. When Franck loses contact with his wife and daughter, he knows that he must act fast to avoid another tragedy. Unfortunately, the police don’t put 2 and 2 together when the desperate felon escapes, leaving behind a trail of blood leading from the penitentiary to his empty home. Throughout the rest of movie, the former cellmates take turns being “the prey” in a chase that covers most of France and ends on a steep precipice in the Alps. Not all of the mainstream critics enjoyed “The Prey” as much as I did, but tough bananas. It’s good. Even with the subtitles, I think Americans could find a lot to like here. The characters are compelling and the narrative switchbacks enhance the tension in the narrative. (Any one of a dozen Hollywood leading men could make a reasonable facsimile of Franck in a remake.) The police aren’t made to look like buffoons, but it takes a kick-ass blond detective (Alice Taglione) to keep them from killing the wrong man. The Blu-ray arrives with an interview with director Eric Valette and informative making-of featurette, which explains some of the trickier stunts.

Also from the increasingly valuable distributor, Cohen Media Group, is the ambitious Italian rom/com/dram, “Terraferma,” which is set on the volcanic island, Linosa (equidistant from Sicily, Tunisia and Malta). Until recently, the male population of Linosa focused almost entirely on fishing for its livelihood, while the women minded the gardens and popped out kids. Boats were handed down from father to son, while grandsons learned by doing. As “Terraferma” opens, local fishermen are losing a battle against corporate overfishing and the litter polluting the beaches. The smart thing to do is convert the boats for use in the summer tourist trade, but some holdouts remain. The patriarch of the protagonist family resists the transition, but, after mourning the off-screen death of a son, allows his grandson, Filippo, to talk him into using the decrepit boat for tourist treks. They run afoul of local authorities when they rescue a few undocumented African immigrants from drowning. Apparently, Italy is dealing with the same immigration problems faced by communities in the American Southwest and people have lost patience with the problem. The grandfather is offended by a policeman who says that he should have allowed a pregnant Ethiopian refugee and her son to drown, rather than bringing them ashore or steering them toward an approaching government vessel. He argues that such a thing was forbidden by the law of the sea, which traditionally has superseded the laws of Italy. The old man also stands up to islanders who fear the immigrants will scare off the annual influx of young tourists, to whom the locals rent their homes and cook for each summer. There’s no greater buzz-kill, after all, than the sight of bloated bodies washing onto pristine beaches. With grandpa’s boat is in the hands of the cops, Filippo must find other means to carry tourists to more remote attractions. When on a romantic moonlight cruise with a pretty tourist from the north, he’s forced to take a personal stand of the immigration issue. No sooner does his guest get topless than Filippo spots a couple dozen desperate souls making a beeline to his boat. How he ultimately handles his moral dilemma tells us everything we need to know about Filippo and his family, on the subject. It also asks viewers to consider how they’re react if confronted with the surprise appearance of a couple dozen exhausted Mexicans in their backyard one morning.

Writer/director Emanuele Crialese has already dealt with similar issues in the deeply affecting “Golden Door,” which was presented on DVD by Martin Scorsese, and the island-set “Respiro.” He’s a master storyteller and a craftsman, intimately aware of what makes Sicily and the southern islands so special. It arrives with a featurette that explains how difficult it sometimes is to make a movie on an island, surrounded by old-timers who may never have seen one. – Gary Dretzka

Machete Kills: Blu-ray Among the many Latino performers who deserve to be represented on the Hollywood Walk of Fame more than, say, Shakira and Ricky Martin, is Danny Trejo (and Cheech Marin, for that matter). Since being released from San Quentin and cleaning up from a drug addiction, Trejo’s name has been attached to some 270 movies and television productions. Not all of them have been world-beaters, of course, but there’s no denying the commercial appeal – and that’s all that really counts on the HWoF – of the characters with whom he’s currently most identified. He’s played Machete in all four “Spy Kids” movies, as well as in “Grindhouse,” “Planet Terror” and the two “Machete” pictures. He was Razor Charlie in “From Dusk Until Dawn” and Navajas in “Desperado.” All have been directed Robert Rodriguez, a San Antonio native who also deserves a star on the boulevard. Rodriguez has said that he wrote the screenplay for “Machete” in 1993 when he cast Trejo in “Desperado.” Machete would be a Mexican federale who moonlights as a machete-for-hire for dangerous jobs in the U.S. It took 15 years for that movie to be made, but Machete had already made a name for himself in the PG “Spy Kids” series. Decidedly not a PG movie, the 2010 “Machete” was based on the fake trailer shown before Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double feature “Grindhouse” and “Planet Terror.” The idea is the same for both “Machete” movies, however, in that the mercenary ex-federale is recruited by U.S. President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez/Charlie Sheen) to stop a terrorist (Mel Gibson) from starting a nuclear war. When a bounty is put on his head, it seems as if everyone wants a piece of Machete. Among the other members of the all-star cast of “Machete Kills” are Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walter Coggins, Vanessa Hudgens and Lady Gaga. The Blu-ray adds a 20-minute making-of featurette and another 20 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes. – Gary Dretzka

La Vie De Boheme: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray Henri Murger’s semi-autobiographical “Scenes de la vie de boheme,” a collection of stories published as a novel in 1851, has proven to be so elastic that it has been adapted for the stage several times and two dozen movies. Giacomo Puccini’s operatic adaptation would inspire such wildly different variations as “Rent” and “Moulin Rouge!” Based on people Murger met, before the French Revolution of 1848, the novel described a community of misfit writers, poets, painters, musicians, prostitutes and pimps who populated Montmarte and shared the idea that poverty was a virtue and the world owed them a living. Romantic attitudes about starving for one’s art would change once their ships came in, but, in the meantime, the freedom to create was worth the price of poverty. I don’t know if Charles Bukowski ever read Murger’s stories, but he very well could have. The irrepressible Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki (“Leningrad Cowboys Go America”) took on “La Vie De Boheme” in 1993, setting it within a time frame that allows for horse-drawn furniture delivery and a concert featuring a band that resembles the Leningrad Cowboys. As is his wont, Kaurismaki wanted to stage “La Vie De Boheme” in Helsinki, with his usual cast of characters, but it lacked a certain “je ne se qua.” Instead, he ordered Matti Pellonpaa, Andre Wilms and Kari Väänänen to learn French and head for the City of Lights. These actors would look at home in any Skid Row dive or hippie ghetto at any time during the last 150 years. As the picture opens, the Albanian painter, Rodolfo is about to be booted out of his tiny apartment. After finagling a meal from the homeless playwright Marcel, and enough wine to get three people drunk, he invites his new friend to crash at his place. When they arrive, Rodolfo and Marcel are surprised to find the post-modernist composer Schaunard already ensconced in the apartment. A little wine convinces the musician to share his new digs with the painter and writer. Not long thereafter, a woman from the provinces shows up on the doorstep of a neighbor, who’s currently in prison. Rodolfo invites Mimi (Evelyne Didi) to stay there overnight, as well. Things move forward haphazardly until the pre-ordained tragedy begins to unfold. Although Kaurismaki rarely shoots for big laughs, they’re plenty here to be found. For most of the last 30 years, the writer/director has been turning out movies that defy easy description, enriched with a sense of humor derived from some high-northern sense of the absurd. (Think Jim Jarmusch without the white hair.) If you haven’t already begun binging on such movies as “Leningrad Cowboys” (start there), “The Match Factory Girl,” “Le Havre,” “Lights in the Dusk,” “The Man Without a Past” and “Juha,” this is a good place to start. Sam Fuller, Louis Malle and Jean-Pierre Leaud also make cameos. Besides the high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, the Blu-ray adds “Where Is Musette?,” an hour-long documentary on the making of the film; a new interview with actor Andre Wilms; an improved English subtitle translation; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Luc Sante. – Gary Dretzka

Blue Caprice In their feature debuts, director Alexandre Moors and writer R.F.I. Porto have constructed a dispassionate chronicle of the events that led to the arrest of two of this country’s most feared killers. In doing so, “Blue Caprice” consciously avoids amateur psychoanalysis, editorializing about gun laws and affixing blame to anyone except the abandoned teenager Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond) and his surrogate father, John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington). In the simplest terms, Muhammad was so pissed off by a restraining order placed upon him by his ex-wife, forbidding him to see his children, that he created a family of his own to avenge the perceived injustice. His ultimate goal was to “adopt,” indoctrinate and train a small army of boys in the wilds of Canada to embark on a jihadist crusade against those who stood in the way of his reckless agenda. Most telling, perhaps, was Muhammad’s decision to give Malvo a sniper’s handbook, which emphasized the blind devotion to mission all such assassins must possess. Not only did the book jibe with Muhammad’s us-against-them paranoia, but, absent any other pedagogical figures, it also taught how isolated and seemingly random acts of terror could eventually paralyze a nation. After 9/11, Malvo was able to see how effectively the jihadists had absorbed this lesson. Otherwise, Malvo is portrayed has being a normal, if withdrawn young man, who’s comfortable with much younger children and not at all aggressive. It’s easy to see how Muhammad’s preoccupation with the government’s role in enforcing his ex-wife’s sanctions causes him to seethe. Even so, he leaves the heavy lifting to the boy, for whom he’s built a sniper’s nest in the truck of the car. “Blue Caprice” doesn’t overstay its welcome by dramatizing all of the crimes finally attributed to the pair or pouring on the gore. Neither do the filmmakers ask us to understand the murders or make excuses for Malvo and Muhammad. Richmond and Washington’s performances may be understated, but they are never without a palpable sense of menace. If there’s nothing else to take away from “Blue Caprice,” it’s the actors’ faces that will continue to haunt us whenever another obsessed loner picks up a gun to instill terror in our hearts. The musical score, cinematography and locations, which range from sunny Antigua to soggy Tacoma, and co-starring performances by Joey Lauren Adams and Tim Blake Nelson all add something important to the mix. The extras include behind-the-scenes material, commentary and a press conference from the Deauville Film Festival. – Gary Dretzka

Kiss the Water Generally, when it applies to fly fishing, eccentrics need not apply. It’s an activity that requires an infinite amount of patience, a trained swing and a willingness to take nature at its own terms. The rule doesn’t preclude the occasional character from adding her signature to the pursuit of the elusive Atlantic salmon, however. Eric Steel’s lovely documentary “Kiss the Water” takes us to a cottage in northern Scotland, where to fish is to live. Before angler can be connected directly to fish, however, the fish must become intimately acquainted with the lure. Unlike worms, which hardly any fish can rejected, dry flies can be admired from afar, but easily resisted by a not-at-all-hungry salmon on the last leg of its final trip home. And, that’s where Megan Boyd figures into the equation. Megan Boyd spent almost all of her life using tiny bits of feathers, fur, silver and gold thread, colored tubing, beads and chenille to tie flies for the most demanding of sportsmen. She didn’t partake in fishing, herself, but instinctively knew how to persuade a salmon or trout to come to a fly. Moreover, Boyd knew everything there was to know about the rivers of Sutherland and what conditions suggested a certain lure. “Kiss the Water” is like a fly, in that its appeal can be appreciated equally by anglers and those who know a valuable piece of art when they see one. Sections are divided by images of swirling water, rising fish and casting, all of which are painted with digitally derived water colors. Boyd’s craft and devotion to it are recalled by friends and acquaintances in and around Brora, on the northern tip of the Highlands. Before she died in 2001, at 86, she was similarly devoted to her pet dog and folk dancing. They even came before receiving honors from the queen and Prince Charles. By the time electricity came to her workplace, in 1985, her eyesight had been taxed to the point of blindness. At one point, we’re told that no one knows why a salmon hits a fly, especially when they’ve tired of feeding. And, yet, they do. There’s no mystery attached to the attraction of anglers worldwide to Boyd’s artistry, whether or not the flies see water or end up inside a collector’s trophy case. – Gary Dretzka

Old Goats Hollywood stopped making movies with senior audiences in mind around the time Henry Fonda’s death ruled out a sequel to “On Golden Pond.” “Hope Springs” and “Last Vegas,” movies targeted at viewers awaiting their first Social Security check, may have eked out a profit, but only if marketing costs were heavily discounted. Still, based on star power, alone, they should do OK on DVD, cable and long-distance plane trips. “Old Goats,” which looks homemade by comparison, plays to even older demographic, if such a thing is possible. Acting as if 75 is the new 50, a half-dozen Seattle-area old-timers have created in “Old Goats” a light comedy that, dollar-for-dollar, is more entertaining than most of the stuff being churned out for teens and young adults. Clearly made as a labor of love from a budget that might have come from bake-sale proceeds, Taylor Guterson’s debut has the courage not to pad the script with the antics of grandchildren and pestering of children and in-laws. It’s simply the story of a bunch of geezers who live their lives as if the sun will come up tomorrow and they’ll have enough stuff to to keep them busy for another 24 hours, at least. They aren’t constantly reliving old championship games or weeping over deceased partners. One has just finished writing his memoirs and is paying a self-publishing outfit to distribute it. Another is a slob, who’s been living on his sailboat for 15 years and is learning the intricacies of computer dating. A tad younger gentleman has been promising his still-attractive wife that they’ll buy a condo in Palm Springs, but he’s too lazy to actually pull the trigger. They attend parties, play golf and meet regularly at a local diner to swap lies and drink free copy. If anything, the women are a shade more randy than the men. Because of the comparatively low production values, it takes time getting into “Old Goats,” but patience is rewarded with a completely unexpected pleasure. It comes with a making-of package and a short film. – Gary Dretzka

Cat People: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray Die, Monster, Die: Blu-ray There’s an interesting piece of trivia attached to the original 1942 version of “Cat People,” which was directed by Jacques Tournequr, written DeWitt Bodeen and produced by Val Lewton, for RKO. Apparently, the film was in theaters for so long that critics who had originally bashed the film made the time to re-review it and re-adjust their opinions. The response would also serve to delay the release of Lewton’s films “I Walked with a Zombie” and “The Leopard Man.” Upon its 1982 release, critics treated Paul Schrader’s “Cat People” as if he intended it to be a direct remake, instead of a contemporary adaptation of the myth, with several overt homages to Tourneur’s thriller. For those unfamiliar with either version, there couldn’t be a better time to discover them. Because Tourneur’s budget was so tight, he was required to substitute shadows for expository clarity. Not only did the panthers emerge from the darkness, but so, too, did the jump scares and fake-outs. The fear factor was palpable. Shout!Factory’s transfer of Schrader’s film employs an overripe color palette to achieve something approaching the same effect. Moreover, Schrader was able to move the sexuality from Bodeen’s subtext to the forefront, by having the already feline Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell engage in frightfully erotic activities … consciously on McDowell’s part, but largely as a rite of passage on the part of the virginal Kinski. At times, the combined scents of bestiality and incest are overwhelming. The more obvious point being made is that somewhere in our collective DNA lurks monsters and demons awaiting an opportune moment to manifest their evil. “Cat People” was wisely set in New Orleans and surrounding bayous, where an acceptance of voodoo and black magic comes with the territory. At the time, the New Orleans zoo was widely condemned for its medieval facilities. The thing that made Schrader’s interpretation so seductive, though, was the marriage of myth to music in Georgio Moroder and David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” theme, parts of which could be heard over the origin-story sequences. John Heard and Annette O’Toole are very good as representatives of all that’s good in humanity. The Blu-ray adds updated interviews with the principles and marketing material.

Also from the vaults at Shout!Factory’s Scream Factory division comes “Die, Monster, Die!,” (a.k.a., “Monster of Terror”) with Boris Karloff and Nick Adams. Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Colour Out of Space,” it represented the first feature foray for Daniel Haller, who remains better known for his work as art and production director at the Corman College of Cheap Thrills. It combines sci-fi with key elements from the haunted-house subgenre of horror. Nick Adams, another member of the “Rebel Without a Cause” cast that died too young, plays an American who travels to England to visit his fiancé, played by Suzan Farmer. No one at the train station will give him a ride to the Witley mansion, where’s he’s rudely greeted by the wheelchair-bound Karloff. Adding to the creepy atmosphere is his girlfriend’s bed-ridden mother, who keeps her face well hidden behind soiled lace. The only other thing one needs to know before considering “Die, Monster, Die!” is that the mad scientists is using radioactive material from a conveniently located meteor to grow a master race of vegetation. Yes, it’s every bit that goofy. Karloff’s presence, alone, makes it entertaining. – Gary Dretzka

Forgetting the Girl If Nate Taylor and Peter Moore Smith’s New York-set psycho-thriller, “Forgetting the Girl,” were a freshman term paper, it would earn bonus points for audacity and excellent production values. They’ve taken a relatively familiar conceit and rejuvenated it with fresh faces and a truly creepy protagonist. Christopher Denham plays Kevin, an unusually busy head-shot photographer whose mannerisms resemble those of Andrew McCarthy and Jeremy Davies at their most quirky. He seems to lack self-confidence, but isn’t reluctant to ask his attractive clients out on dates after the sittings. Most politely decline the request, but one or two of them take the bait. The ones who do don’t necessarily come to ruin, but the risk is always there. Only a couple of them disappear during our watch. Although we’re led to believe that the photographer could very well be a fiend, Tayler also allows for the possibility that Kevin’s pervy neighbor and chubby Goth assistant could be involved. After all, once a photograph of a pretty girl enters the public domain – in a head shot or Facebook page – there are a hundred different ways it can be used for devious purposes. Not all of the deaths can be attributed to the most likely subject, while the others are still open to conjecture. Still, not bad for first-timers. – Gary Dretzka

Life’s an Itch Unlike “Forgetting the Girl,” the yoga comedy “Life’s an Itch” is all too representative of a freshman debut destined to be ignored or sent out straight-to-DVD. While there’s nothing particularly offensive about it, the best that can be said is that the cameraman kept the picture in focus. In it, a musician is given a firm deadline to complete a film score, but is feeling too distracted to complete it. It probably has something to do with living in an ocean-side house, with a view he could lease to tourists and never have to work another day in his life. To help get Steve’s creative juices flowing, his good-natured wife and caustic mother-in-law take the kids go to Hawaii on a working vacation. Before they go, however, Steve’s told to expect a houseguest in the form of a pert and pretty yoga nut, played by Ali Cobrin, the woman who famously was carried upstairs naked in “American Reunion.” Although she keeps her clothes on here, Cobrin spends a great deal of time in “Itch” practicing her discipline in a bikini. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Steve’s wife whiles away her time with an older gent who resembles any one of the Three Musketeers in a Speedo. The big question, really, is whether the yoga teacher can get Steve sufficiently relaxed to finish the score, before he succumbs to her charms … or the wife gets home, one. Poor old Lin Shaye appears as the neighborhood crackpot, who “walks” her bet goldfish, constantly hits on the musician and makes marijuana brownies. Someone probably went to college to acquire the skills necessary to make movies like “Life’s an Itch.” – Gary Dretzka

TV-to-DVD IFC: Bullet in the Face: The Complete Series IFC: Comedy Bang! Bang!: The Complete First Season ABC: NYPD Blue: Season 5 PBS: Red Metal: Copper Country Strike of 1913 PBS Nova: Making Stuff 2: Blu-ray PBS: Raw to Ready
Ideas come and go at such a rapid pace these days, some TV shows are gone even before you know they’ve been on. Such is the case with IFC’s short-lived “Bullet in the Face,” a kind-of comedy by Alan Spencer (“Sledge Hammer!”) that parodied noir, graphic novels and action-movie conventions. Gunter Vogler (Max Williams) is a sociopath who hates everyone and everything. During a bloody jewelry store robbery he is shot in the grill by his accomplice and girlfriend, Martine (Kate Kelton). He wakes up in hospital having received a face transplant. It belongs to a police officer he had killed earlier and requires him to work for them to turn over a new leaf by fighting crime and former allies. In fact, the switcheroo discombobulates everyone. Before long, Gunter isn’t the only person on the show with a bullet in his head. It took a while for me to figure out what was happening, but it finally grabbed me. Eddie Izzard and Eric Roberts add to the comic relief.

Anyone who’s old enough to remember “Fernwood 2 Night,” a variety-show parody spun off “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” will recognize the premise behind IFC’s “Comedy Bang! Bang!” In place of Martin Mull, Fred Willard and band leader Frank De Vol, there’s Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts. It began as a podcast and features wacky character cameos, filmic shorts, sketches and games, all done with tongues planted firmly in cheeks. Watts’ off-the-cuff musical interludes are practically characters of their own. The show features celebrity guests, including Zack Galifianakis and Amy Poehler, along with such stock characters as Don Dimelo (Andrew Daly), El Chupacabra (Nick Kroll), Bob Ducca (Seth Morris), Lil’ Gary (Thomas Lennon), Huell Howser (James Adomian) and Cake Boss (Paul F. Tompkins). Special features include commentaries featuring characters from the show, deleted scenes, full-length alternate celebrity interviews, an alternate title sequence, Reggie Watts’ commercial intros/outros and director Ben Berman’s test shoots for special effects.

By the time the fifth season of “NYPD Blue” rolled around, the 15th Precinct squad room was populated by Sipowitz (Dennis Franz) and Simone (Jimmy Smits), Medavoy (Gordon Clapp), Martinez (Nicholas Turturro), Fancy (James McDaniel), Russell (Kim Delaney) and the luscious anchorwoman-to-be, Kirkendall (Andrea Thompson). Although Sipowitz may have mellowed over time, he was still capable of getting a good mad on when faced with the scum of society. Lots of people get murdered, of course, and crimes are solved. Individual story arcs had to be served, as well. Russell and Simone have different views of impending parenthood, as well. Even now, the absence of “NYPD Blue” on network TV is duly noted and missed, if for no other reason than no character on the show solved crimes through ESP, clairvoyance, military auspices or the help of space aliens. Simple police work is all it took.

At some point during the early history of this country, it was decided that company goons could get away with things striking workers weren’t allowed to do, while the police and National Guard were always made available to protect greedy capitalists and corrupt politicians. Has anyone hired to disrupt a strike or a march ever been prosecuted for killing or maiming a striker or protester? I doubt it. Has anyone written a folk song to honor a righteous CEO or a cop who refused to use a club against a woman? Again, probably not. The PBS documentary “Red Metal: Copper Country Strike of 1913” chronicles one of the ugliest events in the history of the American labor movement. When striking copper miners nearly succeeded in shutting down Northern Michigan’s most prominent and dangerous industry, the bosses demanded that the Guard be called in to protect the scabs and get things moving, again. One night, at a party for the children of the striking miners, an unknown goon yelled “fire!” in the crowded second-floor ballroom of the Italian Hall, causing a stampede in which dozens of children were killed. Years later, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the massacre that tugged at the nation’s heart strings, but never stopped the killing of workers. This heart-breaking documentary carries a punch, even a century after the fact.

In the “Nova” presentation, “Making Stuff,” popular host David Pogue describes how every new technology has served to make us faster, safer, colder and, yes, even more reckless. From quantum computers to maglev trains, and from increasing the speed of a stock transaction to decreasing the risk posed by an earthquake, emerging technologies are changing our world. Also from PBS, “Raw to Ready” helps us understand how human ingenuity, when combined with essential raw material, creates monumental marvels of modern technology. – Gary Dretzka

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of ‘My Little Pony’
At first, second and even third glance, “Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of ‘My Little Pony’” looks as if it might be the kind of documentary only John Waters could pull off, without putting audiences off their feed for a month. The title, while accurate, could describe any number of horrors or none at all. Blessedly, it’s the latter. The first thing to know is that “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” is an extension of the 1980s TV show, which, itself, was an extension of a line of toys from Hasbro. The marketing was targeted directly at girls, 2 to 11, who were likely to invest in accessories and new action figures. The “Friendship Is Magic” (G4) incarnation surfaced in 2010 on the Hub channel. It, too, was created to milk revenues from kids interested in ancillary movies, toys, home-media releases, clothing licensed by Hasbro, comic books and video games. The good news comes in knowing that “Friendship Is Magic” was entrusted to Laurie Faust, an animator who fell in love with “My Little Pony” when she was a girl. Her intention was to broaden the appeal of the show, by making the storylines more intelligent and less clichéd. In addition to turning it into a hit with kids, Faust would quickly discover that older teens and adults were drawn to its upbeat message of tolerance and self-affirmation. The grown-up fans became known as “Bronies.” In addition to introducing us to several Bronies, director Laurent Malaquais takes us to a convention, not unlike the ones dedicated to all things “Star Trek” or Comic-Con. Each of the participants has his or her reason for attending and they’re all perfectly legitimate. The documentary’s financing was supplied through the Kickstarter crowd-funding website. The campaign exceeded its initial fund-raising goal of $60,000 in three days and ultimately earned $322,022 in pledges, not counting the concurrent contributions made through PayPal at the end of its run in June 10, 2012.

The “My Little Pony: Classic Movie Collection” arrives this week, as well, from Shout!Factory. Among the other children’s-oriented videos out this week are Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob & Friends: Patrick SquarePants”; PBS Kids’ “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks: Legends of Raloo,” “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks: Rock Around the Barn” and “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks: Wish Upon a Story”; and PBS Kids’ “Dinosaur Train: I Love Dinosaurs.” – Gary Dretzka

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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