MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Long Day Closes, Downton 4, Cloudy 2, Bad Grandpa

The Long Day Closes: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Apart from the Beatles, no artist is as associated with Liverpool as director-writer Terence Davies, whose autobiographical dramas and documentaries go well beyond the impact of the Cavern Club on world culture. Even so, it would be difficult to confuse the Liverpool into which Davies was born and the one in which the Fab Four were raised. They’re simply opposite sides of the same street. The Beatles’ music and movies were informed by growing up among Liverpool’s gritty working-class poor and in an unstable post-war economy. The Lennon/McCartney repertoire, especially, would change significantly as the band members became citizens of the world and could afford to seek the meaning of life in London, New York, Hollywood, the British countryside and India. Davies’ work continues to be informed by the harsh conditions of his youth. His father was an abusive alcoholic, who did wife and 10 children a favor by dying before he could do them any more harm. Withdrawn and non-communicative, Davies was bullied daily by his fellow students for being a “sissy.” Another thing he shared with the Beatles was a passion for music. He found sanctuary in movie theaters, where his mother introduced him to musicals from Hollywood. (As he recalls, “Liverpool was gray … Hollywood musicals were bright and gay.”) Davies’ oeuvre also would benefit from a photographic memory of family gatherings and nights at the pubs, during which, as was the custom before television, holidays and special occasions were celebrated in song … ever louder as an evening went along. Released in 1992, after such early triumphs as “The Terence Davies Trilogy” (“Children,” “Madonna and Child,” “Death and Transfiguartion”) and “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” “The Long Day Closes” predated by 16 years his deeply evocative cinematic essay about Liverpool, “Of Time and the City.“ Amazingly, perhaps, his only other filmed work has been “The Neon Bible” (1995), “The House of Mirth” (2000) and “The Deep Blue Sea,” in which Rachel Weisz delivered what many critics considered to be the best performance or 2011. None of his titles have been accorded much of a budget, but Davies was able to wring extraordinary value from every tuppence spent. The Criterion Collection arrives with a high-definition digital restoration and uncompressed stereo soundtrack, with commentary by Davies and director of photography Michael Coulter; a 1992 episode of the British television series, “The South Bank Show,” with Davies, on-set footage, and interviews with cast and crew; new interviews with executive producer Colin MacCabe and production designer Christopher Hobbs; and an essay by critic Michael Koresky. – Gary Dretzka

Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey Season 4: Blu-ray (U.K. Edition)
The fourth season of “Downton Abbey” takes place roughly between the congressional investigation into the Teapot Dome scandal, in which the Countess of Grantham’s crooked American brother was involved, and the rise of Nazism in Germany. The wounds inflicted on her daughter, the recently widowed Lady Mary, have yet to heal and an increasingly delusional Sir Robert remains unwilling to relinquish his tight hold on the estate. But hardcore fans already know that much and more about the mini-series’ likely trajectory during its fourth stanza. With several episodes left to air here, the UK edition of the international sensation already has become available on Blu-ray and DVD. Even though I’ve been allowed to binge on all nine episodes, I promise not to spoil anyone’s fun by revealing the surprises to come. I can say, however, that the current season is more transitional than the previous three. There are fewer bombshells and more new characters than in the last two chapters. With new characters comes the opportunity to introduce new story arcs, including one involving a future monarch. The good news is that the storylines will require another two seasons, at least, us, to work themselves out. Another sign that the characters have finally acknowledged being in the 20th Century is the introduction of a character of color and the arrival of Jazz Age culture at Downton Abbey. The Blu-ray is technically sharp and brighter with the addition of a brighter color palette, as befits the period. Among the bonus feature are “Downton Diaries,” which follow Laura Carmichael (Edith) and Sophie McShera (Daisy) as they prepare for work, with all its costuming and make-up demands; a making-of featurette, costuming work from Caroline McCall, who shares her ideas on character mood conveyed by fashion and “directorial panic”; and “Meet the New Cast,” a brief run-through of the fresh faces for Season Four. – Gary Dretzka

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: Unrated: Blu-ray
The Starving Games
Unlike previous iterations of the “Jackass” saga, “Bad Grandpa” is driven less by incidents of outrageous behavior and self-destruction, than a narrative that links them together in something resembling a coherent story. Moreover, its most appealing character is a young actor, Jackson Nicoll, who isn’t required to staple his eyelids together or shove a toy car up to win our hearts. “Bad Grandpa” attempts to do two difficult things simultaneously: 1) convince the targets of Johnny Knoxville’s pranks that he truly is an old man capable of doing great harm to himself and the child he’s escorting across the country; and 2) it’s OK to laugh at gags that would be considered child abuse in most states. That it works as well as it does can only be credited to the ability of Knoxville to withstand great pain, maintain his composure and appreciate the thin line between acting and suicide. That, or no one’s told him that the Three Stooges didn’t use real tools when beating the crap out of each other. Here, Bad Grandpa Irving Zisman has been entrusted with the safety of 9-year-old Billy, after the boy’s crack-addicted mother is sent to prison in Nebraska. His birth father is a low-life North Carolina slacker, whose primary reason for taking the boy in is the $600 monthly stipend that would keep him in pot and booze. The boy’s grandmother died recently, as well, so Grandpa figures he can avoid the cost of a funeral by dropping her body off somewhere along the way. Billy’s in no hurry to be handed over to Daddy Dearest, but he knows a good time when he sees one. While Grandpa’s out making up for lost time in the romance department – it’s as disturbing as it sounds — Billy is capable of getting into mischief of his own making. That, at least, is what passes for a plot in “Bad Grandpa.” And, yes, even after seeing half of the gags in trailers for the movie, very little is lost in the translation to the small screen. Even the most jaded of critics – myself included – found something outrageously funny here. On the flip side, it’s also easy to feel sorry for the innocent victims of a gag – wedding guests, funeral attendees, good Samaritans – some of whom could have had a heart attack before the “reveal” was revealed. The bonus material adds a featurette on the creation and rehearsal of some of the pranks, deleted scenes and alternate takes.

At a time when the vast majority of all teen comedies appear to have been created as parodies of themselves, it’s difficult to imagine a real good reason for the existence of such half-baked sendups as “The Starving Games,” “Meet the Spartans,” “Disaster Movie,” “Vampires Suck,” “Not Another Teen Movie” and “30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” (One clue: if they didn’t make money, even in the tainted straight-to-video market, they wouldn’t get made.) Such parodies don’t cost much to make; production values are intentionally laughable; the basic framework is already there and the gags aren’t required to amuse anyone over 16. The current trend began with Keenen Ivory Wayans’ “Scary Movie,” a spoof that was inspired by the same tropes and conventions that, to a lesser degree, Kevin Williamson toyed with in his stunningly successful “Scream.” Where Williamson employed a scalpel to make his point about genre cliches, however, Wayans picked up a machine-gun and shot holes in them. The new breed appear to have been influenced more by Mad magazine’s gag-a-frame approach to parody than anything by Mel Brooks, the Wayans, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker or Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. The first twist in “The Starving Games” is the title, which tells potential viewers that a working knowledge of “The Hunger Games” might be necessary, if not essential to fully enjoy it. In my opinion, the best thing in Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s film was their decision to change the protagonist’s name from Katniss Everdeen to Kantmiss Evershot. Otherwise, the script bounces between jokes linked to “Hunger Games,” “The Avengers,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Harry Potter” and “The Expendables.”  – Gary Dretzka

The Fifth Estate: Blu-ray
If ever a movie gave off the odor of disaster going into it, it was “The Fifth Estate.” The smell may not have been perceptible in Hollywood, where too many nostrils have been destroyed by too much cocaine, but there it was, anyway, waiting to be sniffed. While there’s nothing wrong with the film’s execution, the premise was dead on arrival. Even so, it appears as if every effort was made to create a thrilling behind-the-scenes look at a scandal that continues to haunt the country’s leaders and besmirch our reputation on the world stage. The combination of director Bill Condon and white-hot actor Benedict Cumberbatch promised good things; possibly a nomination or two. (Cumberbatch was awarded BAFTA’s Britannia prize as the British Actor of the Year.)  It wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the public’s ambivalence over the WikiLeaks scandal and the perceived arrogance of the site’s founder, Julian Assange. Before the release of the secret memos, WikiLeaks was treated in the media as if it were just another tool of left-wing paranoids. It won over the mainstream media when the information proved to be accurate and Assange took them under the Big Top with him. It accorded him the dubious distinction of being the world’s most-wanted man by law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world and a must-get interview subject for major newspapers, magazines and television newsmagazines. It took a lot of work for “60 Minutes” producers to land an interview with Assange, who came off as uptight and self-righteous, no matter his accomplishment. The secrets revealed by WikiLeaks were, at once, undeniably shocking and embarrassing to all concerned. They also posed a real threat to confidential sources working with the U.S. and its allies in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Because of this, the White House used all of it resources to smoke him out of shadows, just as it’s doing now with Edward Snowden.

So, the story lacks nothing in the drama department. Like many other dramatic stories, however, this one plays better on the printed page, in this case “WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website,” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. Even those of us who fear that the U.S. is on the verge of becoming the most hated country on the planet were made queasy by Assange’s cavalier attitude toward the disclosure of state secrets in the CBS interview. By comparison, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg was contrite to the point of being apologetic. It neutralized Cumberbatch’s excellent performance and Condon’s innovative approach to the subject matter. In an interview here, the director says he was most concerned about re-creating the natural drama of the situation from the point-of-view of the computer jockeys who did the scud work on the files sent to them. And while there aren’t many things as dull as watching people, no matter how committed, sitting in front of their screens and pounding keys, he found a way to pull it off. He animated the process by which information is shared and disseminated, Ultimately, though, when the essential question, “Hero or traitor?,” is asked of Assange, the most neutral of all possible answers has been, “Neither … antihero.” It didn’t help revenues that Assange has chosen to avoid extradition to Sweden, by accepting the protection of a foreign embassy in London, instead of standing up to his accusers on this matter and in relation to a suspicious sexual-assault investigation in Sweden. None of that should be held against the filmmakers, though. “The Fifth Estate” is well-made, well-acted and provocative, and WikiLeaks has proven itself to be a valuable asset in the pursuit of the truth in a lousy war. The Blu-ray adds “The Submission Platform: Visual Effects”; a dissection of the film’s “Rubberhose” set, with Condon and Production Designer Mark Tildesley; “In-Camera: Graphics,” a look at the computer text, WikiLeaks programs, virtual communication, projections and other elements realized via practical effects; and “Scoring Secrets,” in which composer Carter Burwell discusses his eclectic score. – Gary Dretzka

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2
The question going into “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” wasn’t if it would appeal to at least as many fans of the original animated feature, but how much the absence of the legendary Mr. T would impact box-office results. I’m kidding, of course. Who knows, though, what spells success and failure in the sequel game? Viewers probably won’t notice the difference between Mr. T’s voice in “CWACOM1” and Terry Crews’ in the same role of the gruff cop, Earl Devereaux, as much as how the original story deviates from the source material. “CWACOM1” was true to the short, but extremely popularbook found in every primary-school library. In the sequel, Judi and Ron Barrett are solely credited with inspiring the characters. Anyone expecting “CWACOM2” to resemble the Barrett’s sequel to the original book, “Pickles to Pittsburgh,” is going to be surprised, if not particularly disappointed. That’s because it’s a logical follow-up to the events that closed No. 1. It picks up immediately after the disastrous food storm that left Swallow Falls buried in meatballs. It’s a real mess and no one is unhappy to see Flint Lockwood and his pals pack up and leave town. It isn’t long before someone resuscitates the food-creating machine, which was believed to have been destroyed. Now, however, it’s spitting out “sentient food beasts” (a.k.a., foodimals), which are threatening the world’s food supply. Like the fantastical characters in a Dr. Seuss book, the hybrid creatures carry the names of their separate parts. A Fruit Cockatiel, for example, is a bird comprised of several fruits, while a Hippotatomus is potato with a hippo-like body; a Shrimpanzee is a crustacean in chimpanzee drag; a Cheespider is a cheeseburger in the form of a spider; Mosquitoasts are toasted bread in the form of the mosquitoes; Bananostrichs are bananas with the characteristics of ostriches; Flamangos are mangoes crossed with flamingos; and Watermelophants combine watermelons with elephants. You get the picture. If the story itself doesn’t require much brain strain, “CWACOM2” is truly a feast for the eyes, especially in Blu-ray and 3D. The generous bonus package adds informative commentary by directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn; a quartet of animated “mini-movies”; several deleted scenes; a featurette on production design that expands on the film’s narrative changes from the original; a discussion about the cast of characters with voice actors Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Andy Samberg, Terry Crews, James Caan, Will Forte and Kristen Schaa; a piece on the digital composition of the foodimals; a close look at the entertaining final-credits sequence; a “La Da Dee” music video and backgrounder, with Cody Simpson; “Building the Foodimals,” with senior animation supervisor Peter Nash; “Delicious Production Design,” with production designer Justin Thompson; and “The Mysterious Sasquash,” in which VFX supervisor Peter Travers takes viewers on a tour of the background “Easter egg” character’s appearances and backstory. – Gary Dretzka

A Perfect Man
As every moviegoer not allergic to romantic dramas and comedies already knows, inside every “perfect couple” lurks a disaster waiting to happen. In “A Perfect Man,” the versatile Liev Schreiber plays the outwardly perfect husband of Jeanne Tripplehorn, who we’re given no reason to believe isn’t perfect in her own way. Without wasting much time, cinematographer-turned-director Kees Van Oostrum demonstrates just how imperfect James is by exposing his infidelity. Because Nina has already been treated to James’ horndog behavior, we’re left to wonder if she’ll finally woman-up and dump the cad or give him yet another chance. We’re surprised that she chooses to call him out at a party thrown for their anniversary and order him out of their swank Amsterdam apartment. At this point, “A Perfect Man” could go in a couple different Hollywood-approved directions, both of which lead to reconciliation. Instead, writers Larry Brand and Peter Elkoff contrived a couple of narrative conceits that avoid the obvious, even as they push the story to edge of credulity. One risks turning the movie into a gimmicky Nora Ephraim rom-com, while the other is almost too weird to hold water for more than a few minutes. Considering how dull most of these relationship dramas are, I kind of enjoyed the off-the-wall detour and unexpected ending. The best thing about “A Perfect Man,” by far, is the Amsterdam setting and Van Oostrum’s ability to incorporate several of the city’s more interesting facets, including the contrast between its old and new architecture. The mix of supporting characters, as befits an international city, is also pretty interesting. If the movie collapses around the edges, it’s probably because it was completed in 2000, under the horrifying working titles of “Dial 9 for Love” and “Men Are Dogs,” and shelved until 2012, when the money needed to complete it was raised. “A Perfect Man” isn’t close to being a perfect film, but, by providing a different take on an old story, it should please fans of the stars, at least. – Gary Dretzka

Dark Touch
Argento’s Dracula: Blu-ray 3D
It isn’t often that a French director of any prominence travels to Ireland to make what some critics could dismiss as a genre picture. As both an actor and writer, Marina de Van has previously collaborated with Francois Ozon on “Under the Sand,” “See the Sea,” “8 Women.” In her own features — “In My Skin,” “Don’t Look Book” – she’s shown a real talent for disturbing audiences. If I were to guess about the fate of “Dark Touch” in DVD, it would be that the movie likely will find home in the category indiscriminately reserved for horror. The cover art, alone, makes it a perfect fit. Then, too, natural comparisons to “Carrie” argue in favor of ghettoizing it among other horror titles, where, at least, it can be easily located. In both movies, the protagonist is a girl with telekinetic powers she doesn’t fully understand and can barely control. Here, 11-year-old Neve survives a mysterious and bloody massacre in her family’s isolated country house. Petrified, she’s given shelter in the home of family friends, who aren’t any more able to get through to her than her teachers and social workers. In her mind, it’s an evil force within the house that caused furniture, electrical system and kitchen utensils to act as if they had minds of their own. The same thing happens, though, when she witnesses the abuse of two other children at the hands of their parents. It doesn’t take long for Neve’s contemporaries to come under her weird spell, disfiguring dolls and freaking out their parents. A firmer understanding of her powers evolves as she transitions into puberty and, as was the case in “Carrie,” the results aren’t pretty. John Conroy’s cinematography keeps the story’s darkness from overwhelming what’s happening in the shadows on screen. If De Van continues to work the dark side of the street, there’s a very good chance that she’ll become one of the leading proponents of arthouse horror.

Dario Argento’s name still carries weight among purveyors of horror flicks, often spelling the difference between distribution and oblivion. That recognition can also spell disaster if the movie – in this case, a totally unnecessary adaptation of “Dracula” – gets crushed by critics in both genre websites and the mainstream press. Horror’s become a young filmmaker’s game and, at 73, Argento’s been making genre pictures longer than most of them have been alive. Each new title, then, demands comparisons to his best work — “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” and “Suspira” among them – made when he was in his prime. It isn’t fair, but what is? Critics love to take potshots at really large targets and Argento is one of the biggest. “Dracula 3D,” not to be confused with “Dracula 3000,” took a real beating, before it was pulled from theatrical release. In DVD, however, I think it is just good enough to painlessly kill a couple of hours. It’s created from the traditional “Dracula” template and spiced with giallo-inspired sex, violence and garish cinematography. What it lacks is an abundance of narrative logic and state-of-the-art effects. The international cast includes Thomas Kretschmann, as the count; Rutger Hauer, as Van Helsingl; and Spain’s Unax Ugalde, as the count’s librarian. More to the point, perhaps, are the extraordinarily beautiful Italian damsels, whose pulsing veins and bodacious ta-ta’s Argento’s monsters have always found to irresistible. Here, they include Marta Gastini, Maria Cristina Heller, Miriam Giovanelli and his daughter, Asia. The Blu-ray and HD3D extras include a behind-the-scenes piece and red-band trailer.

In the very decent Canadian export, “Antisocial,” writers Chad Archibald and Cody Calahan imagine a scenario in which killer viruses not only can sweep through the population at large, but also spread  through social-media sites on the Internet. In horror movies, this means that walls and boarded up windows no longer can protect people from the forces that linger outside. Here, guests at a New Year’s Eve party go about the revelry mostly oblivious to the zombie apocalypse. It isn’t until the diseased souls begin scratching at the door that the revelers sense something has gone terribly wrong. Safe for the moment, the guests do what comes naturally in 2014 by heading straight to their laptops and hand-held devises to share their feelings on social websites. Just as a virus spreads from one infected computer to another, so, too, does the deadly terror jump from screen to bloodstream. Considering that no one’s ventured outside the party, however, a new sort of guessing game begins among the guests. Things get gory, of course, but that only adds to the thrills. – Gary Dretzka

The Insomniac
Once again, Danny Trejo is being used as bait – this time, alongside old-pro John Heard – in a movie dominated by other actors, whose performances are far more essential to the story. That isn’t to say their presence isn’t welcome in “The Insomniac,” only that truth-in-advertising laws don’t seem to apply in the world of DVDs and Blu-ray. Co-writer and star Eddy Salazar plays one of those bright young men who appears to have everything going for him and, for the first 15 minutes of the movie, actually does. It isn’t until John Figg returns to his boyhood home to attend to the affairs of his recently deceased father that things begin to go sideways in his life. In separate incidents that are left almost completely unexplained throughout the movie, his father’s vintage convertible is stolen from in front of his home and, within hours, intruders ransack the house and kill his dog. When the police are unable to find the culprits in what Figg considers to be due time, he grows ever more paranoid and begins his own investigation. Unable to sleep, he begins to spy on his neighbors’ kids. His fatigue also causes him to act erratically at work, where he recently was anointed the new Golden Boy. Instead of paying attention to accounts, including one belonging to a reformed gangster played by Trejo, he simply ignores his duties. This causes his boss (Heard) to lose faith in him and Trejo to threaten his life. Figg even begins to doubt the loyalty of his faithful fiancé, who sticks with him as long as she possibly can, but no further. If director Marty Miranda’s study in abject paranoia isn’t nearly as clever as Christopher Nolan and Erik Skjoldbjærg’s twin versions of “Insomnia,” the effects of no sleep over a prolonged period of time are the same. – Gary Dretzka

Nicholas Sparks: Limited Edition Collection
This collection of movies based on Nicholas Sparks’ novels would be easy to recommend – especially considering the proximity of Valentine’s Day — if it didn’t lack Blu-ray options and “The Last Song” were also included. I assume that “The Last Song,” which starred the formerly betrothed Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, wasn’t included due to its financial ties to Touchstone/Disney. It’s available elsewhere, though, so no great loss, I guess. Still … studios should get off their high horses and figure out a way to cooperate on these things. Instead, “Nicholas Sparks: Limited Edition Collection” is comprised of “Safe Haven,” “The Lucky One,” “Dear John,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “The Notebook,” “A Walk to Remember” and “Message in a Bottle.” Romantics should know ahead of time to bring an extra box of tissues to their binge party. The boxed set adds such new bonus features as a personal letter from the author and photo cards with scenes from the movies. Vintage material includes closed captioning, alternate endings, deleted scenes; outtakes, commentaries, interviews, filmographies, music videos, screen tests and making-of featurettes. – Gary Dretzka

PBS: African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
PBS: Lincoln @ Gettysburg
PBS: The State of Arizona
A&E: Bonnie & Clyde: Blu-ray
While there is nothing positive to say about the slavery, there are many valuable things yet to learn from the institution, beyond the outrages on display in “12 Years a Slave” and “Django Unchained.” In the PBS mini-series, “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. follows the roots of slavery back to Africa, then chronicles the history of the descendants from bondage to the White House. Unlike the cursory overviews provided us in high school history classes and entry-level black-studies courses, “Many Rivers to Cross” introduces us to a surprising array of unsung men and women and achievements not limited to those of George Washington Carver and Jackie Robinson. Moreover, the archival material on display in the six-hour series offers images rarely seen outside museums and libraries. Many of the interviews are conducted on location – Underground Railroad sites, plantations, battlefields — with people who couldn’t be characterized as “the usual suspects.” As important as historical accuracy and diversity are the balanced profiles of activists, once vilified by politicians, editorial writers and conservatives of all stripe for being too “uppity” or radical. Successes in all fields of endeavor are recognized. They all are shown to be part of a vast unfinished tapestry 500 years in the making. (Noticeably missing, however, are Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and conservative opinion-makers.)

Among the many interesting things in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” are the scenes in which the President is personally monitoring telegraph communications in a large room in the War Department. They immediately recalled photos of President Obama in White House’s war room, monitoring the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout, only half a world away. Just as high-tech communications have helped the U.S. in its overseas wars, the telegraph provided an edge to the forces of the Union not available to Southern generals. PBS’ “Lincoln@Gettysburg” expands on those scenes from “Lincoln” by demonstrating how the system worked at a critical juncture in the Civil War, until Southern forces discovered a link on their way to Gettysburg and temporarily took it out. It frustrated Lincoln to be out of the loop for such a long period of time, but, at least one important decision was made outside the chain of command that might have helped him claim victory at Gettysburg. Still, the excruciating wait for information from the battlefield must have been similar to that of NASA officials awaiting to hear the voices of our first astronauts after losing radio communications on re-entry. The episode goes on to chronicle Lincoln’s decision to visit Gettysburg, his speech there and its rapid dissemination.

And, now for something completely different, also on PBS: the “Independent Lens” presentation,
The State of Arizona,” explores the many ways legislators there have tried to suppress the influx of undocumented workers entering this country through the border separating the U.S. and Arizona. The producers’ stated intention was to present all sides of the issue from a variety of points of view, not simply that of liberals and activists. That they do. Sadly, the loudest voices are those of rabidly conservative Arizonans who try to disguise their prejudices with arguments that boil down to “the illegals are breaking the law and that can’t be tolerated here” and “we need really, really tough laws to protect our state from being overrun by criminals intent on clogging Arizona’s schools and hospitals.” To a man (and woman), the conservatives insist the U.S. stole the Southwest fair and square from the Native American population and Mexico, to which Arizona once belonged. A photo of John Wayne in a restaurant nearly elicits tears from one decidedly right-win state senator. Blessedly, their defense of racial profiling and harassment of minorities is balanced by the testimony of victims of the new laws and white Arizonans who understand that the issue is far more complicated than legislators make it out to be and their state is losing face and business to the fanatics. They also feel as if time is being wasted in the legislature arguing about creating ever-tougher laws, when other pressing matters are being ignored. The center of the debate here is Arizona’s SB1070, “papers please” law, which requires police to check the IDs of everyone who “could” be in the country illegally. This, of course, effectively opens searches to anyone darker than your average part-time resident from Illinois. We see cops pulling over drivers for the flimsiest of reasons and detaining people of color overnight for cracked taillights and other minor infractions. The cops are also free to confiscate the cars of a brown-skinned people whose crime is a lapsed license or unpaid ticket. The producers didn’t have to look too far for examples of over-exuberant policing and racial profiling. They’re everywhere. Community organizers have successfully rallied the community against the passage of more draconian laws, but the real test will come at the ballot box. And, yes, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewster are given far too much time to spew their venom.

In something of an unfortunate coincidence, TMC aired Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” within a few hours of my screening of the two-part made-for-cable movie of the same title. The four-hour event, which was simultaneously shown across all A&E Networks channels, is a rather decent entertainment, well-made and occasionally exciting. In comparison to Penn’s classic, however, it’s what a Mercedes-Benz limousine is to a Volkswagen Bug. No offense to the far-better-than-adequate VW, but the Benz is a classic and always will be. Aussie director Bruce Beresford, who’s done some first-class work over a career that’s lasted more than 50 years, does what he can with a budget that is far less than what would be necessary to approximate the original “B&C.” In fact, the two stories very much resemble each other. Emile Hirsch (“Into the Wild”) and Holliday Grainger (“The Borgias”) may lack the same star quality as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the same roles, but they make an attractive, if toxic couple. Even so, Beresford’s budget was no match for the combined creative alerts of Penn, writers David Newman, Robert Benton and Robert Towne, and cinematographer Burnett Guffey. Modern technology did allow him to create action sequences that are, if anything, more excruciatingly violent than those in its predecessor. And, for some viewers, that will constitute a huge plus. The Blu-ray extras include, “Iconography: The Story of Bonnie & Clyde,” in which cast and crew analyze the story and myth of Bonnie and Clyde; “Becoming Bonnie” and “Becoming Clyde,” detailed looks at Hirsch and Grainger’s casting and performance; and “A Legendary Story Revisited,” about fleshing out the origins story of B&C, the writing process, taking liberties with the truth and playing on themes of predetermination and destiny. – Gary Dretzka

The Booker
Michael Perkins’ documentary “The Booker” describes a former pro wrestler’s attempt to launch a competitor to the WWE. As such, it’s a little like watching a garage mechanic attempt to build a better Model T. While it’s probably possible to do it, why waste the time, energy and money for so little return? But, what the heck, since it isn’t our time, energy and money being wasted, why not watch? Perkins followed Steve Scarborough around for four years as the native Hawaiian struggled to build a wrestling empire from scratch in the boonies of Georgia. In that time, Scarborough’s operation has evolved from being a four-student training school to a traveling wrestling show capable of attracting crowds in the low, er, thousands. It’s obvious that Scarborough is a man on a mission from God, because what he really wants to do is return a modicum of purity to a “sport” that’s become little more than vaudeville on steroids. God bless him, he really thinks that pro wrestling is losing fans to the MMA crowd over the absence of traditional values. As absurd as it sounds, Scarborough has a competitive spirit and can-do personality that easily overcome the obvious futility of his quest. It isn’t often, though, that the inner workings of a choreographed sport are shown in all of their naked glory. Perkins isn’t at all interested in exposing the secrets of the game. Instead, he focuses on the determination of everyone involved to succeed against all odds. “The Booker” isn’t the most polished of documentaries, but diehard wrestling aficionados should find it interesting. – 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