MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Blu-ray
I’m not sure the world was crying out for a sequel to 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” – oops, almost wrote “Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy” – when the idea for “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” popped into the heads of Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Judd Apatow. In the original, Ferrell parodied an especially ridiculous example of a 1970 local-news anchor. San Diego’s Harold Greene provided the model, but it could have been based on any one of a dozen such pompous twits. (Ted Knight’s unctuous newsreader on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was modeled after the SoCal anchor, George Putnam.) It would have been difficult for Ferrell to top the on-screen antics of actual 1970s anchors, but, because most of the audience for “Anchorman” was born after the happy-talk craze cooled, viewers might have seen it as pure invention. Adding to the madness were bombastic sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), “ladies man” reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and the incredibly stupid weather guy, Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). “Anchorman” returned a lot of money for DreamWorks and Apatow Productions, even if many pundits considered it to be little more than a particularly funny “Saturday Night Live” sketch. In 2006, rights to DreamWorks’ catalog would transfer to Paramount, whose bean-counters initially doubted the potential for a sequel. After squeezing some payroll concessions from core cast members, “Anchorman 2” was put on the front-burner and it’s done similarly well at the box office. The credit for that belongs, at least in part, to a saturation-marketing campaign that included appearances by Burgandy on actual news outlets, ESPN and commercials for automobiles. Normally, such a campaign would have cost Paramount a fortune, but today’s news executives would rather save money exploiting fake news and car chases than shell out for coverage of actual events.

The plot of “Anchorman 2” recalls the shaky debut of CNN and the 24-hour news cycle. It may be ubiquitous now, but, 30 years ago, it depended on Ted Turner’s pride and purse for success. After a shaky beginning, CNN would capture the public’s attention by providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Challenger disaster and rescue of 18-month-old Baby Jessica, who fell down a well in Midland, Texas. (The same strategy is currently working for CNN with its saturation coverage of the Flight 370 mystery.) Six years after Burgandy and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) accepted a job co-anchoring a show for a prestigious news operation in New York, she’s promoted to a solo-anchor spot and he’s fired. So jealous it burns, Burgandy walks out on Corningstone and their 6-year-old son. After a humiliating return to San Diego, he somehow manages to catch the attention of executives of the fledgling all-news GNN. He agrees to come on board, but only if he can reunite the old news team. After all, how much damage could these clowns do on the graveyard shift? Plenty, as it turns out. It isn’t until Burgandy throws aside the scripts and begins to ad-lib the news report that his demented babbling finds a loyal fan base of insomniacs and tavern patrons.  Much to the consternation of his fellow professionals at GNN and ex-wife, Burgandy’s ratings begin to go through the roof and the team gets a shot at prime time. Think of “Anchorman 2” as a dumbed hybrid of “Network” and “Broadcast News” and you’ll get the picture. The rest of the story is too flat-out goofy to explain, so I won’t even try. As you can imagine, the humor ranges from inspired to juvenile, with most of the weight on the latter. In addition to the cast members already mentioned, there’s a couple dozen other familiar faces that pop in and out of the story. One edition of the Blu-ray arrives with the 118-minute theatrical version, 122-minute unrated version and “super-sized” R-rated version, which boasts 763 new jokes. There’s also commentary with director/co-writer Adam McKay, co-writer/producer Judd Apatow, Ferrell, Carell, Rudd and Koechner; five behind-the-scenes featurettes; more than 90 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes; a pair of “line-o-rama” outtakes and gag reels; audition tapes; table reads; and script read-throughs. – Gary Dretzka

Knights of Badassdom: Blu-ray
In comparison to the seriously undernourished “Knights of Badassdom,” “Anchorman 2” feels inspired. As easy targets go, “live action role players” rank right up there with Trekkies and Bronies. Joe Lynch’s erratic comedy describes what happens when a collection of make-believe knights, elves and other medieval characters gather to re-enact the “Battle of Evermore” and score points toward some kind of mythical crown. What makes this competition different than a dozen others is the acquisition, through E-bay, of an ancient book of magic. With it, Eric the Wizard (Steve Zahn) hopes to find spells and other recipes for disaster to gain an edge on his team’s opponents. Most of the writing is indecipherable, but, in Eric’s hands, the parts that are legible are also the most dangerous. So, while members of other teams, honing their weapons and devising Trojan horses and vehicles of fake destruction, Eric’s conjured an actual mini-Godzilla. The teams fly their geek flags as if they were bestowed on them by King Arthur or Princess Leia, personally. Their leaders affect a language that’s a cross between old English and Klingon. There are as many rules as there are competitors and everyone maintains a separate identity consistent with the team’s chosen mythology. There’s also room made for some nerdy romance, but, as welcome as she is, it’s impossible to believe that a woman as scintillating as ballerina/model/actress Summer Glau would fall for it. The movie’s backstory explains the disjointed look of the finished product. Completed in 2010, the footage was taken away by producers who felt that they could do a better job in post-production than the creators, themselves. Who knows, maybe “Knights” really was that terrible and this version is an improvement. Stranger things have happened in Hollywood, I guess. My guess is that the producers decided to complete the project when one of them realized how much the reputations of the cast members had grown in four years. Among those whose careers had blossomed in the meantime are a pre-“Game of Crowns” Peter Dinklage, who remains the best reason to watch “Knights.” There’s also Ryan Kwanten (“True Blood”), W. Earl Brown (“Deadwood”), Margarita Levieva (“Revenge”), Danny Pudi (“Community”), Brian Posehn (“The Sarah Silverman Show”) and Joshua Malina (“Scandal”). – Gary Dretzka

At Middleton: Blu-ray
Academy Award nominees Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga apply their considerable talents to an indie rom-dram that should resonate with parents of kids in their senior year at high school. “At Middleton” takes place during one of the modern age’s most familiar rites of passage: the annual tour of colleges by prospective freshman and their parents. Like so many baby birds prodded from the nest by their elders, students get their first real taste of freedom and a view of the world afforded by being so far away from the comfort and conformity of their hometowns. Some meet kids who will become lifelong friends and discover opportunities they never knew existed. For their part, parents get their first inkling of how it might feel to lose one of their own, if only until they move back home after college. The twist in Adam Rodgers and Glenn German’s debut feature comes when adult strangers, played well by Garcia and Farmiga, decide to split from the tour and check out the school on their own. Left to their own devices, these polar opposites — George is uptight, Edith a bit of a free spirit –experience a different kind of freedom.

Both have reached the point of diminishing returns in their marriages and must decide if they’ll stay the course of attempt to realize what’s left of their potential. They make the most of their time together by sharing their frustrations, secrets, dreams and hopes for their children. Finally, once they get past their defense mechanisms, they fall into something resembling puppy love. Meanwhile, Audrey and Conrad are playing adult for perhaps the first time in their young lives, attempting to make well-reasoned decisions based on variables they can’t even see. As played by Spencer Lofranco and Taissa Farmiga (Vera’s sister), the kids aren’t nearly as different from their parents as they think. At first, Audrey and Conrad are attracted to each other by their mutual good looks and a shared embarrassment over their parents’ idiosyncracies. As the day progresses, however, it’s possible to see how first impressions might give way to the realities of adulthood. If they choose Middleton, anything could happen.

Despite its considerable charms, “At Middleton” comes off like a well-meaning made-for-cable movie … too saccharine by half. George’s preference for bowties and nerdy eyeglasses tells us everything we need to know about him, almost at first glance. Edith is more likeable, but ultimately too needy for viewers to fully embrace. Their best scene together comes when they’re adopted by a pair of Middleton students, who offer them refuge in their dorm and a bong to loosen their buns. You can practically taste the scenery Garcia and Farmiga are chewing. The movie’s biggest negative, in my opinion, is any perspective on the value of diversity in a college program. Because a year at Middleton probably ranges between $40,000-50,000, the kids will be surrounded by the cream of the American education system and, more likely than not, encouraged to follow a pre-determined path to their futures. It isn’t likely that either candidate would experience the kind of diverse, broad-based experience a public institution might provide. Like it or not, though, schools like Middleton are exactly what people in the movie industry think of first when considering colleges for their offspring. Also along for the ride are old pros Peter Reigert and Tom Skerritt. – Gary Dretzka

Behind Enemy Lines: SEAL Team 8
That our military has boots on the ground in several African hot spots shouldn’t come as news to anyone who reads the New York Times or monitors the BBC. Our interests there are many and varied. That Tom Sizemore is in charge of one of our elite fighting units – as evidenced in the fictional “Behind Enemy Lines: SEAL Team 8” – might come as something of a surprise to people who prefer the gossip rags, however. Once one of the actors most in demand to play soldiers, cops or criminals in a movie, Sizemore instead became an odds-on favorite to win the Hollywood Dead Pool. He continually put his life and career on the line, preferring drugs and other illegal pursuits to maintaining his insurability. Neither did his image improve when became engaged to the equally hapless Heidi Fleiss. Since getting cleaned up, however, the Detroit native seems to have found plenty of work, albeit in movies that tend to go straight-to-DVD. As befits a man of 52, Sizemore is kept out of harm’s way here by playing the off-site leader of a SEAL team, whose activities can be monitored via cameras on drones and satellites. They’ve been assigned to locate a clandestine African mining operation, rescue hostages and prevent the sale of weapons-grade uranium to international terrorists. A subsequent unsanctioned search takes the SEALs much deeper into enemy territory, where they’re seriously outnumbered and possibly outgunned. Working in the team’s favor, however, are the pilotless planes armed with Hellfire missiles and communications devices that know no border. It should surprise anyone when a rescued hostage turns out to be working both sides of the street.  Even so, the Congolese irregulars are a formidable fighting force and their terrorist sponsors are ruthless. The “Behind Enemy Lines” franchise has done pretty well for itself on home video and it’s easy to see why. By combining video-game point-and-shoot action with over-the-top violence, “SEAL Team 8” is often quite exciting and reasonably credible. In addition to Sizemore, the movie offers this week’s winner of our Name of the Week contest: Lex Shrapnel. – Gary Dretzka

Loves Her Gun
The Contenders
In writer/director Geoff Marslett’s loosey-goosey drama, “Loves Her Gun,” a young woman is doomed to make the kind of foolish decisions that are bound to put her a path toward almost certain disaster. From the title, we already know that gun-lust will play a key role either in her demise or salvation. How it will impact those within Allie’s orbit is another story altogether. On one fairly typical night, she attends a concert performed by musicians wearing karate gis and doing something resembling the Wave with their arms. On her way home from a funky Brooklyn club, Allie (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is mugged by a pair of guys wearing suits, ties and animal masks. Her decision to walk through an empty warehouse district at night, alone, is only the first of several colossal mistakes she’ll make. Freaked out, nonetheless, Allie begs a ride with the band to Austin, a haven deep in the heart of Texas for hipsters, cosmic cowboys and musicians. It doesn’t take her long to locate safe places to crash, feel comfortable in the city’s laid-back bar scene and adapting to the “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” lifestyle. Obviously still unnerved from the attack, Allie is encouraged to buy a pistol by the women for whom she works in a landscaping business. Everyone in Texas has one, she’s told, and, once mastered, they can provide a suitable alternative to vibrators and dildos. And, indeed, she does fall in lust with her pet firearm. Because not everyone in Texas is as conscientious about gun ownership as, say, Ted Nugent, no one bothers to explain to her the difference between pointing a gun at a paper target and a human being. Already a fuse waiting to be lit, Allie reacts to any disturbance in the neighborhood by grabbing the weapon and demanding immediate results. If it’s easy for viewers to predict how things might progress from her first day on the target range to the movie’s abrupt climax, I’ve fudged the details enough to maintain an element of surprise. Clearly made on a tight budget, “Loves Her Gun” will remind some viewers of a Mumblecore production, minus the laughs. Marslett and DP Amy Bench nicely capture Austin vibe, apart from the hook-’em-horns yahoos, and Dunn portrays a woman crushed by violence extremely well.

Sometimes, multi-hyphenate performers are too self-absorbed to notice when they’ve added one hyphen too many to their credits. That’s certainly the case with Marta Mondelli’s stagnant relationship drama, “The Contenders.” Informed primarily by such brainy folks as August Strindberg, Woody Allen and Eric Rohmer, it’s mostly an exercise in yuppie angst. Five youngish adults are invited to a weekend-long birthday party at their swank beach house. Before the first candle is blown out, however, the birthday girl complains of a headache, then goes upstairs for a nap and dies. Bummer, for sure. What’s worse, however, are the endless and intellectually pointless conversations the death inspires. In addition to writing and directing, Mondelli plays a pipe-smoking hottie who claims to know the secret to happiness but refuses to spill the beans. (Hint: it’s not having the bread to afford a swell beach house.) On the plus side, her movie is only 75 minutes long. – Gary Dretzka

At a mere 70 minutes, “Low” is as much a short film as a feature. More often than not, brevity and concise storytelling work in the favor of horror and psychodramas, in which too much information can be as destructive as too little. Ross Shepherd’s sophomore film opens with an unassuming young woman crossing into an open meadow, carrying a box of ominous size. Shortly after burying the box, Alice is confronted by a slightly older and far creepier man, with longish hair and round spectacles. Edward demands that Alice take him to the place in the field where she buried the box. How he knew that Alice was concealing a secret as dastardly as his own is anyone’s guess. Flashbacks will help explain how the two people came to be in the same place on this particular day, while the rest of “Low” mostly concerns Alice’s attempt to free herself from Edward and an abusive boyfriend back home. It’s really that simple. Once again, the British countryside makes an auspicious setting for horror. – Gary Dretzka

Norma Rae: 35th Anniversary: Blu-ray
Fargo: Remastered Edition: Blu-ray
Right-wing talk-show hosts love to rail against Hollywood liberality, real and imagined. The fact is that money has always trumped personal political beliefs and, no matter how much of it an individual donates to Democratic candidates, liberal filmmakers will turn out militaristic action flicks and zombie movies if they are what’s keeping the turnstiles churning. On the other hand, if biopics about Stalin, Chairman Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and global warming sold tickets, Rupert Murdoch would instruct his minions at Fox to call in Oliver Stone, Warren Beatty, Michael Moore and Jane Fonda for story conferences. If Hollywood was indeed so liberal, why did Oscar favorites “Dallas Buyers Club,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” need to be rescued by their stars to get financed, made and distributed? The release of the 35th anniversary edition of “Norma Rae,” on Blu-ray, reminded me of the time when message movies did make money for the studios, however reluctant they were to produce them or mirror the ideals they espoused. Martin Ritt’s pro-union drama, starring Sally Field, made plenty of money for Fox, possibly prompting the studio to distribute “Silkwood.” At about the same time, such decidedly progressive films as “Reds,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Missing,” “The China Syndrome,” “Coming Home,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Born on the Fourth of July” found enthusiastic audiences, as well. That period of liberality is long gone, now. Of the tens of thousands of American films produced in the interim, I’d be willing to bet that far more of them espoused traditional, conservative or downright fascist values than those associated with the left.

No one at Fox was enthusiastic about making a pro-union movie or casting Field in the role of the reluctant labor organizer in “Norma Rae.” Still burdened by stereotypes formed during her days playing Gidget and the Flying Nun, she gave one of the most rip-roaring performances by an actor in a decade filled with them. Field played a Southern millworker and party girl, who, after seeing too many of her fellow workers suffer from brown-lung disease, joins forces with a professional organizer from New York (Ron Leibman) to form a union. “Norma Rae” was a grass-roots David-vs.-Goliath story, with easily relatable issues, a beating heart and the ring of truth about it. Before re-watching it last week, I had relegated “Norma Rae” to the sands of time. Even though Americans have since been brainwashed against organized labor, it still packs a powerful punch. There are many fewer clichés and stereotypes than I could remember and even the opposition within the plant demonstrates a dollop of humanity toward Rae, who, after all, is one of their own. It would bring Field her first Academy Award and put her on the A-list for a long time to come. “Norma Rae” was based on the bravery of Crystal Lee Sutton and a 1975 book about her by New York Times reporter Henry “Hank” Leiferman, “Crystal Lee: A Woman of Inheritance.” She was fired from her job at the J.P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, for trying to unionize its employees. Beau Bridges, Grace Zabriskie, Pat Hingle, Bob Minor and Gail Strickland are among the recognizable co-stars. The Blu-ray/DVD add “Hollywood Backstory: Norma Rae.”

I don’t know if the release of the re-mastered Blu-ray edition of “Fargo” was timed to coincide with the debut of FX’s mini-series of the same title, on April 15, but it seems likely that it was. Even if the TV show stinks, which I doubt, we’re still getting something new and improved from the deal. It isn’t the first time a television adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ dark comedy has been attempted. The first one, written by Bruce Paltrow and Robert Palm, aired very briefly in 2003 as a made-for-TV movie. It starred a pre-“Sopranos” Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson. The new show will feature Joey King, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine, Bob Odenkirk and Oliver Platt. The great thing about the original movie is that fans can find something new in every viewing, by focusing on the backgrounds, office shelves and deceptively clever dialogue. The new edition retrieves commentary with director of photography Roger Deakins, the featurettes “Minnesota Nice” and “Trivia Nice,” an article from American Cinematographer and BD-Live. – Gary Dretzka

Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda
The more we hear from Russia about its official stance on homosexuality, the more Vladimir Putin sounds like Adolph Hitler. He may have had his bluff called on the subject before the Sochi Olympics, but, since then, nothing has stopped him from attacking people who had few enough allies in Russia. Would it surprise anyone if Putin’s allies in the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church demanded that these undesirables by forced to wear pink stars on their clothes. They use the same rhetoric once directed at the Jews of Europe by Hitler and have even called out party thugs to break up rallies and suppress public demonstrations of affection. By annexing the Crimean Peninsula, the historical parallels are now too close to ignore. Next will come measures to limit the movement of Muslims and other non-Russian minorities.  In Michael Lucas’ penetrating documentary, “Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda,” we meet and hear from a couple dozen people who are most directly affected by the new laws and physical attacks. Because several of them have already decided to get out of Russian while the getting is still good, the witnesses might as well be speaking for the gays and lesbians trapped in even worse situations in Africa and other parts of the world. We also meet representatives of the religious right, who, not surprisingly, make the same dopey arguments as their brethren in the United States, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya. Last year, the Russian parliament passed a ban on “gay propaganda” that effectively makes nearly any public discussion of the fight for equality a crime. Moscow has outlawed Gay Pride parades for the next 100 years. Adoption of Russian children is forbidden to citizens of any foreign country that permits gay marriage. Although Putin theoretically could step in to prevent the imposition of a pink-star mandate, if only to mollify western concerns, it’s clear from the witnesses gathered by Lucas that much of the foundation for more heinous actions has already been laid.  – Gary Dretzka

ITV/BBC America: Broadchurch: Season 1
Power Rangers: Seasons 13-17
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Fully Roasted
I don’t have to tell you that some shows are more binge-worthy than others and some probably ought to be savored on a weekly basis, as originally designed. A full week’s worth of anticipation for the next episode of “Mad Men,” “True Blood” and “The Sopranos” only adds to the total experience, while more literary adaptations can be savored in the same way that a book is enjoyed, at one’s convenience or all in one gulp. Both versions of “House of Cards” and “Shameless,” “Downton Abbey,” “True Detective” and “Orange Is the New Black” qualify in the latter category. Newly arrived on DVD is the ITV mini-series, “Broadchurch,” which aired here on BBC America. As straightforward as a good British mystery, “Broadchurch” takes full advantage of its nearly 400-minute length to solve a heinous crime that has impacted a scenic and normally placid tourist community on the English Channel. One morning in the off-season, the body of an 11-year-old boy is discovered on the beach, only a few feet distant from a nearly vertical cliff. There’s no reason to believe that Danny Latimer jumped or was pushed to his death. Neither was he sexually abused or washed up on the sand by waves. As these sorts of whodunits and procedurals go, it’s a dandy mystery. What distinguishes “Broadchurch” from other multi-part mysteries we’ve all seen are the many parallel dramas that unfold as the investigation continues. Chief among them is the steadily evolving professional relationship between the intense, by-the-book Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and the compassionate Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), who is disappointed that she didn’t get the DI position that went to Hardy. The other key relationship is the steadily disintegrating one between the victim’s parents, Beth and Mark Latimer. In time, more than a dozen other townsfolk are interrogated as “persons of interest.” They range from Danny’s friends and neighbors, to the local vicar and a spooky psychic. Once those characters are introduced, their lives, too, are peeled back like onion skin to reveal buried secrets. The temperament of a town in distress can be calculated in the roiling sea and the pale sky. When news of the murder breaks in the tabloid press, it threatens the town’s seasonal livelihood and shines light into places that probably should remain dark. I’m not sure this description does justice to the intensity of the mini-series, which keeps viewers guessing from minute one to the final scene and taking sides in the investigation. The DVD adds deleted scenes, a background piece and interviews.

Fans of the Power Rangers franchise will find “Power Rangers: Seasons 13-17” equally binge-worthy. The good folks at Shout!Factory have been sending out restored editions of the long-running series “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” in 1993. The current season, “Power Rangers Super Megaforce,” debuted here in February. The new five-season boxed set takes fans to that point. Really, really serious collectors may want to invest in Shout!Factory’s “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Legacy Collection,” which arrives in a red helmet and contains all 20 seasons in a 98-DVD set, with a 100-page book comprised of essays, episode descriptions, photos and illustrations. This set is individually numbered, up to 2,000 copies. If one were to purchase this package, at $799.99, my advice is to keep it in its original packaging and stick it in a closet, until you need some quick catch. The material in the new box, at $129.99, adds featurettes, “Mad Props!,” with prop master Mark Richardson and members of the cast looking back on working with the props of “Power Rangers”; “Rangers On Set!,” in which cast members reflect on their favorite—and least favorite—sets; “Ranger Tales,” with the reflections of  cast members; “Collect ‘Em All!,” in which fans show off their favorite Power Rangers toys and collectibles; and “The S.P.D. Rangers Want You,” “Mystic Force: Forces Of Nature!” and “Operation Overdrive Files.”

Once I put on the first disc from the holiday-ready box of shows from the “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts,” I could hardly take my eyes off of them. It wasn’t so much the jokes and insults being flung at celebrity guests as it was the mere presence of the roasters, who represent a who’s-who of comedy from several decades of American show business. The series ran from 1973-84, a period in time when the dais might hold a couple of entertainers who started in vaudeville, venerable movie stars, singers, contemporary TV actors and the odd astronaut or general. Some of the roasters had about as much business sitting alongside the legends as I would have had, which is to say, none. “Fully Roasted” mines 540 minutes of material from the larger collector’s box and makes it available to general consumer for the first time. Among the celebrities here are Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Benny, Jonathan Winters, Redd Foxx, Hugh Hefner, Don Rickles, Jimmie “Dyn-o-mite” Walker, Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Red Buttons Foster Brooks, Rick Little, Paul Anka, Carroll O Connor, Joey Bishop, Shelley Winters, George Kennedy, Earnest Borgnine, Orson Welles, Jimmy Stewart, Phyllis Diller, Rocky Graziano, Billy Crystal, Betty White, Ronald Reagan, Bette Davis, Angie Dickinson, Muhammad Ali, George Burns, Telly Savalas, Rowan and Martin, Barry Goldwater, Suzanne Somers, Dennis Weaver, Ralph Nader, Gabe Kalplan, Norm Crosby, Ruth Buzzi and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Newly filmed bonus material includes interviews with participants and contemporary performers influenced by Dean and a memory booklet with essays and photos. – Gary Dretzka

American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: the Last Outlaws
Nova: Zeppelin Terror Attack
Frontline: Secret State of North Korea
Nature: Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem
PBS: Israel: The Royal Tour
Nova: Ghosts of Murdered Kings
Paul Newman and Robert Redford may have immortalized Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in George Roy Hill’s rather fanciful Western, but for the rest of their story history buffs have had to turn to other sources. The “American Experience” presentation, “Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid: The Last Outlaws,” fills in the holes rather nicely. Much of the fascination with the pair derives from the timing of their exploits, which coincided with the rise of the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a national militia that was at the beck and call of industrialists, banks and anti-labor forces. The agency not only put the outlaws and cops on equal footing, but the detectives were given free rein to murder and maim, intimidate workers and crush strikes. They also maintained a larger, more efficient arsenal. The documentary takes viewers to spots on the Outlaw Trail, where, today, you’d need a drone to discover the hideouts. Thus, the gang’s reputation for disappearing into thin air after a heist. “The Last Outlaws” provides a breezy lesson in American history and a post-mortem on the era just before outlaws were able to use machine guns and cars to evade arrest, until J. Edgar Hoover came along to put an end to their game, as well.

Most of what Americans know about the history of zeppelins derives from the Hindenburg disaster and their use as modern marketing tools. The “Nova” presentation, “Zeppelin Terror Attack,” recalls the horrific First Blitz, when German-made dirigibles dropped bombs on London from heights most planes couldn’t then reach. The documentary first takes on the technological research that went into the creation of such fighting machines, while the second part chronicles the development of bullets that could both pierce their skin and cause explosions within the infrastructure. It wasn’t nearly as simple as it now seems.

PBS’ “Secret State of North Korea” was completed before Kim Jong-un ordered all men in North Korea to adopt hairdos exactly like his. Otherwise, it’s quite up to date. The documentary uses hidden cameras to describe the extreme lengths to which the impoverished citizens of this ridiculous country go to possess the technology that allows them to remain informed and entertained. The risk is huge, considering that Kim would prefer the citizenry not have any contact with the outside world. The smuggling of fully loaded thumb and flash drives is tricky and dangerous, and he’s already proven himself willing and able to kill anyone, including his relatives, to maintain his grip on the country.

Honey badgers may resemble skunks with bad haircuts, but, as pests and predators go, they don’t come any tougher. “Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem” describes how the mustelid has managed to survive and prosper against larger foes. They can’t be contained by most man-made enclosures and possess an uncanny ability to invade homes in their African habitats. It’s quite astonishing how much damage these critters can do in a very short time.

PBS’s “Israel: The Royal Tour” follows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and travel journalist Peter Greenberg as they tour the country, with an eye toward revealing destinations and historic landmarks off the beaten path for most tourists. Because it pointedly avoids the tough questions about the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians – especially the ability of the latter to travel freely throughout Israel – “The Royal Tour” frequently feels as if it were an infomercial produced specifically for Pledge Month begathons. Even so, Israel is an amazing country, full of places that merge beauty and horror.

Ghosts of Murdered Kings” describes the search for clues in the ritual murders of Bronze Age royalty. It opens in the rolling hills of Ireland’s County Tipperary, where a laborer harvesting peat from a dried-up bog spotted remnants of a perfectly preserved, if headless torso. Archeologists recognize the corpse as one of Europe’s rare “bog bodies”: prehistoric corpses flung into marshes with forensic clues often suggesting execution or human sacrifice. Researchers use modern forensics techniques to determine the fates of the ancient clans. – Gary Dretzka

Gordon Family Tree
Richard Karn and Corbin Bernsen represent the marquee talent in the Dove-approved, Kickstarter-funded “Gordon Family Tree,” a family-oriented movie that probably will make more sense to parents than kids. Like so many successful professionals after reaching a personal landmark, the newly 30 Freemont Gordon decides that he can’t stand another day at his job as an architect and wants to do something more fulfilling. Unlike most of us, however, he’s in a financial position to accommodate this sudden whim. He decides to leave Los Angeles behind and go on a roadtrip to places not quite so obsessed with the trappings of wealth. Instead, Gordon repays the kindness of new friends by building tree houses for their families. In doing so, he rewards himself in kind. – 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