MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Finding Vivian Maier, Around the Block, Ping Pong Summer, L’amore in Citta, Without Warning, Need for Speed, I’ll Follow You Down, Bitten … More

Finding Vivian Maier
In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter
More Than the Rainbow
In movies purporting to be made from “found” video footage, an unseen character is assigned the task of walking behind everyone else in the movie, filming everything they do and occasionally directing them. I’ve never encountered such a person in real life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Far more common are the many amateur and semi-pro photographers who wouldn’t dream of leaving home without their cameras. The world is their studio and everyone in it potentially is a model. It isn’t difficult to find things to shoot, of course. Anyone with a sharp eye can frame a scene, even accidentally, in a way that makes even the most mundane moments in life look interesting. The art of the street photographer is recognized in the museum-quality work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Andre Kertesz, Garry Winogrand and many other shooters. Although cellphone cameras are threatening to change the standard methodology of street photography, their use is still pretty much limited to recording the damage done in car accidents, for selfies and updating Facebook portraits. These three fine documentaries, released nearly simultaneously through different distributors, testify to the viability of the time-honored discipline.

Of the three, “Finding Vivian Maier” should appeal to the widest cross-section of viewers, whether or not they’ve picked up a camera since the industry went digital. That’s because the story behind the photographs is so doggone fascinating it practically demands to be seen. After spending her formative years in New York and her mother’s Alpine hometown of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur, she moved to Chicago and spent the next 40 years working as a nanny on the city’s tony North Shore. She spent her free time, as well as improvised field trips with her young charges, shooting tens of thousands of photographs on her medium-format Rolleiflex. It wasn’t until the 1970s, that Maier switched to a 35mm camera and Ektachrome film. Her passion, which she kept secret from employers, included home movies and audio tapes with people she photographed. Two years before her death in 2009, Maier’s entire trove was sold at auction to help the storage facility recover her debt. One of the three successful bidders posted some of the images on the Internet, but failed to attract much attention to them. Amateur historian John Maloof had far greater luck with the photos he posted, prompting something of a “viral” response to them. Before long, Maier’s status would grow from anonymous amateur to worldwide sensation. Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s “Finding Vivan Maier” expands on this thumbnail biography, by adding dozens of photographs, movies, interviews with the grown-up children left to her attention, critics, fellow photographers and her remaining French relatives in Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur. The thing to remember about Maier is that, while something of a hoarder, she wasn’t a recluse. Not only was Chicago her oyster, but she also travelled internationally and recorded the habits and fashions of people representing all social classes.

The subject of Tomas Leach’s “In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter” may have enjoyed far greater visibility in his lifetime than Maier, but he, too, felt no great urgency to share his work with outsiders. Leiter’s rarely left his Lower East Side apartment, which looks as if it might collapse at any given moment from the sheer weight of his chaotically preserved collections. Unlike Maier, though, Leiter accepted assignments from Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire and favored color photography throughout most of his career. The camera he received from his mother at age 12 pretty much ended his father’s plan for him to become a rabbi. After leaving theology school, he moved to New York to paint. Abstract Expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart and photojournalist W. Eugene Smith both encouraged Leiter to pursue photography. Blessed with a painterly eye, he experimented with the way photographers composed their shots and distorted visual reality through the application of colors and textures.  Along with Robert Frank and Diane Arbus, he contributed to what became known as the New York School of photographers. Leiter didn’t exactly open his arms to Leach, insisting that his output wasn’t worthy of such regard and his personal story wasn’t that interesting. Everything in “In No Great Hurry” contradicts that opinion. He constantly warns the filmmaker about the possibility of pulling his consent from the project if the intrusion on his privacy offended him. That modesty, alone, made him a rare bird in Manhattan. Leiter died last November, a week before his 90th birthday, but in time to see a rough cut of the documentary. Before passing on, he also had given up his resolve not to spend time cataloguing and editing his “stuff,” by allowing assistant Margit Erb to ease the ordeal. The film is broken down into 13 chapters, or “lessons,” which could apply to life as much as photography.

I’m pretty sure that Dan Wechsler hadn’t intended on begging comparisons of his documentary, “More Than the Rainbow,” to “Taxi Driver.” Nonetheless, they’re inevitable. His subject, street photographer Matt Weber, once made his living driving a cab through the same mean streets as Travis Bickle, and both shared an eye for the sordid: prostitutes on the stroll, knife fights on the sidewalks and almost comically attired pedestrians everywhere from Times Square to Coney Island. At least one street scene does bear the unmistakable fingerprints of Martin Scorsese, as Weber’s hack is driven through a cloud of steam. When he saw something he wanted to shoot, Wells simply pointed his camera out of the cab from his seat or got out and framed the image. (It’s left unclear as to whether he made his passengers wait, while he fed his addiction. Seems a bit tricky, tip-wise). Like other street photographers, he might also stand and wait for hours for the pictures to come to him. The title, “More Than the Rainbow,” refers to one of his more well-known photos, in which lakeside cottages and a sign offering Depression-era rates, are practically eclipsed by a rainbow. Weber knew that the rainbow would immediately draw the attention of viewers, even though it was more of a lucky coincidence than anything else. It probably can be argued that street photography in New York City is the artistic equivalent of fishing with hand grenades. Point your camera in any direction and you’ll stumble upon something that looks remarkable after being cropped and edited. Still, serendipity is as necessary a component of the art as a light meter. “More Than the Rainbow” differs from the other two docs in that the participants are asked to weigh in on aesthetics, technology, ethics and the relative merits of color and black-and-white film. Not all street photography is intrusive, but, in New York, the temptation to invade a subject’s privacy often is too compelling to resist. Among the witnesses are Ralph Gibson, Zoe Strauss, Eric Kroll, Todd Oldham, Ben Lifson, Jeff Mermelstein and David Beckerman. All three films offer bonus gallery material. “More Than the Rainbow” also benefits from a soundtrack filled with the music of Thelonious Monk.

Around the Block
I don’t know if “Blackboard Jungle” is the first movie in which a dedicated outsider uses the arts to change the fortunes of disadvantaged teenagers and outright hoodlums, but the scenario has yet to wear out its welcome. From Australia, “Around the Block” finds guest-American Christina Ricci employs Shakespeare to reach Aboriginal students, living in one of Sydney’s tougher neighborhoods. The teacher, Dino Chalmers, had attended college in Australia a few years earlier and was returning to be with her boyfriend after having taught drama on the Navajo Nation. Already sensitive to the racism that subjugates native populations, Chalmers is shocked by insensitivity of her boyfriend and his cronies toward the plight of the Aboriginals, who they consider incapable of anything besides committing crimes and public inebriation. Chalmers’ students are surprisingly pleased by being given the opportunity to perform “Hamlet.” She takes on resident bad boy Liam Wood (Hunter Page-Lochard) as the titular character, even though he appears to be carrying the weight of the world on his back. Liam would love to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, who, before being killed by police, had been a star of the world-renowned National Black Theater. His father, who was arrested and incarcerated in the same incident, prods both of the boys to kill the drug dealer who set them up. Instead, Liam desires to break the cycle of violence and hate by playing a slightly Aboriginal version of Hamlet. First-time writer/director Sarah Spillane appears to have anticipated all of the clichés attendant to such stories and has either found ways to avoid them or add clever local twists to the proceedings. Ricci does a nice job, as usual, as do the aspiring thespians. The only jarring element comes in the girl-girl subplot, during which Chalmers turns to female companionship immediately after giving her lunkhead boyfriend the heave-ho. We will soon enough learn that, while in college, she had broken the heart of her lesbian lover and was now back to mend it. Problem is, the change in direction comes completely out of left field and raises more questions than it answers. Otherwise, “Around the Block” is a refreshing take on an old story.

Ping Pong Summer: Blu-ray
Last week in this space, while reviewing a new DVD from France, I mentioned how comforting it is that Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon are still accepting roles in movies that don’t assure Oscar nominations or, even, a theatrical release. This, at a time when more and more actresses of a certain age are relegated to cable mini-series and sitcoms. Sarandon’s turn in “Ping Pong Summer” isn’t nearly as substantial as Deneuve’s in “On My Way,” but it’s by far the best thing in Michael Tully’s quaint coming-of-age comedy. I say “quaint” because almost everything seems out-of-place by 20 years, at least. In one of the hoariest of coming-of-age clichés, the Miracle family is returning to Ocean City, Maryland, for their annual summer vacation by the beach. This one promises to be a real hum-dinger, in that 13-year-old Rad (Marcello Conte) has finally reached puberty and is handsome enough to do something about it. Curiously, though, he has no idea how to respond to the things his body is telling him to do. By comparison, his older sister, Michelle (Helena May Seabrook), is a Goth nihilist with no desire to spend time shaking sand out of her shoes.

As Mrs. Miracle, Lea Thompson could very well be channeling the 1985 iteration of Lorraine Baines in “Back to the Future,” a casting decision that hardly seems coincidental. For no good reason, other than John Hannah is Scottish, Mr. Miracle is a cop with a thick brogue. No sooner does Rad unpack his suitcase than he’s in trouble with a couple of local bullies who seem to think it’s cool to beat up on out-of-town geeks unable to fight back when pushed. Rad shares this misfortune with his new best friend, Teddy (Myles Massey), who acts as if he may be related to Steve Urkel and is an easy target for the townies’ prehistoric attitudes toward race. They bond over ping-pong, hip-hop and breakdancing. Remarkably, the bullies also have a thing for ping-pong, as do the local bathing beauties. Naturally, Rad is challenged by one of the boys to a duel, designed to humiliate him in front of the girls. The problem for viewers old enough to remember President Nixon’s use of “ping-pong diplomacy” to build a bridge with then-Red China is that the quality of table tennis on display in the teen arcade here is abysmal. Anticipating being slaughtered at the local arcade’s green plywood table, Rad consults the one person who might help him avoid eternal humiliation in Ocean City. Sarandon plays the town’s foremost eccentric, Randi Jammer, who, among other skills, once was a champion swatter. Not having been a teenager in the mid-1980s, I couldn’t attest to the nostalgia value of “Ping Pong Summer.” I remember parents being more concerned over sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll than paddle-wielding thugs threatening their kids. The actors never give their performances less than their all, though, and the period look is realistically rendered. Commentary is provided by Tully and producer George Rush. The package also includes a humorous making-of feature.

Without Warning: Bluray
How this barely seen homage to 1950s’ sci-fi managed to avoid being skewered by the robotic critics of the Satellite of Love – the orbiting screening room on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” — is anyone’s guess. It certainly is no less worthy than the 198 entries in the series. My guess is that its absence can be attributed to the same rights issues that kept it from being released on any video format, until Scream Factory picked it up and gave it a full digital makeover. As bad as it is, however, “Without Warning” has a few things going for it and all of them appear in the list of credits. How bad could a movie starring Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Neville Brand, Cameron Mitchell, Sue Ann Langdon, Ralph Meeker, Larry Storch and newcomer David Caruso be? As directed by schlockmeister Greydon Clark (“Black Shampoo,” “Satan’s Cheerleaders”), bad enough to qualify as must-see cinema. Filmed in the mountains around Los Angeles, “Without Warning” is the story of an alien whose thirst for human blood is quenched through the deployment of nasty little creatures that look and fly like Frisbees, but are lethal to humans. It resembles a deflated cow pie, from which the poisonous tentacles of a Portuguese man o’ war protrude. Not even a pack of Cub Scouts is safe from the damn things. Landau and Palance appear to hold the only keys to unlock the mystery and destroy the alien. Typically, though, they’re too busy drinking in a local pub to do anything but give lip-service to the solution. Frankly, I can’t blame them. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Clark; new interviews with cinematographer Dean Cundey, co-writer/co-producer Daniel Grodnik; special make-up effects creator Greg Cannom; actors Christopher S. Nelson and Tarah Nutter; original theatrical trailer; and stills gallery.

Raro Video
L’amore in Citta: Blu-ray
I Vinti: Blu-ray
The Bankers of God: The Calvi Affair: Blu-ray
Blue Movie
Most of what Americans know about post-WWII Italian cinema can be summed up in one word, “Neorealism.” The movement was so dynamic a cinematic force that it influenced nearly all other films made in Italy in its immediate wake and impacted on how European and American directors approached dramatic projects. In Italy, these included movies made for the consumption of audiences tiring of reliving the horrors of the Nazi occupation and watching stories about heroic priests (for several years, a subgenre of its own). Italo-centric Raro Video is in the business of introducing Americans to impeccably restored movies that weren’t deemed sufficiently commercial to make the leap over the pond in the early 1950s, as well as genre classics and exploitation pictures by artists both well-known and obscure. One of the most striking visual aspects common to post-war movies from Europe and Japan are the many artifacts of WWII seen in location shoots. Shantytowns, bombed-out structures and piles of bricks continue to haunt the horizons, alongside newly constructed housing projects or the odd modern building. The so-called economic miracles were years away from pushing back the rising tide of poverty and unemployment. Women, especially, bore the burden of the post-war Baby Boom. (Many of southern European men and teenage boys sought work in places where the economy had slowly begun to improve.) In America, by contrast, blue- and white-collar workers had already found meaningful work and were banking their salaries in hopes of buying into the American Dream … with some help from the G.I. Bill.

Made in 1953, “L’amore in Citta” is something of a revelation. Borrowing Neorealist conceits, the anthology explores some of the ways contemporary citizens of Rome were dealing with the vagaries of love, romance, sex, divorce, despair, abandonment and parenthood. If that sounds unwieldy, the contributors weren’t yet required to include radical departures from tradition, brought about by the Pill and the freedoms allowed owners of motorized beds … er, cars. Most young men and women lived with their parents until marriage, chaperons and curfews had yet to disappear, and the long shadow of the Catholic Church kept teenagers in the dark about sex. Even so, by 1953, people too young to have fought in the war were bursting at the seams to enjoy freedom before it was taken away from them again. The “60 Minutes”-like omnibus opens with Carlo Lizzani’s “L’Amore che si paga” (“Paid Love), which shines an unbiased light into the shadows of the buyer’s market that was prostitution in Rome; Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Attempted Suicide,” provides an open mike for men and women who had attempted or seriously considered suicide as a cure for despair; Dino Risi’s absolutely delightful “Paradise for Four Hours” spends an evening in a dance hall, where jazz, R&B and rock bring men and women together, if only for a few minutes at a time; Federico Fellini’s “Marriage Agency” enlists a reporter to pose as a perspective husband to investigate the match-making business; Cesara Zavattini and Umberto Maselli’s “Story of Caterina” dramatizes the true story of an impoverished unwed mother who agonizes between doing what’s best for her child and what’s best for her; and Alberto Lattuada’s “Italians Stare,” in which large-breasted women in radically aerodynamic bras pretend not to notice the reactions – only some of them cautiously disguised — of men already predisposed to act like swine in their midst. Among the actors are Ugo Tognazzi, Maressa Gallo, and Caterina Riogoglioso, but, I swear, I saw someone who could have been Roberto Benigni’s father. The Blu-ray is accompanied by commentaries and interviews with learned scholars and filmmakers, as well as a booklet with 20 pages devoted to essays, appreciations and restoration notes.

Two years before “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Rock Around the Clock,” Antonioni’s “I Vinti” (“The Vanquished”) tapped squarely into the international youthquake about to rattle to walls of polite society. In an interesting coincidence, “The Wild One” forced American audiences to recognize how post-war anxiety and non-conformist behavior were combining organically into a cocktail of violence and hate. I don’t know when the term, “juvenile delinquency,” came into vogue in the U.S., but Antonioni identified the same symptoms spreading throughout the major population centers in Italy. “I Vinti” is divided into three parts, each one dramatizing the events surrounding a murder perpetrated by middle-class or affluent youths in Italy, France and England. Antonioni isn’t so much interested in creating a mystery and solving it, then to survey the cultural landscape and get inside the heads of the killers before and after the crime. To accomplish this, he fell back on his experience as documentary maker and disciple of Neorealism. Look closely and you’ll find moments that anticipate themes he would return to in “Blow-Up” and “Zabriskie Point.” The Blu-ray adds an eight-page booklet featuring an essay by Stefania Parigi; an interview with actor Franco Interlenghi (star of “Italy”); an interview with writer/producer Turi Vasile, on post-war Italian cinema and his assertion that “The Vanquished” was a turning point for the industry; “Tentato Suicidio,” Antonioni’s segment from “Love in the City”; and the original, uncut version of the “Italy,” which created a controversy because of its political undertones.

Remember the scenes in “Godfather III” that described how Michael Corleone had invested his crime family’s revenues in Vatican interests, only to be stabbed in the back by priests and bankers who treated him like a rube from the New Country? I found most of the wheeling and dealing lacking in logic and too fantastic to waste much time deciphering. Giuseppe Ferrara’s 2002 true-crime melodrama, “The Bankers of God: The Calvi Affair,” goes a long way toward explaining how Francis Ford Coppola might have, if anything, under-estimated the complexity of the scandal. Al Pacino doesn’t appear in “The Bankers of God,” but I would have loved to see what Coppola or Costa-Gavras could have done with the raw material here. While Michael Corleone was interested in global power and immense profits, the Vatican was using its banks treasury to finance the Solidarity movement in Poland and fascists in Central America. Roberto Calvi was one of several influential bankers who greased the wheels for such investments, while also finding new suckers anxious to launder their ill-gotten gains through God’s network of banks and sham companies. Among the more tasty things in “Bankers of God” are the sight of a frail Pope John Paul II in sweats on an exercise bike; a spooky gathering of Freemasons in velvet robes and pointed hoods; and Cardinal Marcinkus (Rutger Hauer) in civilian drag, golfing with his “nieces” in tow. As scandals go, this one makes Watergate look like a convenience-store stickup.

Blue Movie,” Alberto Cavallone’s 1978 exercise in stomach-churning sexploitation opens auspiciously with a chase and attempted rape in the woods. The good news is that the victim escapes the violent attack; the bad news is that she’s picked up at the side of a rural road by a sado-masochistic photographer, Claudio. Before she succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome, Silvia (Dirce Funari) is fed a steady diet of war images that tell of death, devastation and pain. Another supermodel is asked to join in the sado-masochistic fun, as well. There’s enough nudity and perversion here to keep things moving, if not much of a story.

Need for Speed: Blu-ray
Are muscle cars making a comeback? In the fiscally indefensible, if occasionally quite entertaining “Need for Speed,” stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh gives us some reason to hope that such a blast from America’s technological past is theoretically possible, at least. Fans of the “The Fast and the Furious” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” already know that street racing and high-octane chases have never gone out of style. The refreshing difference between those hit pictures and “Need for Speed” is Waugh’s and writers George and John Gatins’ nostalgia for the days of yesteryear, when gasoline cost no more than 30-40 cents a gallon, V-8 engines churned out in excess of 500 horsepower, no two automakers wanted their products to look the same, the Beach Boys dedicated entire albums to hot rods and street racing took place in a straight quarter-mile-long line. The oil crises of the 1970s effectively ended the production of muscle cars in Detroit and, by extension, the world. While “Need for Speed” borrows certain stylistic conceits from “F&F” and the popular “Need for Speed” video-game series, the movie’s spirit can be traced to such movies as “The Gumball Rally,” “Cannonball,” “Cannonball Run” and “Two-Lane Blacktop.” All except the latter title owe their existence to the highly illegal Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, created by automotive journalist Brock Yates. Two-time Emmy-winner Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) fills the lead role of Tobey Marshall, an ace mechanic newly released from prison for crime he didn’t commit in a previous year’s running of the marathon event. Therefore, he has a rather large ax to grind on the head of one of this year’s participants. This time, he’s teamed with a pretty blond Brit (Imogen Poots), on whose Ford Shelby Mustang he worked. “Need for Speed” won’t make anyone forget any of the aforementioned movies, or throw away their video-game platform, but the racing scenes are well-imagined and the cars look great. The stunning Blu-ray presentation adds commentary with Waugh and Paul; deleted scenes; outtakes; a promo for the “Need for Speed: Rivals” games; and a couple of background featurettes.

I’ll Follow You Down
Not so long ago, the pairing of Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”) and Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”) would have caused significantly more hubbub than the brief ripple of excitement raised in anticipation of “I’ll Follow You Down.” Although neither actor has completely disappeared from sight in the last dozen years, or so, the world doesn’t seem to have missed them in the interim. Anderson’s kept busy working in films, on stage and television, primarily in England. Osment’s dramatic descent from Hollywood’s A-list began after his terrific performance as a little robot boy in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” In a very real sense, Osment put his career on hold after “A.I.,” to attend a local high school and become a real boy. If he hasn’t be accorded much respect as an adult actor, it’s probably because, at 26, he doesn’t look a day over 17. His only concession to aging are the extra pounds of flesh on his face. None of this has anything to do with the issue at hand, of course, which is Richie Mehta’s movie. The central characters, Marika and Erol, are left behind at home when physicist Gabe Whyte (Rufus Sewell) ostensibly disappears while attending a scientific conference in New Jersey. His absence remains a perplexing mystery to the boy, even as he’s demonstrating his own proficiency in astrophysics. Ultimately, it drives Marika to commit suicide. In the wake of this tragedy, Erol’s grandfather (Victor Garber) pulls out Gabe’s sketches and notes, on the off-chance that the young man will see something in them that no one else has. From the research, Grandpa Sal has come to believe that Gabe had built a stable wormhole, which allowed him to travel back in time to 1947. Traumatized by his mother’s death and still wounded by his father’s disappearance, Erol picks up the challenge laid down by Sal. At the same time, he finds a photographic clue that suggests to him that his father rode his wormhole to Albert Einstein’s adoptive home in Princeton, N.J. This means, of course, that Erol will attempt to return to a place he’d never been, at a time 40 years before his birth. Before he leaves, Sal lectures his grandson on the possible ramifications of a successful journey. For viewers, “I’ll Follow You Down” is two-thirds setup and exposition and one-third “Twilight Zone” homage. On the plus side, the actors do a nice job keeping the weight of the narrative from dragging down the entire picture and Rod Serling’s legacy includes dozens of adaptations of individual episodes, done right the first time.

The Phantom of the Paradise: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Sex Pistols on TV
Devo: Men Who Make the Music/Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig
In the mid-1970s, even mainstream lovers of rock ’n’ roll still refused to give in entirely to the demands of record-label weasels, programmers of classic-rock radio and the extortionist policies of Ticketmaster. Fans went to great lengths to convince themselves of the purity of rock music and musicians, but only the Grateful Dead could be said to have held the line against promoters of stadium tours and wildly escalating ticket prices. The Dead refused to ban its followers from recording the concerts, even with sophisticated equipment. Ken Russell’s over-the-top visualization of the Who’s already 6-year-old “rock opera” “Tommy” benefitted greatly from the familiarity of the music and presence of genuine movie stars. At about the same time, “Phantom of the Paradise” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” would struggle to find their audience and bridge the worlds of pop music and musical theater. “Rocky Horror” succeeded almost by accident, while “Phantom” only became a bona-fide hit in Winnipeg. Everything looks and sounds swell on this excellent Scream Factory Blu-ray release, but, in 1974, writer/director Brian de Palma had yet to prove himself as an interpreter of countercultural tropes and the marketing campaign behind “Phantom” reeked of being too slick by half. At the time, Alice Cooper and Kiss likewise were viewed with suspicion by the “Woodstock über alles” crowd. As gimmicks go, however, both “Phantom” and “Rocky Horror” can still stand on their own merits. Credit for that belongs to De Palma’s great cinematic eye, Paul Williams’ catchy songs and the enduring validity of the “Phantom of the Opera” legend. Instead of being required to deliver a message about the perils of celebrity and Satanic influences in the music industry, it can be watched or re-watched strictly for fun, of which there’s plenty. When the impish Williams makes his presence known, as the corrupt promoter, it almost feels like a Muppet movie.  The Blu-ray package adds new commentaries and interviews with Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham and the Juicy Fruits band, and production designer Jack Fisk; new interviews with DePalma, Williams and make-up effects wizard Tom Burman; and making-of material. Vintage bonus features on a second disc include a documentary on the making of the film; an interview with Williamsm, moderated by Guillermo Del Toro; an interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton; and a gallery of neon art created for the picture. The featurettes are unusually long and informative.

Britain’s Sex Pistols was formed in reaction to such things as rock operas, parody musicals, stadium tours and the excesses of glam rock. Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten cried “Bollocks” to the whole notion that rock music could be mainstreamed or cynically manipulated by new iterations of old-school shysters. In their own anti-social way, they took what began with Britain’s fixation with rockabilly and routed it through such punk pioneers as Iggy Pop, the MC5 and Ramones. Under the tutelage of trend-setters Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, the Pistols not only turned the music industry on its ear, but also created a fashion look that endures 40 years later … safety pins and Mohawk hairdos, who knew? “Sex Pistols on TV” tells the story of the lads, from 1976 to the present day — including the death of Sid Vicious, the split and recent reforming of the band — pretty much in their own words and on their own terms. What looked and sounded so outrageous 40 years ago in the rare and forgotten archive footage included here, today almost seems original and refreshing.

Also born in the mid-1970s, Devo found success defying conventions and adding the word “ironic” to the rock lexicon. A cross between the Cars and Kraftwerk, Devo’s music reworked basic rock and pop rhythms into something both robotic and self-consciously hip. Undeniably catchy, the songs gave nerds a reason to turn on their car radios. “Men Who Make the Music” and “Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig” find Devo nearly at opposite ends of their active career. The former combines concert footage from Devo’s 1978 tour with music videos and interstitials featuring a vague story about the group’s “rocky relationship with Big Entertainment.” Jerry Casale describes the latter film thusly, “In January of ’96, we closed Sundance Film Festival. We wore ’20s’ style prison suits and dished out classic Devo songs to an unsuspecting audience of Hollywood elite.” I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with the results.

Pot Zombies 2
As a slightly more expensive sequel to the 2006 underground hit, “Pot Zombies,” couldn’t be better timed. Eight years ago, even the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes seemed too much to ask of American voters and lawmakers. Today, it’s a reality in many states. Even if more than the original $900 was spent on “Pot Zombies 2,” it retains the same super-cheap, do-it-yourself texture. The synopsis is the same, as well: “Pot smokers turn into zombies with the ‘munchies’ for human flesh, when a strain of radioactive pot infects the stoners of America.” Hey, it could happen. The only thing that’s markedly different here, then, is the sequel’s subtitle – “More pot, less plot” – which is better than anything in the screenplay.

Syfy: Bitten: The Complete First Season: Blu-ray
IFC: The Birthday Boys: The Complete First Season
NBC: Community: The Complete Fifth Season
PBS: American Experience: The Wild West
PBS: Italy’s Mystery Mountains
If there’s anything the western world doesn’t need any more of these days, it’s another teen-oriented TV series populated with werewolves and other fashionable creatures of the night. Thanks to “True Blood” and the “Twilight” series, we may never see another actor – male or female – who’s old enough to remember the debut of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That won’t prevent the pretend undead from playing a doctor, lawyer or anything else that requires a post-graduate degree, however. Based on Kelley Armstrong’s “Women of the Otherworld” novels, “Bitten” tells the story of blond bombshell Elena (Laura Vandervoort), who’s attempting to lead a normal life in Toronto after being bitten and turned into werewolf by her studly ex-fiance, Clayton (Greyston Holt). Elena’s human boyfriend, Philip (Paul Greene) is clueless to her alter ego, even when she scurries from their bed to quench her insatiable sexual appetite in city’s forested parkways. When she’s summoned to her pack’s Upstate New York mansion to combat a threat from a rival werewolf family, she reluctantly agrees to return to the site of her “de-flowering.” Once there, it’s tough for viewers to determine if the greatest threat to her well-being is from the rival wolfpack or Clayton. After 13 episodes, we’ll learn her decision. As cliché as that description makes “Bitten” sound, its production values are well above-par as these things go and the many fight scenes are quite good, as well. The Blu-ray package includes episodes from the Canadian edition, which appears to have been more than a little bit racier than the one shown here on Syfy. It adds a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, split-screen examples of stunt choreography and commentary with the producers and Vandervoort.

Bob Odenkirk may or may not be the hardest-working man on television right now, but he’s certainly among the funniest. Between finishing off his stint on “Breaking Bad” and reprising his character in the upcoming prequel, “Better Call Saul,” Odenkirk teamed with the Los Angeles comedy group, the Birthday Boys, for a sketch show exec-produced by Ben Stiller. IFC’s “The Birthday Boys’” approach to comedy basically ranges from stupid and juvenile, to smart and savagely anarchic. In this way, it resembles “Mr. Show With Bob and David,” “The Kids in the Hall,” “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and, going back a few years, “SCTV” and “Monty Python.” There are short bits and others that run through an episode like a thread. Odenkirk’s contributions frequently border on the surrealistic. The Season One package adds audio commentaries, “The Making of Season One,” “From Stage to Screen,” bonus Videos and promos.

There’s nothing more to say about the wildly eccentric NBC sitcom “Community” that hasn’t already been written by the nation’s corps of critics. As a series that actively set out to break the rules and stretch the established limits of network programming – without using the twin crutches of sex and language – it clearly succeeded, remaining on the air for five tortured seasons. If it never found the audience it deserved, well, I suspect that very few people realistically thought it would. Now, given an opportunity to push the envelope even further on Netflix, the real test begins in the eternal struggle between “smart” and “commercial.” The episodes in the final-season package are representative of those from the last three, at least, in that they are altogether inventive, kooky and demanding of one’s complete attention. It can be argued, as well, that the themes and gags frequently give off an air of being exhaustively hipper-than-thou, but so what? The set adds a few entertaining bonus features.

For most of the 20th Century, kids addicted to stories about cowboys, Indians, outlaws and lawmen were required to rely on myths, legends and lies perpetrated by writers who knew that the truth rarely sold as well as cleverly crafted exaggerations. It’s as if the working principle in Hollywood, all along, has been, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Today, audiences have an opportunity to choose between buying into the legend, learning the truth or picking and choosing between the two. And, yes, the truth is frequently more entertaining than the fiction. As proof, PBS’ “American Experience” offers “The Wild West,” which does the scud work that screenwriters were rarely required to do in the 100 years since “The Great Train Robbery.” The hour-long episodes collected here included biographies of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, General George Custer, Geronimo, Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Kit Carson.  They aren’t intended to burst anyone’s bubbles about the American West, just explain how the legends came to be.

The title of PBS’ “Italy’s Mystery Mountains” probably overstates its case for being of interest to a wide spectrum of viewers. So, too, does the cover, which suggests that an encounter with Vlad Tepes might not be out of the questions. A closer examination reveals the sub-title, “The Fascinating Geologic Story of Italy.” Well, that certainly applies to the destruction of Pompeii, about which movies are still being made, but what about everything that’s gone on below eye level at speeds measured in millennia? Two teams of scientists have been studying just that in an attempt to determine if the great mountain ranges are still “alive” and growing, or have stabilized. Besides a discussion of volcanoes, the most accessible part of the documentary describes how the mountains that produced Michelangelo’s famous marbles were created. Most the material presented in “Mystery Mountains” is in a form of English we can all understand.

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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