MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

Noah: Blu-ray
Cross a few short chapters from Genesis with Classics Illustrated, Marvel and DC comics and it’s likely that it will look something like Darren Aronofsky’s epic biblical adventure, “Noah.” The Old Testament is full of whopping yarns written to explain how God came to favor one ethnic group over another. Was the sea artificially parted by the deity to allow for Jewish slaves to escape tyranny in Egypt or did Exodus coincide with the eruption of a giant volcano in the Mediterranean Sea, which caused a tsunami that not only opened a temporary path to Israel, but also drowned the Egyptian pursuers when it closed? If nothing else, Aronofsky’s version of the story explains, however fancifully, how all of those animals managed to coexist on the Ark without becoming part of the food chain. Even so, Paramount was so afraid of a fundamentalist backlash that it agreed to add a disclaimer to the marketing material for the $125-million picture, ensuring them that the great flood could have happened exactly as they were taught. It also test-marketed different endings, without the approval of Aronofsky, so as to avoid protests. (Paramount ended up going with the original ending, anyway.) The bible-bangers’ time may have been put to greater use attempting to figure out how the three sons of Noah and Naameh were able to repopulate the Earth after the waters receded. And, where did all of that water go? And, for that matter, how was Noah able to live for more 900 years and only father three sons? Given these and other difficult questions raised in the bible, why begrudge Aronofsky – as imaginative a filmmaker as labors in Hollywood – the occasional leap of faith or fancy, especially if it encourages young people to pick up the Good Book. Frankly, I don’t know which of the filmmaker’s conceits put a bee in the fundamentalists’ bonnets, unless it was the depiction of the fallen angels as craggy construction workers; the evil Tubal-cain’s ability to hitch a ride on the Ark; or Noah’s willingness to kill his granddaughters in the name of the Lord. Absent such embellishments, however, “Noah” may have lasted all of about 25 minutes. There’s probably a good reason the bible left unclear the details of Noah’s excellent adventure. Perhaps, it was left for Hollywood to fill in the blanks.

The truth remains, God’s fingerprints are all over “Noah.” If anyone has reason to question motives here, it’s the atheists. Filmed largely amidst the volcanic wastelands of Iceland, it isn’t difficult to imagine that He/She might have been appalled by humankind’s tendency to violence and blasphemy. Unlike Steve Carell’s impersonation of Noah as a white-bearded Mr. Natural, Russell Crowe’s creation looks 50 years old, instead of 600, and could assume command of the H.M.S. Bounty after the Ark landed on Mount Ararat. Moreover, his Noah is absolutely ferocious in his literal translation of God’s words, and, if Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) doesn’t like his stance on their granddaughters’ fate, she can take a long walk off of a short plank. I don’t think that part was in the bible, either. According to the book, though, Noah finally was no more infallible than anyone else in his family. He became addicted to the fruit of the vine and made a fool of himself. One thing “Noah” doesn’t do is cheat audiences out of their hard-earned dollars. Technically, it’s as impeccable an entertainment as one is going to find. The construction of the Ark, enactment of battle scenes and CGI-enhanced flooding would be worth the price of a rental, no matter one’s religious beliefs … or suspended disbeliefs. Fundamentalists typically don’t relish the idea of debating anything they consider to be the direct word of God, written in the blood of the lamb and sanctioned by the Southern Baptist Convention. Recently, though, I’ve read the opinions of several distinguished theologians and pundits, who’ve looked beyond the hype and venom and found ways to use “Noah” as a teaching tool and entry point for debate about Old Testament themes and phenomenology. As such, it’s easy to recommend. The Blu-ray adds three worthwhile featurettes, “Iceland: Extreme Beauty,” a discussion of the benefits to the story of shooting in Iceland, the land’s natural beauty, difficult terrain access, meteorological challenges and working in the cave, where Anthony Hopkins’ cagey portrayal of Methuselah begins. – Gary Dretzka

Herzog: The Collection: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Of all the filmmakers who’ve had the word, “genius,” attached to the names, Werner Herzog is only one of a precious few who actually deserve the honor. The titles included in Shout! Factory’s “Herzog: The Collection,” represent work from 1970 to 1999, or, to be precise, from “Even Dwarfs Started Small” to “My Best Friend,” on his relationship with the brilliant, if wildly tempestuous Klaus Kinski. Herzog’s output since 1999 is arguably even more remarkable. As one of the leading lights of the New German Cinema, the now 71-year-old Herzog continues to make documentaries that feel like dramas and dramas that could easily be mistaken for documentaries. As if to demonstrate just how thin the line between fact and fiction can in his work, Herzog remade his 1997 documentary, “Little Dieter Needs to Fly,” into the exciting 2007 action-adventure, “Rescue Dawn.” In it, Christian Bale plays the German-born fighter pilot, who, after joining the U.S. Navy, was shot down by the Pathet Lao and escaped from captivity in a bamboo cage. Les Blank’s BAFTA-winning documentary, “Burden of Dreams” not only chronicles the difficulties faced by Herzog while making “Fitzcarraldo,” but it also makes the argument for obsessive behavior being an asset for any aspiring filmmaker. The proof can be found in this essential collection of Herzog’s movies. In addition to the four aforementioned titles, the set includes “Fata Morgana,” “Land of Silence and Darkness,” “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser,” “Where the Green Ants Dream,” “Ballad of the Little Soldier,” “Lessons of Darkness,” “Heart of Glass,” “Strozek,” “Woyzeck” and “Cobra Verde.” The quality of the AV presentation varies according to the age and original source of the films, some of which were made for European television. Footage shot after the battle for Kuwait offers a vision of earthly hell that’s accentuated by the Blu-ray presentation and brilliant choice of music. For Herzog, all life on Earth is accompanied by an operatic soundtrack. Seven of the films arrive with English commentaries, while three others have German tracks. The featurettes include “In Conversation: Werner Herzog and (his distributor) Laurens Straub,” “The Making of ‘Nosferatu the Vampyre,’” “Portrait: Werner Herzog,” “Herzog in Africa” and theatrical trailers. Herzog is also a terrific raconteur, as is evident especially in the anecdotes he shares about his personal and professional relationship with Kinski, whose reputation as a loose cannon is amply demonstrated here. The limited-edition “Herzog: The Collection” also features a 40-page booklet, which includes photos, an essay by award-winning author Stephen J. Smith and in-depth film synopses by Herzog scholars Brad Prager and Chris Wahl. – Gary Dretzka

Grace Kelly Collection
Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Revisited: The Director’s Cut: Blu-ray
If aspiring actors were required to pass a test before being allowed to appear in movies budgeted at something north of $10 million, they could use the movies in “Grace Kelly Collection” as study guides. Although she only starred in 10 feature films and a bunch of TV anthologies before ascending to royalty, Kelly exuded class, integrity and classic feminine beauty in ways few women would again in Hollywood. If she spent any of her remaining 26 years on Earth pretending to enjoy being married to Prince Rainier of Monaco, Kelly never revealed it in public. Neither does she suggest as much in her final television interview, with journalist Pierre Salinger (and included here), less than two months before her death. If little girls still dream of growing up to become a princess and/or an Academy Award-winning actress, it’s because of Grace Kelly, not Madonna or Beyoncé. Although the Warner Home Video release doesn’t include “Rear Window” or “High Noon,” both readily available in DVD/Blu-ray, what’s here represents the “American princess” in all her regal glory. It is comprised of John Ford’s Kenya-set rom-dram, “Mogambo” (1953), which also starred Clark Gable and Ava Gardner; Alfred Hitchcock’s very British murder mystery, “Dial M for Murder” (1954), with Robert Cummings and Ray Milland; “The Country Girl” (1954), for which she was awarded a Best Picture Oscar;  the wartime drama, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” (1954), with William Holden and Mickey Rooney; Hitchcock’s suspenseful “To Catch a Thief” (1995), during which Kelly and Cary Grant play a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse in the French Riviera; and her swan song, “High Society” (1956), featuring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and the songs of Cole Porter. Among the entertaining featurettes are “Hitchcock and Dial M and 3D: A Brief History,” about the filmmaker’s flirtation with stereoscopic technology; several pieces and commentary on the making of “Thief”; “Cole Porter in Hollywood: True Love”; the 1956 MGM cartoon, “Millionaire Droopy”; newsreel from the gala premiere for “High Society”; vintage marketing material; and Salinger’s interview.

As far as I can tell, there have been nearly as many video, DVD and Blu-ray iterations of Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music” as there now are people claiming to have been at the epochal event. Far more former hippies now insist they made the trek to rural Bethel that weekend than could fit in all of the town’s cow pastures put together. Sometimes, hallucinating does make it so. Fortunately for consumers, new advances in AV technology continually add something new to the experience. Given the primitive nature of portable cameras and recording equipment 45 years ago, it’s interesting to see how much better the presentation is in hi-def. In addition to the 224-minute “Director’s Cut,” the new three-disc release offers such “collectibles” as an iron-on patch, three single-day ticket reproductions, a Life magazine excerpt reproduction and reproductions of 1969 newspaper clippings. The items are housed in a small paper box that slides into an outer slip-box, alongside a standard Blu-ray case. Not all of the bonus material from previous additions has been transferred over to the “Revised Edition,” but they’re easy enough to find elsewhere. The 77-minute making-of doc, “Woodstock: From Festival to Feature,” has been upgraded to high def. It is joined here by “Woodstock: From Festival to Feature Revisited,” representing 32 minutes of additional behind-the-scenes on the festival’s legacy, documentary restoration and historical material. Better yet, 73 more minutes of “Untold Stories” – a.k.a., musical performances – have been added to the previously offered 142 minutes of bonus concert material. “The Museum at Bethel Woods” is here to remind us of the one or two opportunities for tourism near the hallowed ground of Woodstock. – Gary Dretzka

Cuban Fury: Blu-ray
1 Chance 2 Dance
Anytime you put Cuban heels on a fat guy, someone is going to laugh. That’s basically the idea behind “Cuban Fury,” a quintessentially British rom-com about a one-time salsa protégé who’s gone to seed, but retains just enough muscle memory to shoot for the stars one more time. In accentuating the redemptive qualities of dance, it should appeal to the same viewers who enjoyed “Strictly Ballroom,” “The Full Monty,” “Billy Elliot” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Here, Nick Frost (“Shaun of the Dead”) stars as the older, heavier iteration of Bruce, the boy who hung up his heels after bullies made him eat sequins off of his shirt. Not anxious to relive the experience, Bruce has steadfastly refused to get back on anyone’s dance floor. That is, until he develops a crush on the new American supervisor at work, Julia (Rashida Jones), who just happens to love salsa. Bruce’s best pal, Drew (Chris O’Dowd), shares an interest in Julia, but for reasons that are entirely different and far more predictable. The movie’s true saving grace is Ian McShane, the dark force behind Bruce’s rise to near teen stardom. Apparently, he’s never recovered from Bruce’s desertion, either, and is reluctant to invest any more of his own Cuban fury into him. For my money, too much attention is paid to the office romance and not enough to the dancing. That fat jokes also get tiresome after a while. Still, when “Cuban Fire” gets down to the business at hand, it can be quite charming. The Blu-ray offers four behind-the-scenes featurettes and “How to Dance Salsa With Nick Frost.”

Launched first on the Internet, “1 Chance 2 Dance” tells the even more familiar story of a 17-year-old aspiring dancer, who suffers one of the cruelest fates any teenager can endure when she’s sent to a new high school at mid-semester of her senior year. Children have sued their parents for less … and won. Anyway, it doesn’t take long for young Gabby Colussi (Lexi Giovagnoli) to go all “Glee” on us. She must balance her new-found love life with her last shot at making her dream of becoming a dancer a reality. – Gary Dretzka

On My Way: Blu-ray
The French Minister
It’s impossible to miss awards season in Hollywood. It’s when actresses of a certain age and beyond are allowed to demonstrate what’s missing throughout the rest of the year in American movies: themselves, in lead roles. Who knew, when “The Hunger” was released in 1983, that 30 years later, its already middle-age stars, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, would be among the very few actresses of their generation still routinely being handed key roles in movies great, small and indifferent? At 67, Sarandon remains as active and alluring as most of the ingénues being mass-produced for media exploitation. The same can be said of Deneuve, who, despite adding a few pounds over the last several years, looks as fabulous as when her image was used to represent Marianne, the national symbol of France. Of course, both women are exceptional talents, on and off the screen, and the roles they accept are anything but generic. Yes, in “On My Way,” Deneuve plays a grandmother, but, ooh-la-la, what a grandmother. As we meet the struggling Breton restaurateur and onetime beauty queen, Bettie, she’s just learned that her married lover has ditched her for a much-younger beautician’s assistant. Fed up with the whole deal, Bettie leaves her still spry mother behind to take care of the business and heads out for a weekend reunion of Miss France candidates, circa 1969. On her way to the swank Hotel Palace de Menthon, in Annecy, she allows herself to be picked up by a flirtatious doofus in a bar that wouldn’t have been out of place in “Thelma & Louise.” Before she can get very far, however, Bettie also agrees to mind her gratingly disrespectful grandson, Charly, for her estranged daughter. For most of the rest of the picture, it’s “Thelma & Charly.” After some early fireworks, co-writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot (“Jailbait”) surrounds them with fellow contestants from the Class of 1969, most of whom aren’t very much worse for the wear and retain the same positive and negative personality traits they demonstrated in competition. There’s no use spoiling what happens during the rest of “On My Way,” except to say that most of it is unpredictable. Bercot’s rom-dram-com hits a couple of sizable potholes on its way to a resolution, but none so large that it spoils the fun of a multi-generational entertainment that hardly ever resorts to clichés, when something fresh will do just as well.

It’s been almost 20 years since Bertrand Tavernier made a film, “’Round Midnight,” that demanded the attention of anyone outside of the arthouse circuit. They play at festivals or in New York, before disappearing in the ancillary market, primarily in Europe. Blessedly, it’s become far easier to find Tavernier’s titles in DVD and Blu-ray than it ever was in VHS, so fans haven’t had to miss any of his more recent releases. Anyone’s who’s watched and enjoyed the satires “Veep,” “In the Loop” and “The Thick of It,” will wonder why Tavernier’s comedy of political manners, “The French Minister,” so rarely goes for the jugular. Indeed, it’s more of farce than a takedown of a system that apparently is no more efficient than governments in the U.S. and U.K. Based on a graphic novel by former government speechwriter Abel Lanzac, the primary focus is on Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (Thierry Lhermitte), who’s something of a space cadet. He’s expected to comment and speechify on world events, as if anyone outside France actually considers it to be a player on the world stage. The problem is, the minister is so scatter-brained that his instructions routinely baffle the staffers assigned to write his speeches. One new hire, Arthur Vlaminck (Raphaël Personnaz) is thrown into the deep end on his first day and spends most of his time trying not to drown. He gets conflicting advice from his fellow staffers, who’ve become accustomed to their boss’ many idiosyncracies and want Arthur to learn from the mistakes he’s bound to make. The only person who plays it straight with the lad is veteran diplomat Claude Maupas (Niels Arestrup), who doesn’t let his jaded demeanor get in the way of being an effective statesman. Freshmen writers Christophe Blain and Abel Lanzac allow Maupas to save De Vorms’ ass too many times to generate any real satirical heat. In this way, “The French Minister” borders on the patriotic. The DVD adds a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

The Den
As a higher-tech corollary of the found-footage subgenre, chat-room horror is a tougher act to pull off on the big screen. That’s the perspective to which we’ve become accustomed and we know that almost everything of consequence happens behind the protagonist’s back. When he or she turns away from the screen, however, the threat has disappeared or already is hiding in the wings. Normally, being in a chat room allows warnings to be exchanged in real time, but only if someone remembers to turn on the sound.  In “The Den,” aspiring sociologist Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) is required to spend all of her waking hours on a Chatroulette-style social network. Recording her interactions with all manner of Internet habitués may not sound scientifically enlightening, but Elizabeth manages to find several users who aren’t perverts or otherwise damaged. One night, she makes the mistake of not logging off the site and allowing hackers to record her having sex with her part-time boyfriend. Once that door is opened, it isn’t difficult for the hackers to torture Elizabeth in ways she hadn’t anticipated, going into project. Besides having to be reminded of her mistake with repeat showings of her sexual prowess, she must deal with images of chat-buddies being slaughtered before her helpless eyes. Naturally, the police are skeptical when asked to investigate the cyber-murders. They get downright hostile with every new false alarm. For a while, viewers feel as if they’re being duped, as well. Director Zachary Donohue and co-writer Lauren Thompson do a nice job fixing the action within the digital realm of the film’s computerized context. It’s likely that they understood going into the project that the intended audience for such a picture is tech-savvy and is conversant with social-network protocols. Papalia does seem a bit too pretty and self-confident to get caught up in the hackers’ game, but stranger things probably happen on the Internet every millisecond or two. The DVD adds a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

Curtains: Blu-ray
Aloha, Bobby and Rose
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXX
The most overused word in the jargon of marketing mavens is “classic.” Simply being older than the buyers and renters staring at a cover blurb does not automatically make a movie a classic. And, just because a reviewer on an obscure website or weekly suburban newspaper uses the term to describe a movie, it should be illegal to lift the word and slap it on an ad. I don’t mind a particularly interesting or imaginative genre being labeled a “cult classic,” but certain guidelines and standards should be met before calling every financially successful movie a classic. While almost completely unknown south of the Great White North, Richard Ciupka’s “Curtains” can easily carry the weight of being designated a classic of Canuxploitation, a legitimate sub-sub-genre of mainstream horror. Besides being a memorably bloody slasher flick, it is both genuinely scary and far better made than it has any right to be, considering the budget. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare “Curtains” to the works of Jean Renoir, as did Dave Alexander at – OK, he had his reasons — but it’s as good as anything else that was released in 1983. At its icy core, “Curtains” is an Agatha Christie mystery with sharp tools and a guest appearance by body-double Shannon Tweed and her Newfoundlandian boobs. Ciupka’s gift here is being able to pull the rug out from under the feet of viewers, whenever they begin to feel comfortable. The switcheroo conceit doesn’t merely work once or twice, but throughout the course of the movie. As it opens, the celebrated director of film and theater Jonathan Stryker – played by veteran villain John Vernon, best known as Dean Vernon Wormer in “Animal House” – is rehearsing a scene in the psychodrama “Audra” with longtime collaborator, Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Egger). Unsatisfied with her performance, Stryker insists she be committed to a mental-health facility to better understand her character. The way the scene is plays out, however, it isn’t clear whether Samantha truly freaked out during the rehearsal and actually did require a little R&R, or if it’s a gag that will pay off later. Either way, her absence frees Stryker to invite a half-dozen young actresses to a lodge on a frozen Ontario lake and audition them for the same role. The women not only are required to endure the slimy advances of the director, but also are murdered in “10 Little Indians” fashion by someone wearing the sea-hag mask. The culprit remains a mystery until the last few minutes of the movie. “Curtains” has been re-mastered in 2K resolution from original vault materials virtually untouched for over 30 years and accorded a 5.1 Surround remix. Synapse Films probably spent more on the process than the entire budget in 1983. Special features include “The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of Curtains,” an all-new retrospective featuring interviews with Ciupka, stars Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, editor Michael MacLaverty, special makeup effects creator Greg Cannom and composer Paul Zaza; commentary with stars Griffin and Lesleh Donaldson; and interviews with producer Peter R. Simpson and Samantha Eggar.

Few actors have enjoyed as auspicious a beginning in the movie industry as Paul LeMat. As long as “American Graffiti” remains essential viewing for teenagers approaching their senior year in high school, LeMat will be recalled with great fondness as hot-rodder John Milner. As such, it also means that he’ll be able to make some spare cash signing autographs at car shows. He would reprise the role in “More American Graffiti,” which, despite its story outline from Lucas, fared far less well. LaMat survived that embarrassment by being cast in Johnathan Demme’s vastly underappreciated “Handle With Care” (a.k.a., “Citizens Band”) and in the critically acclaimed “Melvin and Howard,” as the hapless milkman denied his right to Howard Hughes’ fortune. After that, not so swell. In 1975, he pretty much played to type in Floyd Mutrux’s “Aloha, Bobby and Rose,” an appealing, if derivative action/romance that reminded everyone who saw it of “American Graffiti,” “Badlands” and “Bonnie and Clyde.” It used popular rock songs to comment on and anticipate things happening on the screen. Visually, “Aloha, Bobby and Rose” adopted many of the action-first, skin-second, music-third techniques favored by the directors in Roger Corman’s stable. LeMat plays a ne’er-do-well San Diego greaser, who digs himself a hole from which he can’t escape a local gang-banger (Edward James Olmos) to whom he owes a great deal of money. While attempting to come to grips with that dilemma, Bobby picks up teen waif Rose and convinces her to share his criminal pipedream. After a clerk is accidentally killed during a fake holdup at a liquor store, Bobby and Rose join the same ranks of doomed lovers on the lam. They decide to make themselves scarce by hiding out in Mexico, where they meet another renegade couple, this one hell-bent for fun. “Aloha, Bobby and Rose” may never have been a great film, but, on any given weekend night, it would have been the best movie on a triple-bill at the local drive-in theater.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXX” demonstrates once again just how thin the line between homage and ridicule can be, especially when adjudicated by beings whose intelligence is artificial at best. The running commentary provided by Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo and Gypsy is designed to make the best out of a bad interstellar situation and not destroy the reputations of the guilty parties, such as they may be. To suggest that their opinions are more entertaining than the movies themselves is only to state the obvious. There aren’t many surprises in “MST3K: XXX,” unless the appearances of Jack Palance and Oliver Reed in the 1987 sci-fi/fantasy dud “Gor” qualifies as one. (His career resurrection wouldn’t take full effect for another couple of years with appearances in “Batman,” “Tango and Cash” and “City Slickers.”) If you didn’t see it upon its original release, it’s probably because the movie, here referred to as “Outlaw of Gor,” was shot in South Africa when it wasn’t cool to do so. No great loss, there. The other titles are “The Black Scorpion” (1957), a hecho en Mexico thriller with giant bugs; “The Projected Man” (1966), about a deranged scientist; and “It Lives by Night” (1974), also known as “The Bat People.” The package includes “Stinger of Death: Making the Black Scorpion”; “Writer of Gor: The Novels of John Norman,” “Director of Gor: On Set With John Bud Cardos” and “Producer of Gor: Adventures With Harry Alan Towers”; “Shock to the System: Creating The Projected Man”; an extended trailer for “The Frank” music video; and four exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance. – Gary Dretzka

Dragonwolf: Blu-ray
The Thai movie industry has been moving forward by fits and starts, mostly with high-energy martial-arts pictures and freaky-deaky thrillers based on traditional ghost stories. When Americans and Europeans dip their toes in Thai water, very little time or money is wasted on finesse and subtleties. If nothing else, the teeming streets and exotic locations, in and around Bangkok, provide foreign viewers with a pleasant change in scenery. Made by Raimund Huber (“Bangkok Adrenaline”), “Dragonwolf” is a non-stop action flick in which the solidarity of sibling assassins is tested by a conniving young woman, cognizant of the buttons that turn the brothers against each other. That accomplished, the hyper-violent town of Devil’s Cauldron goes up for grabs. The fighting sequences, as directed by star Kazu Patrick Tang (stuntman on “District B13”), are pretty entertaining, but two hours is a lot of time to kill with moves most genre buffs have already seen. – Gary Dretzka

Half of a Yellow Sun
As difficult as Europe’s colonial powers made it for Africans to taste freedom after centuries of exploitation and repression, stripping them of their control would prove to be the easiest part of Africa’s struggle for true freedom. If the United States and USSR had minded their own business and refused to take sides, the lack of state-of-the-war weaponry might have spared the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Africans. Instead, while the world’s superpowers obsessed over whether the newly independent states would go red or red, white and blue, the more corruptible militants played both sides against the middle. Why do your own fighting, after all, when you could farm it out to mercenaries and Cuban expeditionaries? Others used the chaos to push for re-drawn borders, according to pre-colonial guidelines. Colonial armies were able to keep the lid on for many years, simply by maintaining a greater arsenal. After the wars of liberation were won or lost, and everyone was armed, ancient prejudices and antagonism returned to the fore. Within artificial borders established by foreign interests, tribal minorities lived in constant fear of genocide. Unprecedented levels of corruption and repression became the legacy of colonial rule. The people we meet first in “Half of a Yellow Sun” are intellectuals and other Nigerians whose dreams of an independent country have finally been realized. Educated in England, some of them believe that ancient grievances could be solved through the use of logic, pan-African pride and expansion of economic opportunities for everyone. They were wrong. Nigeria, a country blessed with bountiful national resources, would be torn by economic imbalance, tribalism and Cold War politics. Today, it’s torn by corruption at every level of society, insane militia leaders, religious rancor and unbelievable poverty. (They do control the market on Internet scams, however.) The fire shown by the intellectuals in the first is doused in the lead-up to the Biafran War, which set a new standard for mindless brutality. “Half of a Yellow Sun” examines all if these disparate issues, but through the eyes of a family directly impacted by the evolution of conflict. Their roots extend back to the villages in which they were born and forward to the First World ideals espoused by John F. Kennedy and other world leaders. The film is based upon the novel by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and stars Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”), BAFTA-winner Thandie Newton (“Crash”), Anika Noni Rose (“The Good Wife”) and John Boyega (“24: Live Another Day”). The delicate balance between the war, politics and individual love stories isn’t maintained throughout “Yellow Sun” and most Americans likely would go into it without a full working knowledge of the events that led to such a blood bath. There’s no denying the emotional punch delivered by the actors and many unknown faces employed as machete-wielding extras in the fighting scenes. What happened to Africa in the 1960s and continues to erupt today is horrible. The DVD arrives with making-of and background featurettes, as well as deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka

Frontline: United States of Secrets
Cartoon Network: Adventure Time: Princess Day
Geronimo Stilton: Going Down to Chinatown
Babar & the Adventures of Badou: Gone Wild
Bubble Guppies: Get Ready for School
Sesame Street: Learning Rocks
The alarming two-part “Frontline” documentary, “United States of Secrets,” details how the National Security Agency managed to squander most, if not all of the respect it was accorded in the wake of 9/11 and the intelligence community’s necessary search for terrorists in our midst. Hubris may be too literary a term for the motivation that led to a shocking international scandal, but, when accorded unprecedented license to break the law, the agency experienced an institutional orgasm that shook their worlds to the core. The “Frontline” crew used the trove of documents leaked by freelance analyst Edward Snowden as a jumping off point for a discussion of motivations, skewed mission statements and what happens when the borders we’ve drawn for each other are breeched. If terrorists were always the target, what could be gained by studying the private communications of average citizens? We know what was lost by the NSA operation – our leaders’ moral high-ground, for one thing – but we may never learn what was gained, if anything. It’s important to know, going into the documentary, don’t pile the blame for widespread snooping on former President Bush and his evil henchman, Vice President Cheney. True, they delivered the no-holds-barred mandate to the NSA, even before the dust settled on the site of the World Trade Center. By now, we expect such disregard for basic human rights from Republicans. It was President Obama, however, who decided to break his campaign pledge by allowing NSA snoops to maintain and expand the program. His inability to get a firm hold on the situation and force the issue on his terms made him look like a country bumpkin on his first trip to the big city. I think that most of us would agree that identifying patterns in communication between people suspected of being terrorists is a necessary step in defending our freedom. If the CIA hadn’t been feuding with the FBI and NSA before the attacks, they couldn’t have missed the connection between the terrorist cells and Al Qaeda. What caused Snowden to break the silence on his discoveries, however, was the agency’s decision to gather information on everyone who picked up a telephone or sent an e-mail over the Internet. He got especially peeved when Obama openly lied to citizens about the program and its reach and unloaded even more classified documents on the media. (Ironically, Snowden escaped from a worldwide dragnet designed America’s top spies to keep him from reaching a safe haven in Russia, where Vladimir Putin doesn’t even bother to deny the country’s disregard for privacy.) The second half of the documentary describes how the government bullied telecom executives into cooperating with the NSA. Afraid of coming out on the short end of regulatory debates, the cyber-honchos caved in to coercion. It took the open hostility of their customers to open their eyes to the hypocrisy of promoting iron-clad security in their advertising and the sieve-like practices demanded by federal agents. Truly frightening, the “Frontline” presentation also demonstrate how information could be sold to non-government interests, the IRS and police agencies searching for pot dealers.

Almost all of this week’s TV-to-DVD releases are limited to compilations of episodes from popular animated shows. “Adventure Time” with its new compilation DVD “Princess Day,” leads the way. Instead of the usual grab-bag approach to its collections, “Adventure Time: Princess Day” features 16 episodes primarily based on the princesses of the Land of Ooo, including Princess Bubblegum and Lumpy Space Princess. The box’s highlight is the “Princess Day,” which actually debuted in this collection ahead of its television run. Special features are limited to another “Little Did You Know” character gallery, focusing on five of the show’s princesses.

The animated series “Geronimo Stilton” chronicles the life and adventures of the famous Italian mouse and his nephew Benjamin Stilton. As a media mogul, Geronimo finds himself involved in crimes and capers in exotic locales around the world. It is based on the hit Scholastic book series. The compilation “Geronimo Stilton: Going Down to Chinatown” includes four episodes from the cartoon series, weighing in at 90 minutes.

In “Babar & the Adventures of Badou: Gone Wild,” we follow Babar’s energetic grandson, Badou, as he and his friends and family solve numerous mysteries and puzzles in Celesteville. King Babar is never far when his grandson needs guidance. The series is based on the classic characters created by Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff. Also newly released are “Bubble Guppies: Get Ready for School” and “Sesame Street: Learning Rocks.” – 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