MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Railway Man, Boredom, Cold Lands and more

The Railway Man: Blu-ray
In Washington, our so-called leaders have been debating how much of the Senate report on the interrogation methods used by the CIA after September 11, 2001, should be made public. Many believe that the secrets contained therein would, if declassified, shake the foundation of our democracy. The same resistance to news coverage already applies to conditions at Guantanamo Bay, where, we know, some unindicted terrorists have complained of being tortured. It’s not that Americans don’t already assume the worst about the CIA and mostly don’t care about the techniques used to glean useful intelligence, with much disinformation thrown in to save another beating. Fact is, our elected officials simply don’t want their constituents to know how little control they had over what happened in the execution of the war on terrorism. If folks inside the Beltway weren’t aware of the extent of the torture and degradation, it was only because they were playing the game of the three wise monkeys who saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil” I was reminded of this by Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man, which graphically describes the application of torture on British P.O.W.s in World War II by Japanese soldiers and officers. In a very real sense, it serves as a companion piece to The Bridge on the River Kwai, because it explains what was happening to the men forced to construct the railroad leading to and away from the bridge. Nagisa Ôshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence also dealt vividly with conditions in a prisoner-of-war camp in Southeast Asia. Based on the memoirs of Eric Lomax, The Railway Man features heartwrenching performances by Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, Magic In The Moonlight) and Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), portraying the protagonist as a young and old man. Even sixty years after Old Eric was liberated by Allied troops, he continues to suffer terrifying nightmares and hallucinatory flashbacks. At the core of his trauma are recurring visions of the Japanese translator who either participated in the beatings or was a silent witness.

A railroad buff, Eric meets the love of his life, Patti (Nicole Kidman), on one of his many journeys through the U.K. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that Eric is a deeply troubled man, as are the other survivors she meets. One day, an ex-POW friend shows Eric a newspaper clipping in which the translator, Takeshi (Tanroh Ishida), is shown giving tours at the site of the encampment. He had escaped being arrested and executed, like other officers, by insisting he was only used as an intermediary. It would perform the same task for British prosecutors of war crimes. Patti convinces Eric to travel to Thailand to confront his nemesis and, quite possibly, exact his own punishment. It would be perfectly understandable if Eric reciprocated in kind, but what kind of man would that make him and what would have been gained? Takeshi also is an old man, after all, and appears to be serving out a form of penance conducting tours and decrying Japan’s complicity in the process. Some Americans, at least, must be asking themselves similar questions, in regards the war on terror. The Japanese interrogators didn’t invent water-boarding and other techniques subsequently borrowed by their CIA counterparts, after all. Teplitzky effectively conveys the nature of the horror, both during the war and, afterwards, for survivors with PTSD. The acting is solid and the jungle settings reek of dread. The Blu-ray adds an excellent making-of featurette, which includes interviews with Eric and Patti; discussions with cast and crew; and commentary with Teplitzky and co-writer-producer Andy Paterson.

The Cold Lands
In only his second feature as a writer-director, veteran actor Tom Gilroy (whose first film was Spring Forward) wonders how a pre-teen boy might survive in the sudden absence of a self-reliant mother who preferred living deep in the woods to having anything to do with the outside world. In The Cold Lands, a perfectly cast Lili Taylor defines the type of person – an ex-hippie or survivalist – who would want her child to follow her lead and prepare for the day when city folk are threatened with extinction and the supermarkets run out of food. Atticus (Silas Yelich) doesn’t know that his mother is seriously ill and could die at any moment. Maybe, Nicole believes that she had given Atticus all the tools he needed to make it on his own and it was time to give up the ghost. Or, she was simply in a state of denial. Rather than become a ward of the state or be handed over to unfamiliar relatives, Atticus takes what he was given by Nicole and attempts to fend for himself in the woods. For a while, anyway, he does pretty well. After a while, though, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur. After nearly getting his butt shot off by a pair of meth-cookers, the boy is rescued by an itinerant pot peddler and part-time jewelry maker, Carter (Peter Scanavino). They form an uneasy alliance, based as much on companionship as any father-son dynamic that might have kicked into gear. Gilroy gives Carter the choice of turning Atticus for reward money or treat him the way he would want to be treated, in the same circumstances. Given another five minutes’ worth of screen time, Gilroy might have answered his own question. As it is, we’re left with a perplexing mystery and memories of much spectacular Catskills scenery

Director Albert Nerenberg makes several interesting, if not earthshaking points in his latest offbeat documentary, Boredom. The most important, I think, is that chronic ennui among today’s kids has reached epidemic levels and it’s too often misdiagnosed by teachers who aren’t doing nearly as good a job as they think they are doing. Just as psychiatrists and educators underestimated the extent to which ADHD and depression impacted children in post-World War II America, boredom in the classroom generally is treated either as a disciplinary problem or a sign that kids are spending too much time outside of school doing things other than homework. Moreover, the film argues persuasively that we not only can be bored to tears, but also to death. Recent studies show that people who lead sedentary lives are more susceptible to cancer and other serious conditions. To counteract the effects of boredom, many sufferers turn to recreational pursuits that are far more dangerous than wasting an afternoon on the couch, watching TV. When the thrills derived from one such activity begin to dissipate, however, adrenaline junkies invariably will turn to even more exciting pastimes. Nerenberg’s team of experts also point to boredom among unemployed and politically disenfranchised youth as a root cause for turning peaceful protests in riots. Unlike ADHD and depression, which can be treated with pharmaceuticals and therapy, the easiest cures for boredom require finding a source for cocaine and speed, which make everything fun and interesting … for a while, anyway. The other way is to make school and work more stimulating for individuals, who, in some cases, feel as if they’re not being sufficiently challenged. Nerenberg argues that too much time spent sitting at a desk can induce boredom in students and white-collar employees, just as working on an assembly line can turn human beings into automatons. Because even the simplest solutions cost money, however, nothing is likely to improve any time soon. Indeed, even a documentary about boredom can prove debilitating after a while. Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Richard Linklater’s Slacker avoided that by being consistently entertaining and full of endearing characters. Documentarians don’t have the same luxury. “Boredom” at least attempts to balance stimulating material with scientific data. As the director of such nonfiction films as Laughology, Let’s All Hate Toronto, Stupidity” and Invasion of the Beer People, Nerenberg understands the importance of pacing, balance and humor in the creation of feature-length films. In Boredom, as founder of the Boredom Institute, he even appears to be channeling Orson Welles in one of those 1970s commercials for Paul Masson wine.

Favorites of the Moon: Blu-ray
Anyone in the mood for a silly French farce ought to consider picking up Otar Iosseliani’s 1984 comedy, Favorites of the Moon, which has been freshened up by the folks at Cohen Media and eOne. Rendered as a roundelay of familiar Gallic types from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, it opens with the smashing of a piece of hand-painted Limoges china and the re-hanging of a wispy portrait of a French aristocrat on the wall of a grand chateau. The link between the two isn’t made clear until Iosseliani flash-forwards to present-day Paris, where they become the objects of attraction of an art dealer, thief, police inspector, gun dealer, inventor, beautician, a homeless man, anarchist, prostitutes and a couple of bourgeois families. As the antiques pass from one hand to another, more Limoges china is accidentally broken and the painting gets smaller every time it’s cut from its frame. In the meantime, the disparate characters whose lives intersect in the inner city arrondissement reference the experiences of men and women who may have admired the finery the first time around. Not everything comes together as the director planned, but, once you get into the movie’s offbeat rhythm, Favorites of the Moon is enjoyable. Look for a 19-year-old Mathieu Amalric among the gang of thieves. The Blu-ray adds commentary by critic Phillip Lopate and an essay.

Breathe In: Blu-ray
Hateship Loveship
Any film in which a teenage girl and an unrelated older man succumb to the temptations that derive from living in too close proximity to each other – however consensually — is a land mine waiting to explode. Such May-to-September romances probably happen more often than we care to imagine, but it’s the rare director who can turn them into something that doesn’t feel cheap or exploitive. Well before Woody Allen’s career became embroiled in scandal, he mined the taboo subject for all of the humor and humanity it was worth. In time, watching Woody cavort with much younger women, both on the big screen and in newspaper headlines, became indefensible. Notes on a Scandal, P.S. and A Teacher were able to strike an acceptable balance between crime and punishment, but, in those pictures, the teachers are women. In real life, if caught, they would be pilloried by the media before being found guilty by a jury that doesn’t allow for sentiment. In Breathe In, Drake Doremus (Crazy Love) benefits from some superb acting in telling a story of infidelity and seduction. And, he does it without appealing to the prurient interests of viewers who dig this sort of thing.

Felicity Jones fairly smolders as Sophie, a foreign-exchange student from England who moves into the Upstate New York home of a music teacher, Keith (Guy Pearce), his exceedingly normal wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and 18-year-old daughter, Lauren (MacKenzie Davis). Keith is an ex-rocker, now devoted to classical music. Teaching is a fine job, but, he wants to have his life’s work validated as a soloist in a respected orchestra. For all we know, Megan may have had similar ambitions of her own before settling down to raise Lauren and master the art of cookie-jar making. Sophie and MacKenzie appear to hit it off, but they operate on separate wavelengths. When it appears as if Sophie is attempting to steal her boyfriend, whose talents include date rape, Lauren becomes susceptible to the not particularly accurate gossip of classmates. She needn’t have worried. As a fellow musician, Sophie has found her kindred spirit in Keith. For his part, Keith sees in the teenager someone he can mentor and share deep thoughts on something other than cookie jars. In other words, he’s a sitting duck for a girl looking for a daddy figure and confidante. If things really get sloppy towards the end, it’s only because there are only a couple of ways these things can go and one of them involves weaponry. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette and interview with the director.

Pearce plays a very different variety of father in the little-seen Hateship Loveship, based on an even more awkwardly titled story by Alice Munro, “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.” He’s excellent, as usual, but the real story here is Kristen Wiig, for whom Liza Johnson’s drama represents a marked departure from the roles expected of her by fans from her “Saturday Night Live” days. I mention that only because Hateship Loveship enjoyed only the most limited of limited releases earlier this year, after its debut at the 2013 TIFF, as if its distributor accepted the futility of selling drama to comedy nuts. Fact is, though, Wiig’s chronically delusional Johanna Parry is only one or two shades removed from the borderline deranged characters she introduced on “SNL” (Dooneese, Gilly and Penelope, among them). Her great talent was making viewers squirm and laugh simultaneously. When we meet her, Johanna seems to be destined for a life of serving other people at the expense of her happiness. Mousy and sheltered, her career as care-giver tends to take her from one hospice situation to another, for indeterminate periods of time.

Her latest assignment turns out very differently, however. It requires her to supervise an unruly teenager, whose father, Ken (Pearce), is a ne’er-do-well drug addict and ex-con. Her elderly employer (Nick Nolte) has been burned too many times by Ken’s schemes, yet feels a responsibility toward his granddaughter, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfield). As formidable as he looks, however, he’s no match for a teenage girl in heat. Neither is Johanna. After receiving a short, innocuous note of gratitude from Ken, she begins to fantasize a scenario in which he’s a knight in shining armor and he’s Lancelot. Having intercepted the note, Sabitha and her demonic friend, Edith (Sami Gayle), think it might be fun to pull a prank on both Ken and Johanna, by writing a note inviting her to Chicago and fulfilling their destiny, together. Turns out, he lives in near-squalor with his junkie lover (Jennifer Jason Leigh). You’ll either have to guess what happens in the next half-hour or rent the movie, which I recommend. Christine Lahti also co-stars in Hateship Loveship, in a role that may be the most satisfying of them all. Johnson directed Linda Cardellini to great effect in Return, a drama about a National Guard soldier and mother attempting to readjust to life in the U.S., after a long deployment in Iraq.

Disneynature: Bears: Blu-ray
Disney Special Editions: Blu-ray
There’s nothing like a new Disneynature installment to make one feel good about purchasing an HDTV and Blu-ray player. They’re as close to being outdoors as is permitted while lounging around in your underwear. Bears is the latest in a series of movies that began in 1948 with True-Live Adventure: Seal Island. Walt Disney wasn’t interested in showing animals in nature simply to amuse viewers who may never to make it to Alaska or Africa. He wanted to build fanciful stories around the footage brought back by his intrepid team of cinematographers. The first such journey took them to Alaska’s Pribilof Islands. Almost 70 years later, the studio’s Disneynature team returned to Alaska – now, of course, a state – and its brown bear refuge at Katmai National Park. It goes without saying, by now, that this tale of a mother, Sky, and her two frisky cubs, Amber and Scout, is visually spectacular, educational and highly entertaining. Bears opens in Sky’s hibernation den, just as the cubs are making their presence known to mom. Once out of their cave, the hungry trio hightails it from a snowy mountain plateau to Kamishak Bay, seeking salmon. It helps that narrator John C. Reilly sounds like a bear might sound, if it understood English. He moves easily from the light-hearted moments, when the cubs are learning the ropes; to foreboding, as other adult bears mark their territory; and, finally, the life-and-death struggle for the salmon Sky would need to sustain the family through a second winter. The camerawork involved in capturing the salmon run is nothing short of amazing. The Blu-ray presentation is terrific. The bonus package adds several making-of featurettes, an environmental message and music video.

Looking and sounding no less gorgeous in hi-def are these vintage animated titles – some being more vintage than others — newly available on Blu-ray in “Special Edition” form. They include Tarzan and Hercules, from Disney’s heroic period of the late 1990s; a welcome double-feature, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) and Fun and Fancy Free (1947); the live-action Bedknobs & Broomsticks, in its original 117-minute version; and The Three Musketeers, in a “10th Anniversary Edition.” These titles may not qualify as classics, in the Disney tradition, anyway, but each has its particular charms. The bonus packages accentuate the bright and lively original songs, some of which are accorded the sing-along treatment. There also are plenty of deleted scenes and commentaries.

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is 2001: Blu-ray
Viva Las Vegas 50th Anniversary: Blu-ray
Anyone who was born after Elvis Presley’s tragic, if self-inflicted death, 37 years ago, in Memphis, might not understand what’s all the fuss about the universally acknowledged King of Rock ’n’ Roll. Images of the grotesquely bloated entertainer linger in the mind as much as the many great photographs of the young Prince of Rock ’n’ Roll, when he was undisputedly the coolest cat on Earth. After Elvis served his time in the U.S. Army, megalo-manager Colonel Tom Parker decided that his client should demonstrate his maturity by forsaking hard-core rock and churning out soundtrack albums from his cookie-cutter movies of the 1960s. Almost all of the movies he made during that period were successful, if entirely forgettable. They take place in exotic locations, such as Hawaii and Acapulco; feature plenty of inorganic singing, dancing and fist-fighting; and the protagonists was given such generic names as Rusty Wells, Charlie Rogers, Rick Richards and Mike Edwards. The closest they came to revealing an ethnic background were Mike McCoy and Joe Lightcloud. They resemble such pre-army movies as Jailhouse Rock and King Creole the way his homogenized version of “Hound Dog” resembled Big Mama Thornton’s far earthier version of the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller hit. Viva Las Vegas was, by far, the best of the “Elvis movies” made during his middle period, after the Don Siegel Western, Flaming Star. The difference can be summed up in one hyphenated word, Ann-Margret. Hired over the objections of the colonel, the stunning hoofer/singer was every bit the equal of Elvis in the charisma department and was given nearly equal screen time by George Sidney, who had directed her in Bye Bye Birdie. Moreover, songs other than the title cut were memorable beyond the opening weekend. And, although he had bombed in his first Las Vegas engagement, Elvis looked as if he owned the part of town not already claimed by the Rat Pack. It all adds up to brainless fun, which is all the public demanded of him at the time. The only new bonus featurette is the Digibook package, which adds more photos and marketing material to the commentary by Steve Pond and a 2007 making-of presentation.

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is documents the King’s preparations for his triumphant 1970 return to the Las Vegas stage, as well as the concert performance that demonstrated how ready he was to take care of business (with a lightning bolt medallion, of course) as a touring superstar. Elvis is in top form physically and vocally and in complete control of everything he surveys. He’s a blast to be around and wonderfully charming. The excitement in the audience was palpable, as well, with such stars as Sammy Davis Jr., Xavier Cugat and Charo, Juliet Prowse, Cary Grant and George Hamilton in attendance. The band was comprised of some of the best session musicians and backup singers in the business, with a playlist that included new and old material, including “All Shook Up,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Love Me Tender,” “Polk Salad Annie,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Suspicious Minds.” What’s interesting to recall is how bland most concerts were at the time. While the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd soon would change how stadium shows would look for the next 40 years, Elvis’ International Hotel visually stunning engagement influenced everyone from Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand to Beyoncé and Britney Spears. The Digibook contains both the original and re-edited 2001 versions of the documentary. Only the latter is offered in Blu-ray. The outtakes and restoration featurette have been shipped over from the 2007 double volume.

Turtle Power: Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
With the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles riding high atop the box-office charts for a second weekend, what better time could there be to recall the origins of the fantasy-adventure franchise and re-discover how it’s evolved from a black-and-white comic book to $125-million CGI-impacted extravaganza in just over 30 years. Randall Lobb’s self-financed Turtle Power is a 98-minute labor of love, in which many of the key players are represented. It shouldn’t be confused with the awful electronic press kit featurettes that accompany newly released DVDs or appear on HBO and Showtime between movies. Featured participants include co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird; animation producer Fred Wold; head writer-developer David Wise; Mirage Studio comic artists; the 1987 voice actors; and merchandising executives. It’s the kind of film that first-, second- and third-generation fans can enjoy and discuss with equal fervor.

God’s Not Dead
Mercy Rule, By Kirk and Chelsea Cameron
Anyone who still wonders why Hollywood continues to court Christian audiences, while routinely running afoul of theologians – Noah, serving as only the latest and most expensive example – should check out the performance of independently produced, God’s Not Dead. Made for a mere $2 million, the faith-based and university-set melodrama finished its domestic theatrical run $60 million in the black. Marketing costs were alleviated by focusing on niche outlets and word-of-mouth in the evangelical community. Even if box-office observers declared “God’s Not Dead” a “surprise hit,” other pundits might have considered its success to be pre-ordained. While most faith-based films are focused on “spreading the good news of Jesus Christ,” Harold Cronk’s story takes a decidedly different tack by pitting student believers against atheist educators in a generic campus setting. Several public universities have been sued recently by Christian students who believe their rights have been usurped by administrators going overboard to maintain a separation between church and state, science and scripture. God’s Not Dead stacks the deck by making the defender of the faith a game freshman against a tenured philosophy professor who insists that his students declare, “God is dead,” on Day One of classes. Otherwise, he claims, too much time is wasted in discussions about the teachings of the great atheist thinkers. When Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) refuses to comply, Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) demands that he prove the existence of the deity in debate or leave the class. Although his girlfriend threatens to leave him if he continues to devote his time to such folly, Josh does what Christians have done for 2,000 years when challenged.

As preposterous as that premise might sound, the debate actually is well-conceived and entertaining. It’s when the story travels beyond the classroom, however, that the debate is diminished by evangelical overkill. Believers and non-believers, alike, are made to ponder how a just God could allow people to endure slow, painful deaths or simply turn their loved ones against them. Finally, everything and everyone come together at a packed-to-the-rafters Christian-rock show … or on the way to it, anyway. The scriptwriters’ foremost miscalculation, here, is playing to the cheap seats by adding subplots involving a Moslem student, whose father beats and disowns her when she turns to Christ, and a student from China so inspired by Josh’s argument that he denounces state-sponsored atheism in a text to his father. Even more insulting are the cameos made by one of the “Duck Dynasty” goofs and his slinky wife. It’s all kind of silly, but audiences in theaters full of believers probably ate it up. The DVD adds a making-of featurette, music videos and a discussion about the legal struggles of Christian students.

In other God-is-alive news, “Growing Pains” star Kirk Cameron is all grown up now and making faith-based movies with his wife, Chelsea Noble. Their latest, “Mercy Rules,” uses baseball to teach and re-enforce Christian values. It’s not the most original idea, but baseball can represent all things to all people, even Satanic umpires.

Summer camps are a natural place for teaching life lessons, as well as learning all of the gross-out skills they’ll need when attending college. Jacob Roebuck’s Camp (2013) is set at Christian camp in the Sierra Nevada, where kids who’ve suffered years of neglect and abuse can get a second chance on childhood. Ten-year-old Eli has been scarred by his experiences as a foster child, but it’s his adult counselor, Ken, who may need the most help. The egocentric financial adviser has only taken the position to impress a potential client. Eli, on the other hand, needs to learn how to control his emotions, so he’ll be able to join a family that accepts him for who he is.

Proxy: Blu-ray
The Midnight Game
Agency of Vengeance: Dark Rising 
Motel Hell: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
People who prefer watching movies at home on DVD and Blu-ray have the benefit of reading dozens of reviews before having to choose a night’s entertainment. The Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes sites are reliable, unless one considers the subjectivity involved in giving numerical values to opinions, while those found on Amazon and IMDB’s fan sites are about as trustworthy as a car dealer’s opinions on the cars in his showroom. It’s almost impossible to parse fact from fiction, honest opinion from self-interested deception. On the front cover of the Blu-ray package containing Proxy, the quote, “A worthy successor to Rosemary’s Baby,” is prominently displayed. Supposedly, it’s taken from a review that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The piece I saw at the paper’s website made no mention of Roman Polanski’s 1968 thriller and, indeed, the devil’s spawn doesn’t make an appearance in Proxy. Being gullible, I spent the first half-hour of my time with Zack Parker’s film looking for it. Instead, the jolts in Proxy”derive from the terrible things that happen when tragedy strikes and a parent loses a child. Here, the mugging of a woman about to deliver leads to a miscarriage, which causes the victim to join a group populated with other grieving parents, one of whom is a phony. Any more information than that would spoil a series of surprises and plot twists which continue for the next 90-plus minutes. What Parker’s techniques lack in fluidity are largely overcome by the unpredictable narrative.

With the creepy campus ghost story House of Dust already in release, A.D. Calvo could be in the process of becoming one of the writer-directors that teens and young adults turn to for spooky fun. The Midnight Game manages to wring a few fresh twists to the subgenre in which clueless teenagers do dumb things in haunted houses. Here, instead of an Ouija board, the half-dozen teens use an incantation, a few drops of blood, candles and burned note cards to play a pagan game handed down after the first ghost took up residence in the first abandoned cave. Here, though, the house has been recently purchased by a single parent required to travel to the far corners of the Earth. It takes about five minutes for her daughter to break her promise about allowing boys and booze into the house and another five for things to start going sideways. Midnight Game works in fits and starts, but the ending is worth the wait, at least. Among the stars are Shelby Young (“American Horror Story”), Guy Wilson (“Days of Our Lives”), Valentina de Angelis (“Gossip Girl”) and Spencer Daniels (“Mom”).

There’s something to be said about sci-fi fantasies in which the most prominent characters are extremely well-endowed women in lingerie, carrying big guns. There are some male characters in Agency of Vengeance: Dark Rising, as well, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember who they were or what they did in the movie. If there’s any good reason for women to pick up a copy of the DVD, I couldn’t say with any certainty what it might be. The Rising Dark Agency is a black-ops division of the intergalactic government headed by Colonel Haggerd (Michael Ironside). When he suspects that a sudden surge of supernatural activity on Earth is the work of an evil Demon-God, he calls on Summer Vale (Brigitte Kingsley) to prevent the coming apocalypse. Yeah, and I’m the king of Spain. The Dark Rising franchise appears to be a Canadian sensation, targeted at viewers who spend most of their free time on the Internet or imagining extremely well-endowed women in lingerie, carrying big guns. They’ll find the nerd humor, fantasy violence and cosplay in Agency of Vengeance much to their liking. And, no, there isn’t any nudity or realistic violence.

There are many good reasons to pick up the collector’s edition of Motel Hell, but I’ll limit mine to just two: 1) ex-con and onetime leading man, Rory Calhoun, and 2) a pig-mask-wearing antagonist, wielding a chainsaw. Calhoun’s Farmer Vincent captures unsuspecting tourists, plants them in his garden heads-up and feeds them until they’re ready for butchering. Think of it as a hillbilly Sweeney Todd, and Motel Hell will begin to make sense. Made in 1980, at the dawn of the slasher/splatter era in Hollywood, it works equally well as a parody of the genre and over-the-top horror flick. The Scream Factory edition adds the irreverent “It Takes All Kinds: The Making of Motel Hell; “Shooting Old School With Thomas Del Ruth,” in which the cinematographer discusses the differences between shooting a picture, then and now; “Ida, Be Thy Name: The Frightful Females of Fear,” on what constitutes a good female villain; “From Glamour to Gore: Roseanne Katon Remembers Motel Hell” with the former Playboy Playmate of the Month; “Another Head on the Chopping Block: An Interview With Paul Linke,” who played the film’s hapless cop; and commentary with director Kevin Connor.

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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