MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Boxtrolls, Lucy, Zero Theorem, Rudderless, Maddin, Sturges, Rohmer, Narwhals and more

The Boxtrolls: Blu-ray 2D/3D
Of all the branches of the Motion Picture Academy, it’s the ones representing animated films and documentaries that routinely produce the greatest howlers on the day nominations are announced. It’s not even close. In a year when The LEGO Movie and Life Itself could have just as easily rounded out the Best Picture category at 10 nominees – the full academy dissed audiences and filmmakers worldwide by limiting itself to eight finalists – the elimination of those fine films by their respective branches gave viewers two very good reasons to skip this year’s ceremony. I mean, why reward incompetency and elitism with Nielsen ratings? This isn’t to imply that the movies that did make the cut weren’t worthy of being invited to the party, just that whomever wins the Oscar in those categories will, like Roger Maris, forever have to live with an asterisk next to their names. The five films nominated as this year’s Best Animated Feature are excellent entertainments, if not the critical and commercial success that “LEGO” became, and all will have entered the Blu-ray market by March 17. So, you be the judge.

Alternately dark and delightful, The Boxtrolls has to be considered one of the favorites. I was extremely impressed by the stop-action animation employed by Laika — the studio also behind ParaNorman, Coraline and Slacker Cats — which mimics 3D, even in its 2D iteration. Co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, in collaboration with co-screenwriters Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, were able mine the source material, “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow, in a way that maintains its appeal to kids and makes fans of adults. Mischievous and resourceful, the Boxtrolls live beneath the streets of the class-conscious town of Cheesebridge – think, 1850s London — whose elite citizens put more value in a well-aged brie than educating the children of its less-prosperous citizens. It’s no coincidence that the Boxtrolls are treated like gypsies, another ethnic group nearly obliterated by the Nazis. We know that the Boxtrolls come out at night to scavenge material that can be used to support their community, but Cheesebridgians have been taught that they kidnap children and property, as well. (The same ages-old knock on Gypsies.) They’ve hired the villainous Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) to devise a plan to eradicate the Boxtrolls. A human boy raised underground, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), joins forces with the daughter (Elle Fanning) of an aboveground politician, to keep the nearly defenseless Boxtrolls from being snatched up by Snatcher. Among the other voice actors are Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, James Urbaniak, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg and Laraine Newman. The excellent bonus package adds the informative and entertaining “Dare to be Square: Behind the Scenes of the Boxtrolls”; commentary by directors Stacchi and Annable; production featurettes; and preliminary animatic sequences, with commentary by Stacchi and Annable.

Lucy: Blu-ray
Like Luc Besson, the man responsible for Lucy, we’ve all heard the one about how humans only access 10-15 percent of their brain, leaving the rest of its computing capacity to wither on the vine. Judging by recent sci-fi products we’ve all seen, it’s a myth perpetrated by writers whenever they run out of other ideas to exploit. I doubt, however, that it’s possible Besson, who’s written and directed such diverse entertainments as The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, The Professional, Angel-A, The Fifth Element and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, will ever run out of ideas for movies … especially, those capable of attracting such bombshell actresses as Anne Parillaud, Milla Jovovich, Marion Cotillard, Rie Rasmussen and Michelle Pfeiffer. Even so, he clearly thought it might be fun to pull this chestnut out of the fire and write a scientifically incomprehensible thriller that survives primarily on its violence, car chases and Scarlett Johansson in a form-fitting T-shirt. There are, of course, worse reasons to rent a DVD.

Here, Johansson plays the title character, who, after agreeing to do a favor for a lamebrain boyfriend, is recruited by a ruthless gang of Korean drug traffickers who’ve come up with the next-generation Ecstasy. The problem is that a bag containing the substance, which was sewn into a cavity in her abdomen during a blackout, ruptures on her way to Paris. Somehow, the drug causes a chemical reaction in her brain that turns her into a hyper-violent mega-genius. And, that’s just for starters. After consulting with a recognized expert on brain stuff (Morgan Freeman, naturally), Lucy begins to systematically experience what it might be like to use an incrementally greater percentage of her brain capacity. By the time she gets to 100 percent, Lucy literally re-creates the time-travel sequence in The Tree of Life, with a side trip to visit her Australopithecus afarensis namesake. (What, you thought that might have coincidental?) In the meantime, Lucy is required to save the world from the new miracle club drug, bags of which are still being harvested from the bodies of other unsuspecting travelers. If that makes Lucy sound bat-shit crazy, well, it didn’t stop international audiences from buying into it. It looks and sounds excellent in Blu-ray, with a pair of featurettes, “The Evolution of Lucy” and “Cerebral Capacity: The True Science of Lucy.”

The Zero Theorem: Blu-ray
Although Terrence Malick has begun to churn out films at a pace that mimics Woody Allen, there was a time when each new picture was greeted with the anticipation once reserved for Stanley Kubrick and Jacques Tati. The same, I think, can be said about Terry Gilliam, who’s directed only 12 feature-length movies since Monty Python’s Flying Circus pulled up its stakes 40 years ago. Clearly, though, it takes more time to create such wondrously imaginative and grandly ambitious films as Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and, now, The Zero Theorem, than, say, repeated sequels to Taken, Grown Ups and Spider-Man. (It would be worth the price of an ArcLight ticket, though, to see what he could do with a comic-book superhero.) It’s safe to say, as well, that Gilliam’s unique view of the world is no longer shared by the majority of mainstream viewers and, as such, his movies struggle for distribution, even on the arthouse circuit. Gilliam didn’t write The Zero Theorem, but there’s no mistaking his stamp on the futuristic, if not-entirely-dystopic sci-fi phantasmagoria, which seems to extend ideas explored in Brazil and Twelve Monkeys.

The primary difference between those esteemed movies and this one is a color scheme that might have been influenced by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Fat Tuesday on Bourbon Street. Christopher Waltz plays a tormented computer genius, Qohen Leth, who’s been hired by Management (Matt Damon) to discover the meaning of life. It’s the kind of assignment that anyone as fragile as “entity crunching” Leth probably shouldn’t take on, but I doubt if he had any choice in the matter. His computer models offer a seemingly infinitesimal array of choices and Management’s deadline is completely unreasonable. He reluctantly accepts the help of Management’s cocky teenage son, Bob (Lucas Hedges), who provides a video-gamers sense of play and patience to the task, which combines existential philosophy with steam-punk technology. Yeah, pretty dense stuff. What distinguishes Zero Theorem from hundreds of other movies released in any given year are the amazingly creative costumes and imaginative set designs, all done on the cheap with such found materials as plastic shower curtains and a Soviet-era blast furnace. If the Academy had looked beyond this year’s usual suspects, they might have given Zero Theorem a shot in these departments, at least. Needless to say, Waltz makes the part of Qohen Leth his own and Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) continues to impress. Also good are David Thewlis, as Leth’s busy-body supervisor; Melanie Thierry, as his cyber-wet dream; and Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Ben Whishaw as actual and virtual doctors and shrinks. Gilliam fans will find the making-off featurettes to be essential viewing, as they help explain many of his directorial choices and limitations. Separate takes on the visual effects, costumes and sets are very interesting.

The Pirates: Blu-ray
In what may be best described as an action comedy in the tradition of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, The Pirates merges Korean dynastic legend with the biblical story of Jonah, the adventures of Pinocchio and Gepetto, and Free Willy.  On the eve of the founding of the Joseon Dynasty, privateers often engaged in sea battles with the imperial forces of Korea and Japan. Outwardly, the pirates who here control the seas off Korea look as if they might have felt right at home on the Barbary Coast or alongside the fortune hunters plying the Caribbean and eastern Atlantic Ocean. As this story goes, however, when pirates attack the ship bearing goods and treasures to Korea’s new imperial court, the Emperor’s Royal Seal is flung overboard and swallowed by a whale. When the sailors realize the importance of the lost seal – no official business can be completed without its imprint – they antagonize the whale to the point that the leviathan breaks one of the vessels in half, causing a severed mast to imbed itself in its midsection. By putting a handsome bounty on the seal’s return, the emperor inspires every gang of thieves, thugs, pirates and government agents to take to the seas and join in the hunt, even those landlubbers who’ve closest encounter with a large body of a water is their annual soak in a bathtub. Because their idea of a really big fish is the occasional beached shark, the testimony of lady swashbuckler Yeo-wol (Son Ye-jin) is essential. Having gotten up close and personal with the beast, she can identify it not only from the mast, but also wounds to its head. As one of Korea’s most expensive movies in recent years, and with 130 minutes to fill, director Lee Seok-hoon (Dancing Queen) was able to afford several comic set pieces to complement the battles on sea and land. Even so, anyone expecting the thrills, chills and special effects that can be manufactured on a $250 million budget – the price tag on POTC: On Stranger Tides – is likely to be unimpressed with The Pirates. Based solely on a dollar-for-dollar comparison, however, the Korean export holds up pretty well.

William H. Macy has played enough offbeat and quirky characters in his career to feel comfortable directing those played other fine actors and written with an eye toward extracting an array of emotions from viewers. Rudderless is far easier to watch than summarize, without spoiling the surprise that smacks viewers in the chops about half-way through the narrative. Without giving away anything crucial, Billy Crudup plays a former high-profile ad executive, Sam, whose life, career and marriage are upended by the sudden, unexpected death of his college-age son. Like so many other movie fathers in similar straits, Sam is required to experience all of the usual stages of grief and a few more, besides. He abandons his comfortable suburban home to move onto a sailboat on a large inland lake – Rudderless was shot in Oklahoma, but it feels like New England – where he can drown his sorrow and grow a beard to hide his tears. His wife (Felicity Huffman) is crushed, as well, but blessedly has other ways to cope with her son’s loss. While perusing the young man’s papers and books, Sam is surprised to find lyrics and demo tapes he probably was too busy to appreciate when his son was alive. They encourage him to pick up his guitar and perform a song or two at an open-mike night at a local pub. They pique the interest of a young musician, Quentin (Anton Yelchin), who begs Sam to perform in a makeshift band. Not only does this make him the college town’s oldest singer-songwriter, if, in fact, he had written the songs, but the anonymous curator of his son’s legacy. More than that, I shall not reveal. Macy, who has a small role in the picture, walks a very thin line here. So much is left unrevealed for so long that we’re sent reeling, along with most of the characters we’ve grown to like, when Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison’s screenplay pulls the screenplay out from under all of us. It was very brave decision on their part to play their hand so strongly and not everyone will appreciate having the ante raised on them so abruptly. Crudup, who’s largely disappeared from view on the big screen in the last 15 years, is quite good here, as is Yelchin in a portrayal that mimics Jeremy Davies at his most frenetic. Selena Gomez is mostly just along for the ride. Eef Barzelay’s songs fit into the mix as well as any I’ve heard in a while.

May in the Summer: Blu-ray
So few of the movies that are set in the Middle East deal with contemporary issues unrelated to war, terrorism and oil that it’s easy to be taken off-guard by one that isn’t about any of those things and, moreover, doesn’t ask us to feel sorry for women required to wear head-to-toe clothing or accept being subjugated by their husbands. In fact, apart from its Jordanian location, May in the Summer probably could have been shot in any big city in which ethnic minorities maintain traditional standards and challenges to the status quo are discouraged. Shot in the unrelenting sunshine of Holy Land-adjacent Amman, Cherien Dabis’ follow-up to her 2009 Palestinian/American dramedy Amreeka tells the story of a relationship between a Jordanian/American/Christian novelist and Jordanian/Muslim professor that thrived while both lived and worked in the United States, but begins to wither almost as soon as her plane takes off from JFK. Among other things, May Brennan (Dabis) has become estranged from her born-again Christian mother, Nadine (Hiam Abbass), who’s dead-set against any marriage to a Muslim, even one as educated, secular and cosmopolitan as her fiancé, Ziad. As plans for the Muslim wedding progress, the divide grows wider between mother and daughter. Nadine’s threat to boycott the wedding is taken quite seriously, as is her disdain for May’s father, Edward (Bill Pullman), a philandering diplomat now married to an Indian beauty half his age. May and her two sisters, Yasmine and Dalia (Nadine Malouf, Alia Shawkat), aren’t that thrilled with the old man, either, but their mother’s angst has grown tiresome. In her struggle to come to a well-reasoned decision, May consults friends whose advise includes taking trips into the desert and sea, where she reconnects with her bloodlines. Some viewers will consider the ending to be all too conveniently drawn, but it fits the parameters of such a hybrid production just fine. Anyone who hasn’t taken the opportunity to enjoy the work of Hiam Abbass, an Israeli Arab, in The Syrian Bride, Lemon Tree, Amreeka, The Visitor and Inheritance should certainly give May in the Summer a look in DVD or Blu-ray.

In the House of Flies
Attack of the Morningside Monster
If you only intend to see one more movie about a couple trapped in cramped basement by an off-stage psychopath, In the House of Flies would be among the titles to consider first. Gabriel Carrer and Angus McLellan’s extremely claustrophobic thriller is sufficiently creepy to satisfy one’s lust for such things for another decade, at least. It is set in June, 1988, before the age of omnipresent cellphones and other wireless technology. Otherwise, the unseen tormenter (voiced by Henry Rollins) wouldn’t feel compelled to communicate with his prisoners via a dial-up telephone and GPS technology would be available to the filmmakers as an easy way to end the victims’ misery. As it is, young lovers Heather (Lindsay Smith) and Steve (Ryan Kotack) have only been afforded four locked suitcases, the phone and all the bugs and rats they can catch and devour. After taunting the couple, their captor makes them answer ridiculous questions and torture themselves physically and psychologically. Worse, they’re denied food and water for several days, exacerbating an already impossible situation. As is usually the case in such horror flicks, claustrophobia can only be realized on screen if the cinematography and architecture appear to be closing in on the victims and viewers, alike. This is what happens here.

Given how little money likely was spent on the direct-to-DVD Attack of the Morningside Monster, it holds up pretty well as the story of a small-town serial killer, with a background in South American cannibal cults and the medicinal properties of marijuana. After a dried-up corpse is discovered in a New Jersey forest, a cloaked fiend in a jeweled mask goes on a killing spree based on the deployment of medieval weaponry and disembowelment. All of the victims are connected by marijuana in one way or another, whether it pertains to sales, consumption or law-enforcement. Determining what the mask and evil symbols left behind have to do with the killings constitutes most of the intrigue in Chris Ethridge and writer Jayson Palmer’s feature debut. It is, however, the acting of such genre veterans Nicholas Brendon, Tiffany Shepis, Amber Chaney, Catherine Taber, Robert Pralgo and Mike Stanley that sells it.

By the Gun
In 2008, an inauspicious indie about a female trucker, in the unlikely presence of Michelle Monaghan, caught the attention of critics, festival organizers and DVD renters. Trucker was written and directed by first-timer James Mottern, whose next picture, By the Gun, would take a more conventional tack. In it, a new-school Boston gangster, Nick (Ben Barnes), hopes to make his bones without actually getting his hands dirty. That, of course, is left to his nasty companion, who serves as his enforcer and advisor. Nick’s godfather is played by Harvey Keitel, as good a choice as any living actor. He encourages Nick to apologize for an insult made by his cousin to the daughter of a more established hoodlum. Naturally, when Nick meets the girl (Leighton Meester), things get complicated for the rising gangster. And, when things get complicated in gangster flicks, they also get violent. It isn’t the most compelling mob picture I’ve ever seen, but the presence of Keitel and the diminutive Toby Jones, as another unlikely bad guy, are enough to recommend By the Gun.

On Golden Pond
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that no one produces movies likes On Golden Pond, anymore. The Brits make them all the time: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Calendar Girls, Le Week-End, anything that stars Bill Nighy, Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith or Vanessa Redgrave. Michael Haneke’s Amour was nominated for the 2012 Best Picture prize, but had to settle for Best Foreign Language Film; at 71, Catherine Deneuve is still the best thing in any movie that bears her name; Sarah Polley’s Away From Her could hardly be more Canadian; and the gay-seniors themed Love Is Strange and Beginners were independently produced. The New Orleans-set Fred &Elsa, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, couldn’t find wide theatrical distribution and was required to debut on VOD outlets. When On Golden Pond was released in 1981, major studios frequently made movies that starred veteran actors – Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, George Burns and Walter Mathau – for general audiences and Academy Award glory. Of course, On Golden Pond also had the distinction of featuring Fonda’s controversial daughter, Jane, as his character’s daughter. Adapted by Ernest Thompson from his own stageplay, Mark Rydell’s film is sappy, sentimental and funny in all of the usual places reserved for those qualities on stage and in the movies. Even so, it was the chemistry between the cast members that kept emotions from overflowing like lava from Henry and Kate’s cabin and into placid Golden Pond. It helped mightily that 14-year-old Doug McKeon was there, as the resentful son of Jane’s boyfriend (Dabney Coleman), to keep the snarky dialogue and unsettled family business from getting ugly. Billy Williams’ Academy Award-nominated cinematography gave us sound reasons to believe that a place called Golden Pond (a.k.a., Squam Lake) exists, if not in New Hampshire then in the hearts of moviegoers looking for a three-hankie experience. The lovely Blu-ray adds the vintage featurettes “Reflections on Golden Pond” and “A Woman of Substance: Katharine Hepburn Remembered” and commentary with director Rydell.

The Great Chicken Wing Hunt
If there’s anything Americans enjoy more than gorging on bar food, it’s thumbing their noses at alarmist nutritionists who never tire of pointing out the links between spicy appetizers, cheap tap beer, cigarettes and gastroesophageal reflux disease, a.k.a. GERD, acid reflux and heartburn. Several recent medical studies have argued persuasively that GERD is a growing cause of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Apparently, the chronic reflux of acid causes changes in the cells lining the lower esophagus — changes that are referred to as Barrett’s esophagus — that ultimately lead them to become cancerous. GERD also appears to affect hypothyroidism and hiatal hernias and damage tooth enamel. If there’s a correlation between Buffalo chicken wings, invented in the 1960s in Upstate New York, and an estimated 600 percent increase in such cancers over the past few decades, no one has yet seen fit to put warning labels on the ultra-spicy, deep-fried and inarguably addictive little boogers. Bon appetite. I only mention this because of what I witnessed in the entertaining DIY documentary, The Great Chicken Wing Hunt. In it, American ex-patriot Matt Reynolds returns to his homeland with a Czech film crew to document the origins of the accidental appetizer, in the kitchen of a blue-collar tavern in Buffalo, the Anchor Inn. That accomplished, Reynolds embarks on a 2,627-mile search for the ultimate chicken wing or, more precisely, the red-hot sauce that causes men, women and children to weep in joy and agony simultaneously. A winner was declared, alright, but not before the team sampled 284 different varieties of wings and the Czech crew threatened to mutiny over the lack of variety in their diets and pressure to finish the film before Reynolds’ money ran out. Despite the presence of some appallingly unhealthy Americans, The Great Chicken Wing Hunt is fun to watch. Some viewers might find it to be mouth-watering, as well. The DVD adds commentary, a pair of Q&A sessions after festival screenings, an update on the key participants and visit to Lebowski Fest New York, three acoustic folk songs by Al Caster and an up-close look at the scorecard used in the hunt.

My Winnipeg: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Palm Beach Story: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Eric Rohmer’s Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle
Any freshman film student should be able to make a passable feature-length documentary about their home town, if, for example, they hail from New York, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans or, even, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Portland and Austin. More difficult would be a portrait of, say, Omaha, Pierre or Hobbs, New Mexico. Try Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city of some 700,000 souls, whose primary claim to fame is that it not only is located at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers, but also at the geographical center of North America. Otherwise, according to native Winnipegger Guy Maddin – and author of My Winnipeg — there’s hockey, several indoor swimming pools for year-round aquatics, trainspotting and dressing to stay warm in the seemingly endless winter. Conveniently, Winnipeg has also provided a lifelong home for the documentarian extraordinaire (Brand Upon the Brain), whose quirky and thoroughly unique films have fascinated non-fiction buffs for three decades. Criterion Collection’s re-release of his “docu-fantasia,” My Winnipeg, blends fact, legend and myth in the service of a fractured love letter to “the heart of the heart of the continent.” He leaves it to viewers to guess where the truth ends and fantasy begins. (Is Winnipeg’s population especially prone to sleepwalking, for example, and what’s the deal with the racehorses forever frozen in the river?) Film students would do well to peruse this and other of Maddin’s docs, which argue strongly for the proposition that no detail is too small to be maximized in a portrait of something you love. The newly restored and upgraded Blu-ray presentation adds an entertaining conversation between Maddin and art critic Robert Enright; “‘My Winnipeg’ Live in Toronto,” a 2008 featurette; cine-essays by Maddin on Winnipegiana; three Maddin shorts, with introductions by the director; a deleted scene; and an essay by critic Wayne Koestenbaum.

If all one knows about mid-20th Century writer/director Preston Sturges is that his name frequently comes up in discussions of classic black-and-white comedies on TMC, a screening of The Palm Beach Story should prove revelatory. I’d somehow managed to miss watching it until now and was reminded favorably of the Thin Man series, Some Like It Hot and It Happened One Night, and not just for the delightful presence of Claudette Colbert. In it, Colbert and Joel McCrea (Sullivan’s Travels) play Tom and Gerry, a New York couple whose marriage appears to have run its course. Nearly broke, Tom doesn’t buy Gerry’s story about being handed a pile of money by a wrinkled old sausage tycoon, with no strings attached. Neither does he believe that she’s headed for Florida, in a train overflowing with drunken millionaires, to help solve their financial problems. One of the millionaires, played wonderfully by Rudy Vallee, is every bit as generous as the Texas sausage king, but younger and far more handsome. Things only get crazier when Tom is introduced to the millionaire as Gerry’s architect brother and he is encouraged to woo his sister, the oft-married Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), and join the family business. Sturges’ trademark blend of physical comedy and verbal repartee must have given the bluenoses at the Hays Office apoplexy. Criterion Collection’s 4K digital restoration of this uproarious film adds new interviews with writer and film historian James Harvey and comedian Bill Hader; “Safeguarding Military Information,” a 1942 World War II propaganda short written by Sturges; the Screen Guild Theater radio adaptation of the film from March 1943; and an essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek.

Like most of Eric Rohmer’s work, Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle has been characterized as deceptively simple, by admirers, and, by detractors, as just plain simple. He is known for his themed “tales,” vignettes about manners and morality, and behavior dictated by the seasons. Rohmer finds great meaning in barely seen movements, intimate exchanges and seemingly meaningless interactions between lovers and friends, neighbors and strangers. An action director, he’s not. “Four Adventures” tells the story of two young women – one from the city and the other a country girl – who meet on an ordinary late-summer day in rural France under less than unusual circumstances. Although they have very little else in common, Mirabelle admires Reinette’s ability to fix a flat bicycle tire and her profound appreciation of country life. She’s also impressed by Reinette’s paintings, which are considered good enough to have earned her a scholarship at a Paris conservatory. For her part, Reinette is in desperate need of a guide to big-city life. They almost immediately agree to become roommates when Reinette moves to Paris. And, therein, lies four tales: “L’heure bleue”/“The blue hour”; “Le garçon de café”/“The coffee-shop’s waiter”; “Le mendiant, la kleptomane et l’arnaqueuse”/“The beggar, the kleptomaniac and the swindler”; and “La vente du tableau/“Selling the painting.” Witty, touching and surprising, they can be enjoyed either a la carte or as a full meal.

PBS: Nature: Invasion of the Killer Whales
Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Season
After watching this sadly convincing “Nature” episode, “Invasion of the Killer Whales,” even diehard climate-change deniers might find it difficult to blame the slaughter of narwhals – described by Jules Verne as “unicorns of the sea” – on something other than global warming. If the Arctic ice pack weren’t shrinking so drastically, orcas and human predators would be unable to access this vulnerable creature in its normally protected habitat. It’s that simple. In the company of native Inuit hunters, the “Nature” team monitors the erosion of the ice pack, which also provides a seasonal home for seals and polar bears and a barrier to the migrations of the killer whales. The narwhals aren’t entirely defenseless, but a single sword-like tusk is easy pickings for one of the fastest and most efficient killing machines on the planet. And, once a pod of orcas registers the fact that the narwhal’s traditional habitat has been breached, there’s no stopping them from making the 8-week, 2,500-mile journey in subsequent years. When the narwhals disappear or find a place to hide, the marauders set their sights on the seals also hunted by polar bears and Inuits. The show provides a rather basic lesson in Ecology 101, but one that needs to be pressed before the entire icepack disappears. As bleak as the rugged Arctic terrain sometimes looks, the camera crew here finds ways to make it beautiful in Blu-ray.

By Season Two of “Welcome Back, Kotter,” the ABC sitcom was a bona fide hit. Fears that American teens would begin to imitate the antics of the Sweathogs en masse dissipated and the show’s marketing machine toiled in high gear (lunch boxes, action figures, an “Up Your Nose With a Rubber Hose” board game). During the course of these 23 episodes: Barbarino (John Travolta) replaces Horshack (Ron Palillo) in a school production of “Cyrano de Bergerac”; Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) becomes a smash on the radio; and the gang pitches in to help Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein (Robert Hegyes) quit smoking. Among the guest stars are Dinah Manoff, Valerie Curtin, John Astin, George Carlin and Fred Grandy. Typically, Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) finds himself in predicaments not easily solved through normal channels.

Air Supply: Live In Hong Kong: Blu-ray
After 39 years of continuous music making, Australian soft-rock pioneer Air Supply is still touring the world, from the Indian-casino circuit in North America to Singapore’s Max Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur’s Mega Arena and Shanghai’s Love Space. Apparently, no venue is too monumental for this extremely durable ensemble. “Air Supply: Live In Hong Kong” is the band’s first concert film in high definition, which, in fact, does make a difference. The 2013 recording’s playlist featured 16 hits songs, including “Even the Nights Are Better,” “Every Woman in the World,” “Here I Am,” “Lost in Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” and “All Out Of Love.”

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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