MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Into the Woods, Unbroken, Errol Morris, Michael Almereyda, Mr. Bean and More

Into the Woods: Blu-ray
It’s no secret that the Disney empire owes a great debt of gratitude — if not any licensing fees or screen credits – to the Brothers Grimm, whose many wonderful stories the company has cherry-picked for movies, television shows, Broadway, amusement parks, plush  toys and costumes. If proceeds from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs allowed Uncle Walt to create Disney Studios in Burbank, the success of Cinderella, 13 years later, probably saved it from financial ruin. Any concern that Disney’s new, live-action Cinderella would fail to maintain the worldwide momentum generated by Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland and, yes, even, Oz the Great and Powerful was quashed 24 hours into its huge opening weekend. And, while both of Disney’s adaptations owe more to Charles Perrault’s 1697 “Cendrillon” than to the Grimms’ 1812 “Aschenputtel,” the latter’s version is the one that informs Anna Kendrick’s performance in Into the Woods. Just as Walt Disney felt it necessary to brighten the darkness that informed the source material, so as to appeal to family audiences and not scare the crap out of the kiddies, the studio worked closely with director Rob Marshall, writer James Lapine and composer Stephen Sondheim to modify the stage musical to fit MPAA guidelines for a PG rating and lop off a half-hour in the process. The excisions didn’t please all critics, but the author and composer haven’t wasted their time whining about the trims or bemoaning the elimination of several new and old songs. Even so, I do think that some parents will find the PG to be a tad on the generous side for young viewers and anyone still inclined to sneak out of the family room in anticipation of the flying-monkey scene in The Wizard of Oz.

In this allegorical mashup of “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Rapunzel,” the woods truly are something to dread. Colleen Atwood’s Oscar-nominated production design adds an aura of menace that nicely complements Meryl Streep’s in-your-face approach to the Witch. At a sometimes complex and challenging 125 minutes – the musical was, after all, inspired by Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment” — I suspect that most pre-teens will find Into the Woods to be too long a slog, anyway. Nor will the young’uns benefit much by being made aware of the dangers that lurk in the woods or that facing them is a rite of passage they’ll eventually have to pass or fail. In this regard, the PG rating may actually have caused older teens and young adults to bypass the movie, assuming it to be too diluted, which it’s not. Besides Streep, the terrific ensemble cast includes Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen and Johnny Depp. Their voices may not be equal, but the acting is well up to par. Commentary is provided by Marshall and producer John DeLuca. Featurettes add “Streep Sings Sondheim,” with the deleted song “She’ll Be Back”; “There’s Something About the Woods,” in which cast and crew discuss the role of the forest in the musical; “The Cast as Good as Gold,” in which Marshall and the cast provide an overview of the casting process, embracing rehearsals, creating a company of actors and developing chemistry between the players; the four-part making-of documentary, “Deeper Into the Woods”; and 54-minute “Music & Lyrics,” with interactive features.

Unbroken: Blu-ray
It’s taken nearly 70 years for Hollywood to finally make a movie about Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a record-setting distance runner, who, during World War II, survived two near-fatal plane crashes, 47 harrowing days on a life raft and more than two tortuous years in Japanese POW camps. Before making good on promise he made to God while battling hunger, thirst, sunstroke, dive bombers and sharks on the raft, Zamperini also would be required to defeat alcoholism, PTSD and dreadful nightmares that usually ended with him strangling his Japanese captors. With the encouragement of his wife and assistance of evangelical crusader Billy Graham, the onetime Torrance juvenile delinquent learned to forgive the men who resented his modicum of fame and punished him with incessant beatings in front of his fellow POWs. Once he defeated his own demons, Zamperini was finally in a position to help teens desperate for the kind of break he received when he was in danger of becoming a ward of the state. Zamperini would stay physically active until his death last year, at 97, and even ran a leg in the Olympic Torch Relay for the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, not far from the POW camp in which he fully expected to be murdered in the immediate wake of the armistice. That’s not a movie … that’s a mini-series. Maybe so, but it would take Universal another half-century to find someone able to figure out a way to turn the second half of this exemplary life story – the rights to which it had purchased in the late-1950s – into something someone would pay to see. In fact, it was director/producer Angelina Jolie who convinced the studio to invest in what many people, at various times, considered to be a no-brainer.

It wasn’t until the release of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling biography, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” that a workable framework for the picture revealed itself. Once that happened, Jolie was able to benefit from a screenplay credited to the Coen Brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, Roger Deakins’s Oscar-nominated cinematography and a physically taxing performance by Brit newcomer Jack O’Connell. Considering how much of the action in Unbroken is confined to smallish spaces and close-up renditions of beatings, Jolie does a nice job keeping the 137-minute movie from feeling oppressively claustrophobic or voyeuristic. She also asks us to consider the nature of heroism in war. After all, the most heroic thing Zamperini did in the war was survive. He defied his captors simply by being able to endure the punishment and refusing to participate in Japanese propaganda broadcasts. He agreed to make one benign broadcast, primarily as a way to inform family members that he wasn’t dead. Unbeknownst to Zamperini, his status had been downgraded from MIA to KIA and the Japanese wanted to embarrass the U.S. for the unintended mistake. Once that became clear, he was sent back to prison and punished even more for his effrontery. The most curious decision made by the creative team was to end the story with the prisoners’ return home, compacting the rest of the history lesson into several provocative postscripts. In an act of Christian charity that almost defies explanation, Zamperini would return to Japan twice to personally forgive his captors, the most vile of whom escaped prosecution. That wretched man, known to the prisoners as “The Bird,” refused to meet with his onetime punching bag or express remorse he didn’t feel was warranted.  The Blu-ray/DVD bonus package corrects the problem by adding such informative featurettes as “Inside Unbroken: Fifty Years in the Making,” “Inside Unbroken: The Fight of a Storyteller–Director Angelina Jolie,” “Inside Unbroken: The Hardiest Generation,” “The Real Louis Zamperini,” “Louis’ Path to Forgiveness,” a cast-and-crew concert, “Prison Camp Theater: Cinderella” and deleted scenes.

Gates of Heaven/Vernon, Florida: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Another Girl Another Planet + 3 Others
Long before Errol Morris became recognized internationally for plumbing the dark depths of sociopathic secretaries of defense and a prominent Holocaust denier, he was best known for his unconventional profiles of unsung Americans and being denied an Oscar nomination for The Thin Blue Line. In that exhaustively researched documentary, Morris not only was able to get a man falsely convicted of capital murder released from prison, but he also convinced the actual perpetrator to recant his previous testimony at a hearing prompted by new evidence uncovered in the film. In the suspect wisdom of the academy’s documentary committee, The Thin Blue Line was deemed to be a work of fiction because some of its content was scripted. Twenty-four years before The Theory of Everything, Morris had introduced Stephen Hawkings and his struggle with ALS to the world in A Brief History of Time. It wasn’t until Robert S. McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld agreed to sit before Morris’ Interrotron and be interviewed for The Fog of War and The Unknown Known that he received the credit he had long been due. Newly restored by Criterion Collection, Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida are the films that established Morris’ reputation as a chronicler of the weird side of the American dream. So atypical were these documentaries that, at first glance, they could be seen as ridiculing the people being interviewed for their presumed eccentricities. After a short while, however, it became abundantly clear that Morris was far more interested in learning what made these largely unchampioned Americans tick, before the homogenization of the country was complete.

Morris made Gates of Heaven after noticing an article in a newspaper about how the owner of a northern California pet cemetery was being forced to relocate his business to a place where encroaching suburbanization wasn’t so dramatic and his neighbors weren’t so squeamish. He rushed to the San Jose area to capture the forced exhumation on film, not yet aware of the fact that the real story belonged to the people who saw a future in this business – inspired by their love for a lost pet – and those who found necessary closure in their cemeteries. As is so often the case, subjects that seemed freakish in the not-so-distant past now are commonplace. In the mid-1970s, however, anyone willing to spend hard-earned money on a final resting place for their pets left themselves open to derision by wise-ass elitists and talk-show hosts. By finding the humanity in these sometimes desperate people, Morris practically created a new subgenre of documentary making. The genesis of Vernon, Florida came from a failed effort to verify an urban legend, spread through the insurance industry, about a patch of rural Florida, dubbed “Nub City,” where an extraordinary number of residents maimed themselves to collect settlements. After learning how violently opposed these folks would be to appearing on screen, Morris broadened his approach to the citizenry of Vernon, where an ability to tell goofy stories appeared to come with the territory. Once again, he was able to make something very special out of what most people would consider to be practically nothing. He accomplished this by recording their stories without prejudice or clever camera tricks. The Blu-ray adds new interviews with Morris, an essay by critic Eric Hynes and “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe,” a delightful 20-minute film by Les Blank, featuring Herzog fulfilling a bet intended to inspire Morris to complete his first feature.

It’s always fun to discover the roots of an exceptional artist and follow them to see where they led. Michael Almereyda has been one of the mainstays of the independent-film scene since the early 1990s, with the kooky family/disaster dramedy, Twister. His later credits would include Nadja (1994), Hamlet (2000), Happy Here and Now (2002) and Cymbeline (2014). The release of Another Girl Another Planet + 3 Others is a reflection of a more experimental period, when he employed a process called Pixelvision in a series of short films. When blown up to 16mm, the visual effect is akin to watching a 1950s anthology series on a crappy old Philco or surveying a Pointillist painting through fogged-up glasses. In the 56-minute Another Girl Another Planet (1992), the process is used as a tribute to French New Wave romanticism, albeit one set in a pre-gentrification East Village pad. Two hipsters compete for the affections of some of the same women, but, mostly, it’s their bromance that informs the story. One common theme is an affection for an ancient Dave Fleischer cartoon, “Dancing on the Moon,” which adds an air of fantasy to the drama. It isn’t the easiest film to watch, however, considering the Pixelvision conceit. The other three films are “Aliens,” in which two boys discuss their favorite movies and the nature of passive resistance, while playing a video game; “At Sundance,” a group portrait of then-aspiring filmmakers attending the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, among them Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Todd Haynes, Greg Araki, Abel Ferrara, Atom Egoyan, James Gray, Robert Redford and Haskell Wexler; and “The Rocking Horse Winner,” a Los Angeles-based adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence story about luck, loss and the need for more money.

Wolfy: The Incredible Secret
Considering how many UK films are nominated annually for Academy Awards, it should come as no surprise to learn how much weight BAFTA nominations carry among Oscar voters. The awards ceremony is shown here on a same-day basis on BBC America. Like the BAFTA gala, the awarding of France’s Cesar trophies can be accessed live over the Internet, but they carry far less weight. Typically, it takes a lot longer time for the winning films, if not the internationally popular actors, to find traction on our shores. Even when dubbed into English, most Cesar-winning animated features can only be seen here on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD. Apart from a couple of festival appearances, that’s what happened with the 2013 Cesar winner and Oscar nominee, Ernest & Celestine, and 2014 topper, Wolfy: The Incredible Secret. This year’s champ, Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants, enters the same marketplace on May 26, with Richard Dreyfuss providing the English narration. Once again, better late than never. Wolfy: The Incredible Secret (a.k.a., “Loulou, l’incroyable secret”) overflows with anthropomorphic animals that the kids should love, while also delivering a more pointed message about totalitarianism for adults to savor. Now in their teens, a wolf and a rabbit who’ve been lifelong friends, decide that it’s time to venture forth from the Land of the Rabbits to find Loulou’s birth mother, somewhere in Wolfenberg.  Once there, Tom’s long ears make him an easy target for the carnivores gathered in the principality for the Meat-Eater’s Festival. If the herbivores are able to avoid being eaten by the celebrants, Loulou might learn the “incredible secret” behind how he came to be raised as an orphan in a distinctly foreign land. Eric Omond’s story has been described as an anti-fascist allegory, reflecting much of the sad history of Europe in the 20th Century. There’s no reason to think, however, that young viewers will be traumatized by the message or archetypal characters.

Gone With the Pope: Blu-ray
Rabid Grannies: Blu-ray
From Asia With Lust, Volume 1: Camp/Hitch-Hike
The Clones
The Sins of Dracula
This is an especially good week for those of us who enjoy combing the sands of cinematic time for discarded treasures. Can two weeks have passed since re-introducing Duke Mitchell’s gangland epic, Massacre Mafia Style, to aficionados of movies that are so bad, they’re good? Curiously, yes. Uncompleted in Mitchell’s cigarette-shortened lifetime, Gone With the Pope, truly has to be seen to be believed. Here, Mitchell plays a just-paroled gangster, Paul, with a ridiculous scheme to kidnap the pope and hold him for ransom, to be paid by hundreds of millions of Catholics willing to cough up $1 each for his release. Paul and a few other ex-cons have traveled to Italy from L.A. on a yacht borrowed from his recently widowed girlfriend. Without a Swiss Guardsman in sight, the pontiff is forced to change places with a look-alike kidnaper and return to the boat in a borrowed Maserati. While rolling along on the high seas, the pope demonstrates why crime is no match for the cross. The clever ending more than makes up for the bizarre shenanigans that led up to it. Shot in 1975, Gone With the Pope sat on a shelf gathering dust until 1995, when it was discovered by Mitchell’s son, Jeffrey. Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski, of Grindhouse Releasing, vowed to take over the project, which wasn’t completed until 2010. It took that long because Mitchell preferred writing out scenes in a notebook, on cocktail napkins, envelopes and other scraps of paper, instead of a script. Because five reels of the rough-cut film were missing and never found, restorers were required to go through the negatives to find missing material. In one of the interviews conducted for the Blu-ray release, cinematographer Peter Santoro admits to being shocked by the erratic quality of his work. In addition to the almost miraculous 2K restoration, the bonus material includes three audio options mixed by Emmy Award-winner Marti Humphrey; interviews with co-stars Jim LoBianco and John Murgia, editors Bob Leighton and Robert Florio, and legendary exploitation producer/director Matt Cimber; footage from the 2010 Hollywood world premiere; deleted scenes and bloopers; liner notes by horror novelist John Skipp; still galleries; and the theatrical trailer. Also interesting is a long clip with the vintage Las Vegas lounge act featured in the movie. Today, the same kind of act can only be found in Branson.

Even though it carries the Troma banner, the aggressively toxic Rabid Grannies is a 1988 Belgian horror film directed by one-timer Emmanuel Kervyn. When it was acquired for VHS release by Troma, it bore the more accurate title, “Les mémés cannibals,” as none of the characters actually carry rabies. Since nothing else in the movie makes logical sense, either, the inconsistent title is easily ignored. As the story goes, two ancient sisters – more likely spinsters, than grannies — have invited family members to what could be their last birthday celebration. The single uninvited nephew counters their slight by sending a gift that reflects his satanic leanings. It doesn’t take long before the old crones are overcome by the demonic spell and begin to turn on their younger relatives. It may not be pretty, but it’s not supposed to be.  Strangely, the Blu-ray presentation isn’t any better. The “producer’s cut” edition restores much of the gore deleted for the original VHS and DVD releases. They’re repeated in the deleted scenes.  Another discrepancy involves the run time of Rabid Grannies. If you believe the package, it’s 90 minutes. Your watch will disagree by roughly 22 minutes. In this case, at least, horror completists probably will agree that shorter is better. The combo DVD/BD package adds deleted scenes, an interview with the producer, the featurette, “What the Hell Happened to You?” and the usual array of tantalizing Troma trailers.

The company’s also represented by the first two selections in Troma Team’s From Asia With Lust series. Camp and Hitch-Hike are rape-revenge thrillers – something of a Japanese specialty – with a hearty helping of psychological torture thrown in for good measure. And, while the violence and nudity isn’t nearly as gratuitous as that found in the films in Impulse Pictures’ Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection, rape is never easy to watch … or shouldn’t be. In Camp, estranged sisters Akane and Kozue find themselves trapped in a vacant dormitory after their car is disabled in an accident. A Good Samaritan’s promise of shelter turns into a nightmare when confronted by five sadists, who torture one of them to death. Out of nowhere a mysterious female vigilante arrives to level the playing field.

In Hitch-Hike, a pretty young woman is driving around the Japanese countryside with her beer-swilling brute of a husband, when she’s forced to stop by a hitch-hiker lying in the middle of the road. The husband takes pity on the young man, who he believes to be an angler, but realizes his mistake when the punk asks if he can share his wife, as well as his beer. When a serious rift between her two passengers erupts, Saeko is given the choice of cheering for her tormentor or a criminal on the lam. Both titles represent a departure from Troma tradition.

With such inviting micro-budget films as Creature From the Hillbilly Lagoon, Splatter Disco, Atomic Brain Invasion and Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead to his credit, exploitation auteur Richard Griffin is a writer/director horror buffs count on to deliver the goods. One way to save precious time and money is to spoof recognizable genre and subgenre conventions, while continuing to exploit violence, gore and nudity. Then, all one has to do is make the concoction entertaining. The Sins of Dracula will be familiar to Christians who came of age during the 1970-80s and were required to watch cheaply made movies intended to scare the devil out of them. If such studio chillers as The Omen and The Exorcist weren’t sufficiently scary to convince evangelical youth not to stray from the path of righteousness, I don’t know how such humorless, do-it-yourself morality plays could be expected to save souls. Working from a screenplay by Michael Varrati, Griffin describes what happens when Billy (Jamie Dufault), the star of his church choir, decides to expand his audience by joining a local theater company. Little does he know that the secular troupe is actually a front for a saatanic cult and he’ll be exposed to every delicious temptation the devil has to offer a young virgin. The DVD adds two audio commentaries and the bonus short films “They Stole the Pope’s Blood!” and “Los Pantalones Contra Dracula.”

In 1973, 23 years before Dolly the Sheep was born in Scotland, American audiences were introduced to some of the ethical dilemmas surrounding the relatively unknown scientific process that would become known as cloning. The Clones, a paranoid sci-fi thriller by Lamar Card, Paul Hunt and co-writer Steve Fisher, is credited with adding the word “clone” to the cinematic lexicon. It has since come to represent an entire sub-genre of horror and science-fiction flicks. The Clones caused a ripple of excitement, by demonstrating how the process could be used by the forces of evil to create a parallel scientific brain trust, which could be manipulated to perform tasks repugnant to those with ethical qualms over certain military and corporate research. Here, a scientist (Michael Greene) discovers that he’s been cloned as part of a government plot to wage meteorological warfare on its enemies. On a more personal level, the scientist discovers that his clone has begun to insinuate himself into the life of his girlfriend. It isn’t until the two men decide to work together that The Clones dissolves into a standard chase-and-escape flick.

A MusiCares Tribute to Paul McCartney: BluRay
There was a time, not so long ago, when it was said that more teens and young adults knew Paul McCartney as a member of Wings than as a Beatle. Now that Wings is little more than a mainstay of classic-rock radio, Sir Paul’s association with the Fab Four has been cemented more by Cirque du Soleil’s tribute show, “Love,” than any wide-scale re-release of the group’s albums. The Beatles’ great music isn’t likely to go away any time soon, of course, but every new generation of listeners is entitled to worship their own heroes and enjoy something that reflects their collective mindset. It explains why the audience gathered at the ceremony honoring McCartney as the 2012 MusiCares Person of the Year looked as if they’d escaped from a Cialis commercial. The fact is, however, the Blu-ray edition of “A MusiCares Tribute to Paul McCartney” really rocks and the geezers who donated a couple hundred bucks, at least, to attend the concert lip-synch to the music and dance as if they were kids, again. Fittingly, perhaps, the show opens with an energetic performance of “Get Back”/“Hello Goodbye”/“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the cast of “Love.” Besides McCartney, himself, the lineup includes Alicia Keys, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Duane Eddy, Norah Jones, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Sergio Mendes, Coldplay, James Taylor, Diana Krall, Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh.

The Sure Thing: 30th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Between This Is Spinal Tap and a string of hits that began with Stand by Me, Rob Reiner directed the appealing coming-of-sexual-age rom-com, A Sure Thing, which several critics described as an updated teen version of It Happened One Night. In the roles originated by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert stood John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga in their first lead roles. Students at the same northeastern college, “Gib” and Alison are a mismatched pair from the word, “Go.” Over Christmas break, they’re inadvertently paired in the same share-a-ride to Los Angeles, along with a pair of show-tune-singing squares. When they’re forced to get out of the car and hitch their way west, the Colbert and Gable comparisons become unavoidable. Turns out, Gib is on his way to Malibu, where an old high school buddy has arranged a blind date with a “sure thing” played by Nicollette Sheridan, who, physically and intellectually, is the polar opposite of Alison. For her part, Alison plans to spend the break with her longtime boyfriend, who, likewise, is the polar opposite of Gib. You can guess the rest. The Sure Thing did pretty good business upon its release, but, 30 years later, it really shows its age. Nonetheless, seeing such now-famous actors as Tim Robbins and Anthony Edwards in their early roles is always fun. (There’s also a reminder of how much we miss Lisa Jane Persky, who’s busy doing other things.) The Blu-ray package repurposes the featurettes, “Road to The Sure Thing,” “Casting The Sure Thing,” “Reading The Sure Thing” and “Dressing The Sure Thing,” as well  as commentary with Reiner.

Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean: The Re-mastered 25th Anniversary Edition
PBS: A Path Appears
PBS: Nova: Sunken Ship Rescue
PBS: Frontline: Gunned Down
Twelve years ago, “Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean” was released into DVD at a price north of $150, but missing such popular sketches as “Turkey Weight,” “Armchair Sale,” “Marching” and “Playing With Matches.” Neither was the audio/video presentation up to then-current standards. The good news is that Shout Factory has given all 14 episodes of the beyond-quirky series, which aired here on PBS and HBO, a dandy facelift; added the missing scenes; and sent it out at the very reasonable price of about $20. It also picks up the bonus features from the 2003 release. For those new to the indefatigable character, invented by Rowan Atkinson while studying for his master’s degree, Mr. Bean combines elements of Jacques Tati with the great slapstick comedians from the silent era. He also reminds me a bit of Pee-wee Herman, “Monty Python” and Mr. Magoo. As silly as it is, the material holds up pretty well after 25 years, especially such recurring gags as run-ins between Mr. Bean’s 1976 British Leyland Mini 1000 and the unseen driver of a light blue Reliant Regal Supervan III. (Yes, it’s a real car.) It’s the kind of timeless entertainment that kids can watch with their parents – dads, especially – as a double-feature with the Three Stooges.

Anyone moved by the book or television series based on Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” will want to catch, if they haven’t already, the companion piece, “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity.” The special presentation of PBS’ “Independent Lens” supplements research gleaned from the book with contributions by actor/advocates who traveled with the authors to Colombia, Haiti, Kenya and places throughout the United States where women and children suffer the greatest need. They include Malin Akerman, Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow, Jennifer Garner, Regina Hall, Ashley Judd, Blake Lively, Eva Longoria, and Alfre Woodard. None of the celebrities appear to be slumming – literally – or just along for the p.r. value. Their presence truly does appear to make a positive impression on the people we meet. The series is broken into three chapters: “Sex Trafficking in the USA,” “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty” and “Violence and Solutions.” They explore the roots of gender inequality, the devastating impact of poverty and the ripple effects that follow, including prostitution, teen pregnancy, gender-based violence and child slavery.

The “Nova” presentation “Sunken Ship Rescue” takes us back to the scene of the Costa Concordia disaster, off Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, on January 13, 2012. The giant cruise ship, which was twice as large as the Titanic, capsized after hitting an obstruction in the water just off the coast. Thirty-two lives were lost, not including the diver killed during the salvage mission. The half-sunken ship posed a grave danger to the fragile underwater environment, as well as the waters that could be polluted by toxins if it split apart or fell to a greater depth. “Nova” producers joined the team of more than 500 divers and engineers, working around the clock, as part of the biggest and likely most expensive ship recovery project in history. “Sunken Ship Rescue” is a truly fascinating report and you don’t have to be an engineer to understand it.

The “Frontline” investigation, “Gunned Down,” provides a necessary reminder of how powerless our congressional leaders become whenever lobbyists for the National Rifle Association – or anyone else with deep pockets — begin to wave hundred-dollar bills under their snouts. Its producers examine how the NRA has expanded its clout on Capitol Hill, even after the first President Bush was moved to renounce his membership in the organization and the death toll of innocent bystanders began to go through the roof. It didn’t matter to these bought-and-sold greed-heads that children were being murdered in schools and polls showed public support for some form of gun control or protection from depraved owners of assault rifles. It’s as depressing and hopeless a show as we’re likely to see on PBS in a long time. It would be interesting to see what might happen if the Koch Brothers suddenly began supporting gun-control activists. Republican lawmakers and many Democrats would spin themselves into butter figuring out whose money carries the most weight.

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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