MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Top Five, Soft Skin, Disorder, Mondovino, Troop Beverly Hills and more

Top Five: Blu-ray
If Chris Rock’s film career isn’t nearly as celebrated as those of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy – standup giants before turning to feature films – it isn’t because the movies he’s in don’t make money. Most of them, especially the animated features to which he adds his distinctive voice, do well enough at the box-office to think that they probably did even better on DVD.  It’s likely that Rock was responsible for selling as many tickets as Adam Sandler to the critically reviled, yet financially successful Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2. Nothing could have saved Pootie Tang, but no remembers that it was written and directed by pre-fame Louis C.K. It’s also likely that Down to Earth, the Weitz’ inexplicably unfunny adaptation of Heaven Can Wait, would have gone straight down the toilet if it weren’t Rock. As a leading man in movies, unlike the comedy circuit, Rock has found it more difficult asserting himself physically than Pryor and Murphy ever did. Such a thing shouldn’t matter, of course, but it does. As a standup, he stalks the stage like a cheetah waiting for his prey to separate itself from the pack. On film, that predatory instinct has been largely diluted.  At a thin 5-foot-10, he looks small. Size didn’t matter in 2 Days in New York, Juliet Delpy’s sequel to 2 Days in Paris, in which he played a mild-mannered radio host whose home is invaded by family of French loonies. It was a very different role for him, but he looked comfortable in his character’s skin.

As writer/director/star of Top Five, Rock appears to have distilled all of his experiences as an entertainer into a character, Andre Allen, who has lost touch with the people who influenced him on the way to stardom. Growing up in the projects, Allen was surrounded by people whose attitudes and idiosyncrasies served him well in the standup arena, but weren’t going to follow him to Hollywood, where he starred in a series of Hammy the Bear action comedies. Fearing that he might become too identified with the crime-fighting bear to be considered in other roles, Allen decided to do something completely different. It’s during the course of promoting, “Uprize!,” a biopic about a leader of the Haitian slave revolt, that he makes time to reconnect not only with family and friends, but also his bedrock sense of humor. The press-tour ordeal has already provided fertile ground for, among others, Woody Allen and British screenwriter Richard Curtis (Notting Hill). The roundtable interviews, talk-show appearances and other mind-numbing demands are enough to make a stage actor or comic consider returning to something more rewarding, even if the money isn’t as good. One of the things star do when they want to alter their public persona is agree to spend several hours in the company of a reporter for the New York Times Magazine. At first, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) seems a bit star-struck by Allen, who points her in the direction of the kinds of questions she should be asking. But, being beautiful and down-to-earth, she eventually makes Allen reconsider his commitment to his materialistic fiancé (Gabrielle Union), who’s planning a wedding to rival Kanye and what’s-her-name. What eases the character’s transition from self-pity to self-revelation most, however, are the musicians and comedians – Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, DMX, Whoopie Goldberg and Adam Sandler, prominent among them – who provide a mirror and needed perspective for Allen. His reunion with hard-to-impress folks back in the ’hood is, at once, hilarious and heartwarming. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Rock and actor JB Smoove; the backgrounder, “It’s Never Just a Movie: Chris Rock and ‘Top Five’”; behind-the-scenes footage, combined with interviews; “Top Five Andre Allen Standup Outtakes”; “Top Five Moments You Didn’t See in the Film” and more deleted scenes; “Andre Raps”; “First Day Your Movie Comes Out”; and “These Shoes.”

The Soft Skin: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Viewed from a distance of 50 years, it seems inconceivable that François Truffaut’s The Soft Skin — newly restored by Criterion Collection — might have been booed at a Cannes screening or that it might have been one of the films close friend Jean-Luc Godard later would condemn as being irrelevant bourgeois distractions. Such were the passions of French intellectuals and cineastes in the latter half of the 1960s, when revolution was in the air and filmmakers were expected to toe one political line or another. Instead of addressing the concerns of workers and students, as Godard felt he should be doing, Truffaut made films that addressed the moral and ethical inconsistencies of people whose sins were more counter-revolutionary in nature and occasionally needed a good spanking, too. In 1964, Truffaut was consumed with researching and conducting interviews for “Hitchcock,” which would be published three years later. The Soft Skin may not have been the direct homage to Alfred Hitchcock that was The Bride Wore Black, but it quietly reflected things he learned at the foot of the master during their sessions. Viewers already vaguely familiar with The Soft Skin might consider skipping ahead to the bonus package and checking out the featurettes “Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock” and “The Complexity of Influence” before watching the main attraction. The Soft Skin is a romantic drama that’s anything but benign. After all, even in mid-‘60s France, cheating on one’s spouse must have been viewed as being, if not criminal, then, at least, sinful. And, as we’ve witnessed in any number of Hitchcock thrillers, crimes big and small can have ramifications well beyond the intention or execution of the deceit.

Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) is a well-known writer, whose income largely depends on traveling to far-flung locales to lecture on Balzac and other novelists. He’s been married to the still-stunning Franca (Nelly Benedetti) for many years, without noticeable complications, and they have a delightful daughter, Sabine, around 10. On a trip to Lisbon, Pierre encounters the gorgeous air hostess, Nicole (Catherine Deneuve’s sister, Françoise Dorléac), who flatters him with her knowledge of his work and willingness to ignore his drab appearance and inflated vanity. After some unconsummated flirtations, Pierre and Nicole begin what they anticipate will be a long-term love affair.  He isn’t anxious to inform Franca about his plans and Nicole is so self-conscious about the illicitness of the affair that she’s even reluctant to give her security guard permission to let him upstairs. It’s on a business trip to Reims, with Nicole, that things really get complicated for Pierre, and his disregard for his lover’s feelings reveals him to be just another frightened middle-class adulterer. Even though he remains blissfully unaware of the ripples emanating from the stone he’s thrown into calm surface of his life, it isn’t difficult to see the advancing storm clouds. The Soft Skin may not be on top of many critics’ lists of Truffaut must-sees, but, 50 years later, it’s a movie that deserves to be re-considered and relished, if only for its ability to tell an old story in a relatively new way. The new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, is enhanced by commentary with screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard and scholar Serge Toubiana; a fresh video essay by filmmaker and critic Kent Jones; the documentary by film historian Robert Fischer and 1965 interview with Truffaut; and an essay by critic Molly Haskell.

Nothing screams disorder and chaos quite as loudly as a truckload of pigs accidentally discharged onto a major thoroughfare in rush hour. What makes such madness unbearable, apart from the horrendous squealing that comes whenever one of the pigs is trapped, is watching as some of the beasts pass out from heatstroke and die in plain sight of passersby. As horrendous as this seemingly not-unusual event appears to be, it’s only one of several such disturbances documented in Huang Weikai’s alarming guerrilla documentary, Disorder. Imagine if dozens of amateur filmmakers were encouraged to forgo taking selfies for a few days and, instead, use their cellphone cameras to capture examples of social dysfunction in Los Angeles or New York and upload them to a common website, available to anyone with a computer. While the footage might look similar to that on display in Disorder, it couldn’t possibly be more disheartening. Disorder is the product of a widespread project conducted by underground videographers to demonstrate what really happens in the streets of major Chinese cities when the whole world isn’t paying attention to the Olympics, mating pandas and martial-arts epics. Naturally, the unauthorized shooting and exhibition of such films is banned by the government

A pedestrian stages an accident in the middle of a busy street, then attempts to negotiate a deal with the nearly helpless motorist, before being dragged – literally – to a waiting ambulance, more than 50 feet away. A businessman who’s been waiting for an insurance settlement for three years – during which he’s lost the business – threatens to jump off a high bridge into the Pearl River if he isn’t allowed to speak with the police captain who assured him everything will work out fine. A group of politicians make a statement about the strength of their dedication to Chinese citizenry, by mimicking 73-year-old Chairman Mao’s hour-long swim in the Yangtze. Meanwhile, under a bridge over the same sickeningly polluted river, a desperate man sloshes around a garbage-strewn backwater to net fish. Others wade through flooded streets in sandals, courting disease and typhus from rusty nails. A grocery store is looted after being abandoned by its owner, when police find severed bear paws in a freezer and endangered anteaters in a cage. Laundry is hung on electrical and telephone wires. Laborers are ordered to continue construction even after finding cultural assets at a work site. Policemen beat people and lock them up in squad cars, awaiting paramedics, and a crowd gathers around a baby found deserted in an empty lot. In fact, crowds gather everywhere something unusual happens in Disorder.

Also included in the package is Huang’s earlier documentary on a group of Guangzhou buskers, who attempt to make a living playing music under an acoustically advantageous underpass. The focus is on a long-haired singer-songwriter, whose music wouldn’t be out of place in any college-town café in the west, but we also see musicians on traditional instruments, as well. Such harmless activity is outlawed and anyone caught without a recognized ID will be jailed or ordered to leave the city, where economic opportunity is practically non-existent. The outrages on display aren’t exclusive to the People’s Republic, of course. The things we witness in Disorder probably happen routinely around the world, in one form or another. What is different in China, perhaps, is the potential for revolt and anarchy, which can only grow greater as the disparity in incomes becomes more obvious and corruption escalates. Today’s digital technology assures that the cameras capturing the next Tiananmen Square won’t be those solely belonging to CNN and the BBC.

Muck: Blu-ray
Mark of the Devil: Blu-Ray
A Cry From Within
Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf: Blu-ray
It takes chutzpah for a first-time writer/director/producer to begin preparations for a prequel and sequel before critics and genre buffs have even had a chance to go ape over the original … or not. After all, the only two things to recommend Muck ahead of its release on DVD are the presence of genuine genre legend Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Hatchet) and 2012 Playboy Playmate of the Year Jaclyn Swedberg. Without knowing anything else about Muck, buffs who live to discover the next great horror franchise know intuitively that the gigantic Hodder will be responsible for the untimely deaths of several yuppies in the wrong place at the wrong time and Swedberg’s surgically enhanced boobs will be put on display, at least once.  Even though filmmaker Steve Wolsh absolutely delivers on the promise of mucho splatter and T&A, it’s the complete lack of a discernible storyline that has kept website pundits from singing its praises. As the picture opens, we watch a group of college-age tourists – one in her skivvies – splashing their way through a muddy Cape Cod marsh, attempting to escape a bunch of albino zombies whose graves they’ve disturbed. They may think they’re home free when a vacant summer home peeks through the evening fog, but their terror has only just begun. One of the guys volunteers to drive into town to summon help. When he pulls into the nearest bar, however, he’s distracted by several actual Miss Cape Cod winners – no kidding – who spend an inordinate amount of time exchanging lingerie in the ladies room.  When the doofus finally remembers why he drove into town in the first place, he packs a couple of the beauties into his SUV, along with several bottles of booze, and returns to the house, where his friends are waging a bloody battle with the less-than-invincible attackers. That’s about it, really. What makes Muck interesting for cognoscenti, however, are the setting – rural Cape Cod, entirely at night – and the fact that it’s the first horror film ever shot and released in 4K/Ultra HD. As someone who recently purchased a 4K/HD television set, I can attest to the unique texture of the visual presentation.

For some buffs, simply reading the names Herbert Lom, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux and Udo Kier in the same sentence is sufficient cause for celebration. When they appeared together in Mark of the Devil, Lom was between installments in the Pink Panther series, as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus, while Kier was a strikingly handsome 25-year-old newcomer. The other two actors had faces that could stop a clock. In this nicely restored Blu-ray edition from Arrow/MVD, they are witch finders in early 18th Century Austria. Despite its connection to the Vatican, the profession lends itself to the easy framing of buxom barmaids who refuse to go along with older men’s advances. When this happens, the women are tortured until they admit their heresy or burned at the stake for the amusement of the locals. Unlike Lom’s hypocritical arbiter of demonic possession, Kier’s apprentice doesn’t buy into the ritual sadism that is part of parcel of the job. The lunacy of religious fanaticism is effectively depicted by co-writer/directors Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven and the cruelty on display made Mark of the Devil a prime example of British exploitation films of the period. The torture and rape sequences still pack a punch, while the gorgeous Austrian setting serves as a counterbalance to the man-made ugliness. Upon the movie’s release, promotional barf bags were handed out to paying customers.

Anyone looking for an old-school haunted-house thriller – one not dependent on CGI and special-makeup effects – could do a lot worse than Deborah Twiss’ A Cry From Within (a.k.a., “Sebastien”). After experiencing a miscarriage, Cecile (Twill) and her therapist husband Jonathan (Eric Roberts), decide that the time is right for a change of scenery. So, along with their two young kids, they load up their station wagon and head for rural Upstate New York. Conveniently, the car breaks down just down the road from a large brick home soon to be vacated by a nasty invalid and her fed-up daughter (Pat Patterson, Cathy Moriarty). No sooner do the newcomers move into the house than it becomes abundantly clear the owners forgot to mention the abused souls and ghosts with whom they shared the residence. At first, it’s the kids who are confronted by something resembling a deformed child or large doll. It, then, makes its presence known to the grown-ups. Fortunately, a priest who grew up in the same house arrives to make sense of the haunting. Dealing with the ramifications is something else, entirely. Nothing terribly complicated occurs in A Cry From Within, but Twiss and co-director Zach Miller do a nice job using the house’s architecture to build suspense and accelerate movement.

If you can imagine a cross between Wait Until Dark, An American Werewolf in London and Taxi Driver, you’ll have a head-start on what happens in Adrián García Bogliano’s first English-language thriller, Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf. Nick Damici (Stakeland) plays Ambrose, a blind Vietnam vet who’s been given one final mission in life. At the behest of his son, Ambrose reluctantly agrees to move into a suburban retirement community, populated by seniors who fail to recognize the connection between full moons and the mutilation of pets and other violent crimes. Bogliano wastes no time introducing viewers to the hairy antagonists, which might as well have been branded RB, for effects master Rick Baker. In the 30 days between full moons, the blind vet insinuates himself into the lives of his neighbors, while also single-handedly digging a grave his service dog, which was killed trying to protect him from the beast. In one of several inside gags and winks at genre tropes, the locals are played by such venerable character actors as Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda, Tom Noonan, Larry Fessenden, Karen Lynn Gorney and Al Sapienza. If Eric Stolze’s screenplay doesn’t always find the right connection between traditional horror and inky black comedy, there are enough surprises to warrant a recommendation. The Blu-ray featurettes do a nice job explaining how the prosthetics and makeup effects were rendered.

Don’t Go in the Woods: Blu-ray
The Muthers
Even at 82 minutes, Don’t Go in the Woods is one of those movies that feel as if they’re never going to end. Ineptly made and amateurishly acted, the 1982 non-thriller nonetheless has one very good thing going for it and it isn’t copious nudity. That’s noteworthy only because director James Bryan (a.k.a., Morris Deal) began his career making soft-core flicks and ended it in the hard-core arena. Instead of some much-needed T&A, Bryan does a real nice job capturing the summertime beauty of the mountains above Salt Lake City. Even though he used leftover scraps of other people’s film stock, the cinematography holds up really well after being restored in 2k from the original 35mm negative. Sadly, the same can’t be said about Garth Eliassen’s screenplay, whose many potholes are filled in with gallons of blood that looks even more fake in Blu-ray. On this particular weekend in the woods, several different groups of campers have their vacations spoiled by a psycho mountain man (Tom Drury), who looks as if he might have been raised by feral pigs. Don’t Go in the Woods is one of the few splatter/slasher films in which most of the victims are executed using pointed sticks, machetes and a club that wouldn’t have been out of place in a “B.C.” cartoon. Do I need to continue? Suffice it to say that the movie has attained something of a cult following and easily qualifies as a movie that’s so bad it demands to be seen. The Vinegar Syndrome package is almost three times longer than the movie itself, consisting of three – count ’em, three – commentary tracks; a reunion featurette that doubles as a backgrounder; clips from the promotional tour; a half-hour piece shot at a 2006 autograph-signing party; production stills; press artwork; and a copy of the script.

The name, Cirio H. Santiago, will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Mark Hartley’s hilarious documentary on the joys of making exploitation movies in the Philippines, Machete Maidens Unleashed!, or is otherwise conversant with the history of Roger Corman’s more far-flung partnerships. Back in the 1970s, Santiago’s operation was the go-to place for quick-and-dirty genre flicks that promised skin, sadism, violence, corruption and poorly dubbed dialogue. Santiago had easy access to U.S. and Philippines Army military equipment, minimum-wage actors and production assistants. When in doubt, Corman would put one of his film-school hotshots on a plane to Manila, where they’d pick up all the bargain-basement tricks they’d need for the rest of their careers. The Muthers combines Blaxploitation and kick-ass action with key elements of the pirate and women-in-prison subgenres. Among the familiar American stars are former beauty queen and future sportscaster Jayne Kennedy, Rosanne Katon (“She Devils in Chains”), Jeannie Bell (“Mean Streets”) and Trina Parks (“Darktown Strutters”). They take time off from being pirates to save a “soul sistah” from the clutches of vicious white slavers. It has been restored in 2k from the 35mm negative. In Santiago’s even more twisted Hellhole, virgins from around the Philippines are kidnaped and shipped to a plantation belonging to a slick gangster. If the virgins don’t cooperate, or the boss gets tired of them, he throws them into a dungeon.

Troop Beverly Hills: Blu-ray
Upon its release in 1989, Troop Beverly Hills probably was perceived as being an ironic early-teen comedy, not unlike Paul Mazursky’s far more grown-up Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Paul Bartel’s Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, and in the same satiric spirit as TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Aaron Spelling’s epochal “Beverly Hills, 90210” was still a year away, with “Melrose Place,” “The O.C.,” “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “Gossip Girl” still years away.  If one were able to stretch their imaginations to fit the absurdities of life in and adjacent to the 90210 zip code, it’s even possible to see Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring as an unlikely sequel to Troop Beverly Hills. Based on a semi-autobiographical story by producer Ava Ostern Fries, the comedy broadly imagines what would constitute a troop of Wilderness Girls, whose personalities would mirror the neuroses and egos of their rich parents and whose idea of roughing it would be having to share a bathroom on a campout at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Shelley Long, who was a hot commodity at the time, was an excellent choice to play the spoiled Beverly Hills housewife, Phyllis, roped into taking over her daughter Hannah’s troop of spoiled pre-pubescent brats. The thoroughly frivolous Phyllis has something to prove to her husband (Craig T. Nelson) and it arrives in the form of the girl’s annual cookie drive. You can guess the rest. What’s most fun about the movie are the young actors cast as the scouts — Carla Gugino, Kellie Martin, Jenny Lewis, Tori Spelling – and cameo appearances by Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Cheech Marin and Pia  Zadora. Betty Thomas, Mary Gross and Stephanie Beacham played key adult roles. If the sum of the individual parts don’t equal a great comedy, it remains sufficiently entertaining for the original target demographic. The nicely transferred Blu-ray edition adds fresh interviews with Shelley Long and Ava Ostern Fries; and deleted scenes.

Mondovino: The Complete Series
Maude: The Complete Series
PBS: American Experience: The Forgotten Plague
PBS: Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones
PBS: Nova: Big Bang Machine
If I had known that a 135-minute theatrical version of the newly released 600-minute “Mondovino: The Complete Series” already exists, I might have been able to prevent nearly eight hours of my life from disappearing before my eyes. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t fascinated by much of the information collected by writer, director, documentarian, sommelier, polyglot and bon vivant Jonathan Nossiter, only that my interest in fine wine is limited to what’s actually contained inside bottles shared by wealthier friends over dinner and what can be gleaned from routine visits to Napa/Sonoma. I’ve learned the difference between very good wines and those of lesser status and occasionally can discern the various flavors, textures and tastes. What I’m fare less interested in are the lifestyles of fabulously wealthy producers and their almost incestuous relationship to each other. I suspect I’m not alone in that regard – some critics felt the theatrical version was a tad long, as well – but, for those who can’t get enough of all thing oenophilic, the series should be a 10-hour slice of heaven on Earth. While the opening chapters of the documentary lack context, “Mondovino” can be appreciated for chronicling the growing impact of globalization on the world’s most important wine regions in the early 2000s. In that sense, it can be seen as an elaborate game of “Five Degrees of Robert Modavi.” Although comparatively new to the game, Mondavi brought his distinctly American economic and marketing genius to an industry that was dominated by Europeans able to trace the pedigree of their soil and vines through hundreds of years of production. At the same time as the Mondovis’ nouveau-riche neighbors were exalting in their ability to spread the gospel of boutique vineyards to nouveau-riche consumers, the company was buying up ancient patches in France and Italy, while also cultivating relationships with the moguls of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Florence and Tuscany. Nossiter also discusses at length the immense role played by such influential consultants as Michel Rolland; critic Robert Parker and Wine Spectator magazine; and proponents of New Oak casks and microbiology. In the final chapter, we meet growers in places no one could have guessed would support vineyards.

Based solely on the evidence presented in Shout Factory’s “Maude: The Complete Series,” I’d have to think that the ground-breaking series today would face an uphill battle finding a slot on the prime-time schedules of the broadcast networks. What was merely deemed controversial in the early 1970s, today is both controversial and politically incorrect. I don’t think that series creator Norman Lear ceased being funny or prescient when the clock turned 12 on the Reagan era, but something changed in America that would discourage networks from adding topicality to sitcoms and challenging their audiences’ preconceptions and prejudices. As leftover radicals, hippies and liberals from the early 1970s began to understand how much fun it can be to be rich and reactionary – or, at least, addicted to cocaine – Lear’s progressive attitude no longer attracted viewers to the commercials that interrupted entertainment programing. HBO, Showtime and other cable services eventually would fill the void, but the broadcast networks decided that it was easier to take the low road than create sitcoms that might step on someone’s toe. “Maude,” of course, began as a spinoff from “All in the Family,” itself an adaptation of the British sitcom, “Till Death Us Do Part.” As portrayed with enormous gusto by Bea Arthur, Maude was a cousin to Edith Bunker and constant burr under the saddle of Archie. Her performances in the episodes included in the new DVD package were far too dynamic for Lear to ignore, so he built a family around Maude and gave her a soapbox for her not always consistent liberality. (In one early episode, the thought of allowing her adult daughter, Carol, to sleep in the same room as her visiting boyfriend causes an emotional, intellectual and feminist conundrum for Maude.) The addition of Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain and Rue McClanahan to the lineup helped dial down some of the stridency of Maude’s views and voice. Besides clearing a path for “Roseanne” and “Murphy Brown,” “Maude” also allowed the protagonists of “30 Rock” and “Veep” to be less aggressively feminist, but no less caustic or attentive to issues of importance to women.

Although the current debate over vaccinating children against killer diseases isn’t mentioned in PBS’ timely “American Experience: The Forgotten Plague,” it can hardly be ignored. By the dawn of the 19th Century, tuberculosis was blamed for killing one in seven of all the people who had ever lived. It took a while for the infectious disease to strike Americans in great numbers, but, once it did, it ignored all socio-economic boundaries and ravaged entire communities without mercy. It’s still with us, but the exhaustive search for a cure and means of detection finally paid off in 1946, when the development of the antibiotic streptomycin began being used to curtail TB’s insidious spread. “The Forgotten Plague” provides a valuable reminder as to how swiftly such a disease can spread through a population unprepared to put up defenses against it. It also uses archival photos to show how  some victims were able to find relief in the mountains and rural areas that then included pre-smog L.A. Based, in part, on Sheila Rothman’s “Living in the Shadow of Death,” the show is narrated by Michael Murphy.

Fans of “CSI,” “NCIS” and the many forensics shows currently dominating various cable networks, are missing a sure bet if they’re not watching PBS’ fascinating “Secrets of the Dead,” of which “Ben Franklin’s Bones” is merely the latest offering. Two centuries after American diplomat and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin gave up his London home, at 36 Craven Street, construction workers were shocked by the discovery of more than 1,200 bones, from at least 10 bodies, buried in the basement. Police were called in to determinate what might have occurred at the four-story Georgian townhouse, where Franklin lived and worked for nearly 20 years. Modern forensics techniques were able to clear Franklin of anything more felonious than facilitating the unauthorized medical studies of a close friend, whose illegal activities probably grave-robbing and soliciting the purchase of fresh cadavers. Narrated by Jay O. Sanders, the show also offers the insight of Her Majesty’s Coroner for the central London Borough of Westminster, Dr. Paul Knapman; archaeologist Dr. Simon Hillson, of University College London; and Dr. Marcia Balisciano, director of Benjamin Franklin House.

Even after watching the articulately rendered “Nova” episode “Big Bang Machine,” I probably don’t understand anything more about the Higgs boson — an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics – than causal viewers of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory.” I do, however, know now that both “boson” and a “bosun” can safely be used in Scrabble, if not on the high seas or a gathering of physicists. The show’s producers take us to the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s truly amazing underground laboratory, where the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider is located. Located 100 metres underground, it also is considered to be the world’s largest and likely most expensive machine. I’m still not sure what the many scientists stationed there will do when they’ve made sense of the God Particle – create a parallel universe, perhaps – but anyone interested in such things should find the show exciting to watch.

Hollywood Chaos
An impressively attractive cast of young African-American actors is wasted in Hollywood Chaos, a movie whose only groundings in reality are provided by the fashion design and musical soundtracks. It isn’t their fault that director Abel Vang and writer Angela Marie Hutchinson have created a movie about contemporary Hollywood that bears no relationship to anyone or anything in contemporary Hollywood. When a naïve entertainment reporter (Vanessa Simmons) is assigned to produce a special segment, exposing the decadent lifestyles of her celebrity friends, she is torn between accelerating her career and preserving their images. While the television newsmagazine appears to be modeled after “60 Minutes,” the reporter displays none of the ethical standards demanded of a serious journalist. If she worked on “ET” or “Extra,” she’d be encouraged, instead, to fawn over her subjects and ignore all of their peccadillos. Too many of these urban melodramas treat their audiences as if they were too unsophisticated to handle actual stories about blacks in show business – Top Five, for example – and they prefer to be represented by archetypes and clichés.

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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