MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Babadook, Big Eyes, Happy Valley, Tale of Winter, Odd Man Out, The Missing and more

The Babadook: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Despite the warm welcome accorded The Babadook by festival audiences and critics of both the mainstream and genre persuasion, this nifty Australian export about things that go bump in the night received an unfairly puny release upon its arrival here. I can’t explain why that might be so, except to point out that someone in the distribution game really missed the boat. I’d be interested to know how Jennifer Kent’s debut performed on VOD platforms, as horror tends to do very well on the highly convenient platform. Shout! Factory not only picked up The Babadook up for its genre-specific Scream Factory label, but also packaged it in a style that approximates the nerve-tingling storybook at the movie’s heart. Seven years after the violent death of Amelia’s husband, as they raced to the hospital for the birth of their son, she remains an emotional basket case, barely able to function in the real world. The boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is troubled in a very different way. If ever a child could be expected to grow up to be a sociopath, it’s him. Samuel acts out his pain at school and with unsuspecting playmates. The one thing the boy can’t seem to handle, however, is the possibility that he might be the target of a monster – or actual bogeyman – who stands up to him in the netherworld where nightmares bleed into reality. One night, Amelia allows Samuel to pick out a book for them to share at bedtime. He selects “Mister Babadook,” a slim illustrated volume that one day mysteriously appeared in his bedroom and features sinister poetry and spooky pop-out characters. It’s at this point that things really begin to bump in the night for the haunted child and mother, who forces herself to return to the narrative to see if this gift from hell might have been delivered by her late husband. After some slicing and dicing, Amelia is able to discern a message that could bring them some temporary peace, at least. It isn’t often that a horror movie reveals as many maternal characteristics as The Babadook, in which mother and son share a bond that extends back to the womb. The Blu-ray adds Kent’s “Monster,” the short film that inspired the feature; deleted scenes; featurettes on the set, stunts and special effects; interviews with cast and crew; and a piece on illustrator Alex Juhasz, who created the book that plays such an integral part of the film and its packaging in Blu-ray/DVD. You definitely don’t want to watch The Babadook alone.

Big Eyes: Blu-ray
If Hollywood played by the same rules that govern journalism, an argument could be made that Tim Burton possibly agreed to produce and direct Big Eyes because he owned paintings made by the protagonist, including portraits of Lisa Marie, Helena Bonham Carter and his late pet Chihuahua. While undeniably compelling, Margaret Keane’s story feels a tad too slight for his enormous imagination to embrace. Still, when word got out that Keane’s almost unbelievable tale was being told by Burton, sales of her paintings hit new highs. Even if true, as current scandals go, any such controversy would be small potatoes compared to the ones that have tarred Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly and Dan Rather, whose profession does demand adherence to certain ethical standards. And, truth be told, in Hollywood, ethics are measured by the number of zeros and commas in a film’s box-office tally. In a move that probably enhanced the box-office potential for Big Eyes, producer Burton took over the directorial reins once held by screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who had developed the project with the intent of writing and directing it. The former USC roommates had collaborated with Burton on Ed Wood and, back in 2010, entertainment reporters salivated over rumors that they would be working with him, again, on an animated feature inspired by “Addams Family” cartoons in the New Yorker. Like most such pre-production rumors reported as fact in the trades and blogs, this one never made it to the launch pad.

If the hero of Big Eyes is Margaret Keane, she’s frequently overshadowed by the egomaniacal antics of former husband, Walter Keane, who she met at a vulnerable point in her life and to whom she foolishly relinquished authorship of her art. The roles fit Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz to a T. Margaret’s singular portraits of waifs with large round eyes became a sensation in the 1960s, perhaps as a backlash to the rise in Modern, Abstract and Post-Impressionist painting that had come into vogue in the post-war period. This was the art embraced by the same critics – represented here by Terence Stamp — who lambasted the big-eye paintings as being blatantly commercial and overly repetitive. Waltz’ portrayal of Walter veers from the buffoonish to being a textbook case in defining psychological and physical spousal abuse. While probably correct in assuming that patrons of the arts were too set in their ways to invest in paintings that carried a woman’s signature, Keane appears to have convinced himself that promoting her work for fame and fortune was the same thing as creating it. It took Margaret Keane a long time to stand up to her husband’s identity theft and bullying tactics. Even Hawaii proved to be too short a distance from him to prevent meddling and counter demands that she maintain the ruse. When Margaret finally did demand recognition, in an interview with a local radio host, Walter sued her for slander. This led to a courtroom confrontation that would be hilarious if Walter’s behavior weren’t so demonstrably sociopathic. While Big Eyes may lack the cutting-edge heft usually associated with Burton’s films, he does inject the occasional surrealistic touch and it’s inarguably entertaining. Moreover, the performances are worth the price of admission, alone. The Blu-ray adds post-screening Q&As and making-of featurette.

Happy Valley
Antarctica: A Year on Ice: Blu-ray
The irony that drips from the title of Amir Bar-Lev’s latest documentary, would be too much to bear, if, as the home of Penn State University, Happy Valley weren’t so isolated from the world that exists beyond the shadow of academia’s ivory tower and the economic safety net it provides the greater community of 105,000 shining, happy and largely overweight residents. Outside of the classrooms and fields of play at PSU, status quo appears to something people have determined to be well worth fighting to maintain. As such, they tend to take everything that happens there as personally as the crew and passengers of the SS Minnow, on “Gilligan’s Island.” The folks we meet in Happy Valley, the movie, have determined that, as long as their blood runs blue, their precious Nittany Lions football team will be protected as if the mascot represented an endangered species. For the most of the 61 years, Joe Paterno stood on the sidelines as an assistant or head coach of the team. He was as loyal to the community, university and student body as they were to him. He was as close to being a living god in central Pennsylvania as any one person could be and, while far from being a tyrant, Paterno was able to avoid sticky situations by basking in the glare of their love. Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant achieved similar status in Alabama, as did Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi in Wisconsin, if for much shorter periods of time. Nearly 50 years after his final victory on the frozen tundra, Lombardi is still referred to as “Saint Vince.” Before his death to cancer, at 85, JoePa logged more victories than any other college coach and saw to it that most of his players leave school with a diploma.

Although Paterno had nothing to do with the allegations, his achievements and reputation sustained collateral damage when the child-sex-abuse scandal involving his longtime defensive coordinator began making Page 1 headlines around the country. In November, 2011, Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period from 1994 to 2009. Most of the molestation victims were introduced to Sandusky as participants in his non-profit charity camp for underprivileged children. Because Sandusky stood beside Paterno for 30 successful years and probably turned down dozens of job offers from schools in need of a head coach, he was treated like a demi-god in Happy Valley. When the national media caught wind of a three-year grand jury investigation of Sandusky, impaneled by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, reporters descended on Happy Valley like a plague of locusts. When they got tired of reporting virtually the same rumors about potential witnesses and indictments, day-after-day, they turned their attention to how much the coach knew about his assistant’s behavior, when he first heard about it and what he did with the information. With the previously secure borders of Happy Valley already breached, Paterno became the next giant to fall. Yes, he had reported two previous accusations of abuse to his superiors in the university’s food chain, but a separate investigation found that he failed to follow-up on them and may have been involved in a cover-up to protect the image of the athletics program. Worse, he continued to allow access to PSU sports facilities to Sandusky, who used them for nefarious encounters with underage boys. In a move that many people saw as being premature, pre-emptive and unnecessarily cruel, the Penn State Board of Trustees rejected Paterno’s offer to retire at the end of the season and fired him with a couple of games left on the schedule. In two months, Paterno would die of cancer. In another six months, the NCAA vacated all of Penn State’s wins from 1998 through 2011, adding sanction that would have negative effect on recruiting players and remaining competitive in the Big 10.

Happy Valley doesn’t re-argue the cases against Sandusky, Paterno or the university officials who covered their heads in sand. Neither is it particularly unkind to the media horde that follows such stories from one place to another, like so many Kardashians to a red carpet. Instead it describes how the controversy turned University Park into a laboratory for gauging the effects of moral equivalency and the deification of sports figures in whose reflected glory fans are allowed to bask. Bar-Lev gives all sides in the debate ample time to state their cases and demonstrate where their loyalties lie … and, yes, make fools of themselves. Among those who agreed to be interviewed are die-hard PSU loyalists, conflicted students and townsfolk, child advocates, a muralist who removed Sandusky’s likeness from his wall painting of the PSU Pantheon, the Paterno’s naturally protective sons and Sandusky’s adopted son, who wasn’t even aware he had been molested until hearing the testimony of other victims.

In an interview conducted for the DVD package, Bar-Lev makes a direct correlation between the Penn State scandal and the on-going Bill Cosby controversy. As long as the beloved comedian can avoid being indicted for rape, his legion of fans and allies will defend his right to continue performing. Like the young who risked everything to testify about what Sandusky did to them, the women who allegedly were drugged and raped by Cosby may never be able to crack the thick veneer of respectability surrounding their attacker. To that end, the NCAA has already buckled under pressure from a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania state representatives against the organization. It restored Paterno’s record and other sanctions on the program in return for an agreement by university officials to free up $60 million for programs serving victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.

I seem to recall a cartoon in which every bird in a “waddle” of Antarctic penguins is being stalked by a “waddle” of videographers. Because of all the documentaries, features and TV shows that have followed in the wake of March of the Penguins, no caption was required. Anthony Powell’s frequently stunning Antarctica: A Year on Ice is the latest in a long list of documentaries – animated features have become every bit as prevalent – set on our southernmost continent and showcasing one species of penguin or another. (The only things that separate these films from those shot in the Arctic are the penguins and the lack of wild game and an indigenous population.) As a study of isolated populations, Antarctica: A Year on Ice is kindred to Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga – also from Music Box – Herzog’s similarly placed Encounters at the End of the World, the BBC series “Frozen Planet” and the tense Russian drama, How I Ended This Summer, set at a meteorological station on a desolate island in the Arctic. Powell and wife, Christine, have lived and worked in Antarctica for many years. After more than 10 years of filming, his documentary is divided roughly in half by spectacular images of the rugged terrain and brilliant skies – day and night — and home movies in which the scientific bases’ yearlong residents describe their experiences and feelings about virtually being cut off from the world for six months at a time. If you’ve ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated on the South Pole or how people remain sane in such extreme circumstances, Antarctica: A Year on Ice is a good place to start. The Blu-ray easily met the challenge of my new 4K monitor, somewhat justifying the expenditure. Special features include behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, Powell’s commentary, an interview on New Zealand radio, a short excerpt in which a penguin attacks an invasive camera and visits to the newly preserved huts of explores Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

A Tale of Winter
Odd Man Out: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
That Man From Rio/Up to His Ears: Blu-ray
If the machinations of love and romance weren’t so complicated, it would be easy to categorize Eric Rohmer’s films as fairy tales for adults. The characters are easily recognizable and their hang-ups as familiar as looking in a mirror. If they talk more than people in most other movies, their dialogue, at least, is intelligent and frequently stimulating. More than any other thing, though, Rohmer’s stories serve as reminders that love isn’t easy and romance is worth the pain and shame that sometimes accompany it.  A Tale of Winter (“Conte d’hiver”), the second in the master’s “Tales of the Four Seasons,” may have a predictable ending, but everything that precedes it is unexpected.  The willowy beauty Charlotte Véry plays Félicie, a flakey young Parisian who commits an almost unbelievable blunder after falling in love with the handsome restaurateur, Charles (Frédéric van den Driessche). It happens during a vacation on the shore, where other of Rohmer’s romances have blossomed. Felicie is so sure of her love for Charles that she neglects to insist on a condom. In the act of saying goodbye, she makes the mistake of giving him an address to her residence that places it in a different suburb altogether. Because he was on the road scouting restaurants, Charles was unable to reciprocate with an address of his own. Fast-forward five years and we know without being told that Felicie is the single mother of a beautiful daughter, Elise, while a photograph on her dresser confirms that Charles is the father. She is so confident that he will come to rescue them on a white horse that she allows Elise to share her dream of reunion with the father she only knows by name. Meanwhile, though, Felicie has left herself an escape route by falling into something resembling love with two other men and stringing them along as to the likelihood of Charles miraculously re-entering her life. It’s a cruel game, but each of the men is willing to cut the fairy princess some slack, as long as she continues to spend her nights with them. Although A Tale of Winter mostly unspools in Paris, Rohmer also treats us to some sunny days at the shore and a short visit to the quaint and scenic town of Nevers, which, situated on a hillside along the banks of the Loire River, adds to the film’s fairytale vibe. The moral of the story, I suppose, is to follow one’s heart and never give up on a dream. Even if that Disney-worthy advice works to the advantage of the protagonists in Rohmer’s romances, it’s not something that young lovers in the real world should take to heart.

If all anyone knows about Carol Reed’s movies derives from one or more screenings of his mesmerizing post-war thriller, The Third Man – yup, the one in which Orson Wells plays second fiddle to Anton Karas’ zither – they owe it to themselves to pick up the Criterion Collection edition of Odd Man Out. Released two years before Reed’s adaptation of the Graham Greene story, Odd Man Out likewise benefited greatly from Robert Krasker’s amazing black-and-white photography, which merged American film noir with German Expressionism. The shadows may not be as dramatically pronounced as they are in The Third Man, but the same overall sense of dread prevails throughout Odd Man Out. James Mason is terrific as Johnny McQueen, the leader of a clandestine Irish organization – not very unlike the IRA – hiding out in an unnamed city in Northern Ireland after escaping from prison. The organization is getting short on cash, so a cell decides to hit a factory on payday. Fearing that McQueen might not be up for such strenuous work, so soon after being in stir, his followers urge him not join them on the heist. And, sure enough, a momentary lapse in judgment causes McQueen to be seriously wounded in the escape, setting off a chain of events that exposes the organization’s top operatives and their supporters to extreme danger. After losing his grip on the getaway car, McQueen ended up on the concrete, with the police hot on his trail and a bullet in his crushed shoulder. After allowing him temporary shelter in a backyard shed, Reed turns his attention to choreographing a chase between the well-organized constabulary and the men and woman attempting to rescue McQueen before he’s arrested or bleeds out. In between, Reed introduces us to a rogue’s gallery of local residents and various landmarks along the way. Then, there are the turncoats willing to sell out their neighbors in exchange for a quid pro quo from police. We’re never sure how the chase will end and who survives it. Given everything’s that’s happened in Northern Ireland in the ensuing half-century, we have the benefit of understanding how such crimes and chases will finally add up to one bloody mess, unrelieved by reason or compromise. Criterion’s superb high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, adds greatly to our enjoyment of this 65-year-old classic. The featurettes include “Postwar Poetry,” a new documentary about the film; fresh interviews with British cinema scholar John Hill, musicologist Jeff Smith and composer William Alwyn; a 1952 radio adaptation of the film, starring Mason and Dan O’Herlihy; an essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith; and, best of all, “Home, James,” a 1972 documentary in which Mason revisits his hometown of Huddersfield, Yorkshire.

After a series of hard-guy roles that established Jean-Paul Belmondo as an international star, it must have bordered on sacrilege to find him in the extremely broad James Bond spoofs, That Man From Rio and Up to His Ears. If Jerry Lewis, himself, had donned the same white dinner jacket as Belmondo and traveled halfway around the globe – twice – in pursuit of a combined 212 minutes of slapstick humor, it would have made more sense than finding the star of Breathless, A Woman Is a Woman, Le Doulos and Pierrot le Fou in such blatant crowd-pleasers. Nonetheless, both of the Philippe de Broca-directed comedies turned in big numbers at the box office, with That Man From Rio even performing well here. Although the Belgian cartoonist, Hergé, wasn’t accorded official recognition for Tintin’s influence on what transpires in That Man From Rio, there’s no escaping the resemblance in plot points, pacing and visuals. In Up to His Ears, at least, Jules Verne’s “Les tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine” was credited as the movie’s inspiration. In the former, Belmondo’s character chases the kidnapers of the ravishing daughter (Françoise Dorléac) of a famous anthropologist, from Paris to such Brazilian destinations as Rio de Janeiro, a then-nascent Brasilia and Amazonas. They believe she holds the key to an ancient horde of diamonds hidden in a cave in the rainforest. In the latter title, whose plot borders on the ludicrous, Belmondo is a millionaire playboy, who believes he’s being chased by assassins. After sailing into Hong Kong on his yacht, Belmondo’s character is told that he’s lost his fortune – presumably in the stock market – and must scramble to recoup the money needed to maintain his lavish lifestyle. This time, the female lead is none other than Ursula Andress, who was coming off eye-popping performances in Dr. No, Fun in Acapulco, What’s New Pussycat, 4 for Texas and She. In addition to Hong Kong, the spectacular locations include Langkawi Island, Malaysia; Kathmandu and Patan, Nepal; and Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. The Blu-ray features add several lengthy and revealing backgrounder interviews, including a humorous reminiscence by co-star Jean Rochefort.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken: Blu-ray
I can’t recall the amount of media attention here accorded the 1983 kidnaping of beer magnate Freddy Heineken in Holland. It was certainly big news in Europe, especially as it suggested that the lull in abductions of high-profile industrialists and politicians by leftist groups was over. In fact, the Heineken snatching was successful, despite the near-amateur execution of the snatch. Arrogant to the point of refusing the protection of bodyguards, Heineken was an easy target for the five-man gang. Because they weren’t affiliated with organized crime and known political factions, they were able to keep their victim and his driver hidden from police for three weeks, before a 35-million-guilder ransom was paid. The story of the eventual capture of the kidnapers and their trials is nearly as exciting as the crime, itself. It’s so compelling that two movies dramatized it. Daniel Alfredson’s Kidnapping Mr. Heineken  arrives on Blu-ray after brief and extremely limited theatrical run, three years after Maarten Treurniet’s excellent The Heineken Kidnapping. Both take slightly different approaches to the same material, with Alfredson’s version being more accessible to non-Dutch audiences. It features a delicious performance by Anthony Hopkins, as the increasingly perturbed victim, and kidnappers played by Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanteen, Mark van Eeuwen and Thomas Cocquerel. In a return to Holland after some 30 years, Rutger Hauer did an equally nice job as Heineken. You can’t go wrong with either version.

With this year’s fight of the century just around the corner, it’s as good a time as any to learn as much about the combatants as possible. For all of his success in the ring, undefeated welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. isn’t the most charismatic or likeable representative for the sweet science.  Very few observers would be unhappy if Mayweather were to be beaten by the scrappy 36-year-old Filipino, Manny Pacquiao, who may be on his last legs, but remains a fierce competitor. Mayweather’s rise from the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan, rivals that of Pacquiao’s struggle to escape rural poverty in the strife-torn province of Sarangani. The difference is that Pacquiao, who now represents his home district in the Philippine House of Representatives, used boxing as a means to keep his family from going hungry, while Mayweather, having been born into a family of boxers, drug addicts and criminals, chose the only straight road left to him and he never looked back. Even so, he lost any chance of becoming a people’s champion after serving a two-month sentence for spousal abuse and his flamboyant Las Vegas lifestyle began making headlines in the tabloids. Although Pacquiao would prove not to be a saint, his worldwide status became a source of great pride to the Philippines and he reciprocated by contributing his time and money to charitable projects.  Leon Gast and Ryan Moore’s bio-doc, Manny, doesn’t dwell on the significance of the upcoming fight, choosing, instead, to focus on Pacquiao’s personal story and professional evolution. It also shows how a young fighter who could barely speak English when he began winning championships – and was an easy mark for corrupt managers and promoters — has become something of a talk-show darling, as well as a singer, preacher and politician. And, what Manny lacks in cinematic flair is made up for in information and fight footage. The DVD adds several background featurettes.

Vengeance of an Assassin: Blu-ray
If Sam Peckinpah had ever traveled to Thailand and left behind a son or a daughter, they might have grown up to make a movie as inventively violent as Vengeance of an Assassin, which opens with a brutal game of kung-fu soccer and ends with a body count at least as high as that in The Wild Bunch. Fans of Thai action films probably already are aware of the fact that it represents the final directorial effort by Panna Rittikrai (Ong-Bak), who died last July at the too-young age of 53. Rittikrai is responsible for some of the most amazing stunt work in the martial-arts genre and found success after branching out into directing, acting, writing and producing. Perhaps because Vengeance of an Assassin was being filmed at the same time as Rittikrai was battling complications from multiple organ failure, it is long on action and short on plot development and logic. Natee (Dan Chupong) became a killer for one reason- to discover who killed his parents and reciprocate. As he gets closer to uncovering the secret network of powerful men he believes are responsible, Natee becomes the target of a double-cross that threatens everything he loves. As usual, one of the side benefits of Thai products is scenery and locations not common to other genre products.

Echoes: Blu-ray
From the Dark: Blu-ray
Long Weekend: Blu-ray
Enter the Dangerous Mind: Blu-ray
If I were struggling with insomnia and night terrors, the last place I’d want to spend a weekend alone is in a glass-walled home, sans curtains, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Apart from the occasional garbage-robbing coyote and night-crawling rattlesnake, there are the tormented ghosts of long-dead Indians and undiscovered Manson Family victims. That’s pretty much the setup for Echoes, a very decent first feature by newcomer Nils Timm. A troubled screenwriter (Kate French) accepts just such an invitation from her agent (Steven Brand), who keeps asking her to rewrite the same script, while neglecting to offer her any advice. It’s a wonderful house, though, designed with spectacular panoramic views, and no fences to keep out the boogeymen. When the agent is called back to his office, he encourages the writer to enjoy the weekend and try to get some work done. That’s easier said than done, especially when a light in the backyard turns it into a theater for the macabre. It’s up to viewers to determine if the writer is hallucinating or the house really is haunted by evil spirits lurking among the boulders and sagebrush. This may not be the most original premise for a horror whodunit, but Timm takes full advantage of the setting to raise the ante on fright.

The clever Irish director Conor McMahon, who’s already given us Dead Meat and Stitches, adopts a more minimalist approach in From the Dark. It opens with a farmer methodically digging out brick-shaped clods of peat, until he discovers the mummified remains of a human being … or, perhaps, the corpse was simply biding its time for the old man to find it. Flash ahead a few hours and cut to a young couple experiencing car trouble while on a road trip through the Irish countryside, which, of course, is beautiful on a moonless night. The driver does what anyone would do in the same situation: leave his girlfriend in the car while he seeks help at a home we’re pretty sure was owned by the peat farmer. When no one responds to his knocking, naturally the young man lets himself into the house, where he’s confronted by the 1,000-year-old spirit inhabiting the geezer. Tired of waiting, the perturbed companion follows her boyfriend’s tracks to the home, where, she, too, is confronted by the fiend. Once the couple determines that the creature can’t stand being illuminated, From the Dark becomes a claustrophobic game of tag between the light-seeking couple and a monster intent on keeping them inside a darkened house. Somehow, it works. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette.

The truly classic Ozploitation flick, Long Weekend, makes the most of a nature-strikes-back premise that might have been written and shot during a holiday trip to the beach. It’s this simple. A pair of squabbling Aussies sets out on a camping trip to the bush, hoping to save a marriage hobbled by the wife’s regret over an abortion demanded by her husband. Because they’re shown littering and driving away from a collision with a kangaroo, we’re pre-disposed to dislike them. Once they get to the beach, however, the rifle-toting husband becomes exponentially more onerous than she is. It explains why we side with the native wildlife – including the bloated corpse of a “sea cow” and a transplanted Tasmanian devil – as the critters begin to run roughshod on the campsite and unseen demons launch their strategic attacks. Our natural response is to ask why Peter and Marcia don’t simply pick up their stakes and split back for civilization. Sadly for the couple, the vegetation conspires with the animals and birds to prevent this from happening. Twenty years after Birds, the avian attacks in Long Weekend retain their ability to shock us, but these are considerably more credible. Horror and exploitation buffs should find a lot to like in this Synapse Films reclamation project. The Blu-ray adds commentary from producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer Vincent Monton, as well as an audio interview with Hargreaves.

Enter the Dangerous Mind (a.k.a., “Snap”) received some of the most scathing reviews I’ve seen in a quite a while and I think I know the real reason why it pissed off so many critics. In it, Jim (Jake Hoffman) is a painfully shy young man who’s only able to drown out memories of a traumatic youth by sitting in his room and mixing electronic dance music, heavy on dubstep beats. The music could hardly be more loud and disturbing. I spent most of the movie adjusting the volume, via remote control, so as to avoid being thrown out of my apartment unit. Perhaps, in a nod to “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Jim is tormented by a sociopathic voice in his head instructing him how to approach women, specifically the abnormally beautiful Wendy (Nikki Reed), who he meets on a visit to his social worker (Scott Bakula). It’s all kind of messy, but a decent twist at the end works in the movie’s favor. The problem, of course, is that filmmakers Youssef Delara and Victor Teran will have lost most their audience by this time, fearing their hearing is endangered.

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
William S. Burroughs in the Dreamachine
The Way Things Go: Blu-ray
In Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s thoroughly enigmatic quasi-documentary, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, a mysterious African-American hipster, who some viewers will recognize as avant-garde musician Robert A.A. Lowe, serves as our guide on a somewhat anachronistic journey through far northern Europe. It begins with a visit to either the first or last surviving hippie commune on a small Estonian island and ends at a discomfiting “black metal” concert in Oslo. These sequences serve as bookends to the contemplative middle chapter, during which Lowe fishes, alone, in a rowboat on a serene lake in the Finnish wilderness. On shore, he directly communes with nature via a mushroom with a bright red cap. I’m not sure what any of it means, except, possibly, the Chicago-based musician is a cool guy whose influences are many and varied. If, as I suspect, we’re expected to glean some philosophical, religious or metaphysical significance from the 98-minute A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, the first and third parts tend to neutralize the sublime meditations they surround. It’s also true that 30 minutes of in-your-face black metal would be enough to fill most uninitiated viewers with, at best, a great deal of anxiety. Even so, fans of Lowe and the filmmakers will be ecstatic to learn that it’s available in DVD.

John Aes-Nihil, whose greatest gift to American culture may be the transgressive Manson Family Movies, does for William S. Burroughs what, at one time, must have seemed to be impossible: turn the truly iconic beat writer into someone frightfully old and inconsequential. Ostensibly, William S. Burroughs in the Dreamachine is a documentary about the flickering gizmo created in the early 1960s by artist Brion Gysin and mathematician Ian Sommerville to simulate brain waves. Aes-Nihil uses Burroughs marquee value to stretch about 10 minute of solid material into 70 minutes of vacuous content. His presence basically serves as window dressing, along with irrelevant appearances by Allen Ginsberg and Leo DiCaprio. While it’s true that Burroughs and other influential mid-century artists embraced the apparatus, Aes-Nihil wouldn’t be the first person to exploit a famous author’s name to sell material previously available to the public. Nik Sheehan’s 2008 documentary FLicKeR was a far more persuasive vehicle for a discussion on the subject of the Dreamachine and it features even more celebrity witnesses. The machine has at its core a 100-watt bulb, which is surrounded by a spinning open column with tiny curved windows to allow the light to shine through. Oddly, it is to be experienced with one’s eyes closed. The hypnotic or hallucinogenic effect is supposed to simulate a drug-less high. In the Dreamachine represents Cult Epics’ contribution to the centennial of Burroughs’ birth. Sadly, the footage shot at a 1966 reception at the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art and subsequent material taken from a Nova Convention tribute and at Burroughs’ farmhouse, shortly before his death, wouldn’t get a passing grade in most high school AV classes.  The camera is static and the voices are mostly unintelligible. The DVD also includes a photo gallery and David Woodward’s 2007 Dreamachine Installation at the Freud Museum of Dreams, in St Petersburg, Russia. An interesting discussion is neutralized by a lack of subtitles or editing out of long-winded translations.

Of these three largely experimental films, by far the most accessible and entertaining is The Way Things Go (“Der Lauf der Dinge”), which documents an art installation that might have been created by the combined talents of Rube Goldberg and Redd Foxx’s junk-yard genius, Fred G. Sanford. The 100-foot chain-reaction structure is comprised of such commonplace objects as tires, ladders, boards, ramps, aerosol cans, flammable liquids and other discarded household objects. Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss document the 30-minute dissembling on a slow-moving camera, without embellishment or commentary. The best way to experience it is with kids, who should begin to howl with laughter and delight after five minutes. Who knows what they might be inspired to create, themselves, by watching the magic unfold.

Class of 1984: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Eddie and the Cruisers/Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives: Blu-ray
Carrie/The Rage: Carrie 2: Blu-ray
In his comments for the Blu-ray edition of Class of 1984, co-writer/director Mark Lester makes it sound as if the exploitation classic possesses the greatest gift of prophesy since 2001: A Space Odyssey, primarily for its inclusion of metal detectors at the doors of his anarchic “inner city” Lincoln High. He recalls the rave reception the movie received at Cannes and Roger Ebert’s supportive review, while also citing such influences as Blackboard Jungle, High School Confidential and A Clockwork Orange. He might just as well have mentioned Zero de Conduite, If … and The 400 Blows. The movie he didn’t  point to, unless I missed it, is the one I thought of first: New World Pictures’ Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, a film that, like Class of 1984, spawned Troma’s immortal, Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Lester also deserves demerits for a scene in which a gang of white hoodlums, led by Timothy Van Patten, beats the crap out of a gang of black thugs in a rumble staged in the heart of the ghetto. It’s a small point, perhaps, but even on “Welcome Back Kotter,” Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs was allowed to represent African-Americans as a fellow Sweathog. That’s all academic, however, because for better or worse exploitation flicks play by their own rules. The Shout! Factory edition presents enough solid evidence of the Class of 1984’s place in the Pantheon of Exploitation to discourage any further delusions of grandeur. Perry King plays the naïve music teacher who is hired by Lincoln High to replace an instructor who was driven nuts by the punks who turned his class into their own personal playground. The first thing he notices in the parking lot is the gun carried by a jaded fellow teacher (Roddy McDowell) who can’t wait to retire. The second is that four of the five chief troublemakers aren’t even enrolled in the music program. Timothy Van Patten’s spoiled rich kid plays a mean piano, but prefers to torment his teachers and the school’s geek population, which includes a puny musician played by Michael “No J” Fox. If the first half of Class of 1984 is riddled with holes and clichés, the exciting second half more than makes up for it. It’s violent, but in a way that would satisfy fans of Death Wish and Dirty Harry. A fascinating interview with King more than makes up for the less down-to-earth moments in chats with Lester, Lalo Schifrin, Lisa Langlois and Erin Noble.

In other news from Shout! Factory, similarly restored double-feature packages of Eddie and the Cruisers/Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives and Carrie/The Rage: Carrie 2 are newly available on Blu-ray. In the former, 20 years after the car of a New Jersey rock legend (Michael Pare) careens off a bridge, a TV reporter (Ellen Barkin) begins to suspect that the singer might have survived the crash. The original film didn’t become a hit until it was shown on cable and was embraced by teenage viewers.  In the sequel, Eddie comes out of hiding to front a different band. Some featurettes have been picked up for the re-release.

Despite the title, the Carrie double-bill is comprised of the 2002 adaptation of Stephen King’s classic tale of horror and retribution, which aired on NBC and starred Angela Bettis, Patricia Clarkson and Rena Sofer. Released theatrically in 1999, The Rage: Carrie 2 is the kind of unnecessary sequel that is made whether anyone wants to see it or not. Neither of these titles should be confused with Brian De Palma’s original Carrie or Kimberly Pierce’s 2013 remake, which received a handful of good reviews and may have turned a profit in the international market. The Blu-ray package adds new commentary by directors David Carson and Katt Shea, deleted scenes, an alternate ending and special-effects sequences.

Starz: The Missing: Blu-ray
Syfy: Metal Hurlant Chronicles: The Complete Series: Blu-ray
Joe 90: The Complete Series
PBS: Wild Kratts: Shark-Tastic
PBS: Lights Out!
Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Hall of Famers/Stingers and Zingers
When a child disappears or is found dead, the loss is felt far beyond members of the immediate family. It’s as if we all have a stake in the outcome. Our compassion explains the widespread acceptance of Amber Alerts and the ability of bottom-feeding cable-news personalities to exploit such crimes for their own benefit. While we all want happy endings, too often all we’re left with are prayer vigils, live courtroom coverage and relief that it wasn’t our children who fell victim to the monsters around us. The international co-production “The Missing” – shown here on Starz and, in England, on BBC 1 – is an intricately drawn and imminently binge-worthy mini-series that examines one such disappearance as both a police procedural and heart-wrenching human drama. Fans of BBC America and PBS’ “Masterpiece” collection will recognize several of the key players as the cream of England’s acting crop, with some top French and Belgian actors lending their talent to the cross-Channel investigation. Brits Tony and Emily Hughes (James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor), along with their young son, Olly, are vacationing in a town near Paris when car trouble forces them to spend the night in a B&B. An important soccer match has the entire town transfixed and, being a pleasant summer night, most are watching it in the plaza. At a critical moment, Tony loses hold of Olly’s hand for a precious few seconds. It’s in that wink of an eye, that the boy slips off into the night, perhaps forever, opening the floodgates of fear, recriminations and fevered speculation. Unwilling to lose track of even the memory of their son, the Hughes take up residence in the hotel for long periods of time over the course of the next eight years. European superstar Tchéky Karyo plays the dogged police detective for whom the investigation becomes an obsession shared with Olly’s hugely impatient father. Over time, the two men’s relationship grows from tepid acceptance born of necessity to a true friendship. Not surprisingly, Tony and Emily’s marriage is stretched to the breaking point and back. “The Missing” is so full of twists, turns, false leads, red herrings and cliffhangers that any synapsis would be too laden with spoilers to do justice to the complexity of the narrative. Let’s just say that, at various times, the suspects include everyone from the town’s politically expedient mayor to the town’s resident pedophile. None of them are given short-shrift by director Tom Shankland (“Ripper Street”) and writers Harry and Jack Williams (“Full English”). The package’s three short featurettes add almost nothing to our enjoyment of the mini-series or anticipation of a second season.

Distinguished by a hyper-realistic visual texture and intense heavy-metal audio presentation Syfy’s “Metal Hurlant Chronicles” offers fans of dystopian sci-fi a distinctly adult vision of the distant future. The self-contained stories in this noisy English-language Franco-Belgian anthology series are based on material already published in Métal Hurlant/ Heavy Metal magazine. Co-writer/creator Guillaume Lubrano’s unifying force is the titular asteroid – the last remnant of a once thriving planet – destined to search the cosmos for individuals struggling to survive amid the ruins, while retaining a semblance of humanity in a universe that couldn’t give a shit less. The episodes, patterned after “The Twilight Zone” and other sci-fi anthology series, feature some very decent CG animation, but, generally speaking, are too short be of much intellectual value to viewers. Still, for a couple of seasons, anyway, it filled a niche on Syfy. The cast includes Rutger Hauer, Michael Biehn, John Rhys-Davies, James Marsters, Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Kelly Brook, Joe Flanigan, Michelle Ryan and Dominique Pinon. Some viewers will be happy to learn that titty bars serve oxygen cocktails in deep space.

From Shout! Factory/Timeless Media, “Joe 90” is the latest compilation of Supermarionation television adventures, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (“Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons,” “Thunderbirds”) in the 1960s. After the brilliant Professor Ian McClaine develops a machine called BIG RAT (Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record and Transfer) he decides to use his adopted son, Joe, as his guinea pig.  Having been imbued with the ability to become an expert in any field, the 9-year-old boy is recruited by the World Intelligence Network to join their quest to stop evildoers wherever they may arise.  “Joe 90: The Complete Series” contains 30 episodes of entertaining kids/geek programming, as well as commentaries with designer Mike Trim and director Ken Turner, and an interview with Gerry Anderson.

In the new PBS compilation, “Wild Kratts: Shark-Tastic!,” the environmental crusaders are researching ways to prevent the extinction of aquatic life around the planet, starting with the decimation of great white sharks by fishermen in pursuit of fins required to satisfy the expensive tastes of thoughtless diners. Next, when Martin knocks the Creature Power Suits into a deep Arctic trench, the brothers use the new Octopod submarine to search for them. Then, Aviva takes the lead when she wants to upgrade the Tortuga with swimming capabilities and the team attempts to decode the secret language of dolphins using a new invention.

Occasionally, one of the fine scientific investigations provided us by PBS raise questions about subjects most of us take completely for granted and only question when something goes wrong. The one posed in “Lights Out!” is new to me, however: Is too much artificial light a bad thing? Apparently, some scientists now believe that exposure to artificial light at night, even the glow of a cell phone or computer screen, can throw our internal body clock out of sync with the planet and may even be leading to serious illnesses. The producers visit nightshift workers at the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant, go for a ride-along with truckers on a cross-continental run and meet a New Orleans scientist who fights cancer by day and plays trumpet with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band by night. Among other things, they discover that hot spots are everywhere, from the illumination in the hospital ICU to the tiny screens of our mobile devices. I wonder of this Canadian export got much play on the Las Vegas PBS affiliate.

When Justin Bieber was cut to pieces by a jury of his peers on the latest Comedy Central roast, the jokes were passed through social media for days to come. The insults were largely R-rated and not all them were hurled in the direction of the bad-boy singer. There’s a lot of collateral damage in these affairs. While pretty hot in their day, the bon mots exchanged in Dean Martin Roasts: Stingers & Zingers and Dean Martin Roasts: Hall of Famers now seem as tame as the kittens and puppies in a pet-shop window. This isn’t to say, however, that they no longer are able to raise a smile or two, especially when the barbs are aimed at some of the biggest names in mid-century entertainment, politics and sports. “Stingers & Zingers” is an eight-DVD set that includes 24 complete “Celebrity Roasts “ and features a wide variety of guest roasters. “Hall of Famers” puts a tight focus on some sports figures as Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial. The Aaron segment was taped only 10 days before he broke Babe Ruth s longstanding career home-run record. The distinction provided no shield against the pointed gags.

42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection, Vol. 9
Impulse Pictures’ series of vintage-loop collections continues apace with 15 short films made in the period just before pornography went mainstream. Although the credits didn’t carry any credits, within a couple of years some the actors’ names would appear on Times Square marquees and the covers of VHS packages around the world. Some of the actors would simply disappear into the ether, of course, probably hoping and praying these nine-minute flicks would disappear forever. The digital revolution ensures they’ll live forever, instead. Among the more familiar names assembled here are Kandi Barbour, Aunt Peg, CJ Laing, and Vanessa Del Rio. As usual, liner notes are provided by Cinema Sewer editor, Robin Bougie.

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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