MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Imitation Game, The Circle, Roommates, Putin, MST3K and more

The Imitation Game: Blu-ray
The Circle
Two amazing stories play out in The Imitation Game, one heroic and the other tragic. The struggle to break the Nazi’s World War II Enigma Code has been told enough times on film and television that most viewers will have sufficient awareness of the discovery made at Bletchley Park to wade through the mathematical and technological jargon in Graham Moore’s Oscar-winning script. What separates Morten Tyldum’s take on the story from the others is the magnetic presence of Benedict Cumberbatch, as the almost madly single-minded computer scientist, Alan Turing, and the level of tension sustained throughout The Imitation Game’s 114-minute length. The less-told story describes how British authorities later would go so far out of their way to tarnish the legacy of the brilliant cryptanalyst and mathematician, who, according to Winston Churchill, made the single greatest contribution in England’s war effort. Despite having played an essential role in the Allies’ victory over fascism, police used his homosexuality as an excuse to harass, humiliate and prosecute Turing, even after he had agreed to be chemically castrated. His suicide, in 1954, immediately recalls the treatment accorded Oscar Wilde, one of the greatest English-language writers of all time, after he was convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Three years later, Wilde, a man who probably hadn’t performed two hours of hard labor in his life, would die penniless and in disgrace from an injury possibly sustained while in jail. (That, or syphilis, depending on who one chooses to believe.) More than a century later, lovers of Wilde’s plays and writings have erased any trace of the scandal once associated with his name.

In 2009, following an Internet campaign, Turing was accorded an official public apology by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Four years later, Queen Elizabeth II would grant him a posthumous pardon. It would be nice to think that we’ve turned a chapter on such hideous behavior. Based on current Indiana law and pending Arkansas legislation, however, merchants would be free to deny services to any contemporary Turing or Wilde, as well as such LGBT celebrities and athletes as Bruce Jenner, who’s being pilloried in the media for daring to live the rest of his life as a woman. In that regard, anyway, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” It comes as good news, then, to learn how well the picture’s done at both the domestic and foreign box office. Everything from the acting to the re-creation of the Bletchley Park laboratory is at the highest possible level. Yes, The Imitation Game suffers by comparison to some of the known facts of the story, but there’s no questioning how well the filmmakers were able to capture its spirit and urgency. Oscar nominee Keira Knightley does a fine job as Turing’s fellow code breaker and closest friend, Joan Clarke, as do the other A-list Brits in key roles (Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Victoria Wicks, among them). Alexandre Desplat imaginative musical score deserves notice, too. The excellent Blu-ray edition adds commentary by Tyldum and Moore; the 23-minute “The Making of ‘The Imitation Game’”; a pair of deleted scenes; and portions of three different Q&A sessions, all of which took place after festival and pre-awards screenings.

Stefan Haupt’s compelling docu-drama, The Circle, has absolutely nothing to do with wartime intelligence gathering. It does, however, provide another sterling reminder of how much and how little things have changed in the LGBT community since World War II and the passing of Turing. Although The Circle doesn’t dwell on the Nazis’ deadly persecution of homosexuals – as described in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s harrowing documentary, Paragraph 175 – it’s as impossible to ignore now as it was  then for gays and lesbians living next-door just across the invisible border from Germany. Had Turing been born in Switzerland, studied in England, stayed there to work for MI6, and then returned home in 1951, when he began to be harassed by British police, he probably would have lived well beyond the age of 41. Tragically, that wasn’t the case. Switzerland not only was officially neutral in World War II, but it also was historically indifferent to homosexuality and sodomy. When Berlin authorities no longer tolerated the “divine decadence” described in “Cabaret,” private dance clubs in Zurich and Basel were there to pick up the slack. In 1942, Article 194 of the new penal code decriminalized sexual acts between gays and lesbians 21 and older. This did not mean, however, that they felt sufficiently protected by law to step completely out of the closet. Because of the influx of LGBT ex-pats, including violent “rent boys,” police felt it necessary to maintain lists of names of people caught in compromising situations. Keeping it on the down-low often made the difference between maintaining job security and being unemployed.  The Circle’s focus is on the magazine Der Kreis/Le Cercle/The Circle, which began in the 1930s as an activist publication, primarily for lesbians. By 1942, it became a cultural and lifestyle publication with an almost exclusively male readership and mostly surreptitious circulation throughout Europe, as it contained pornographic text and art and beefcake photography. Until its demise in the 1960s, the affiliated club also sponsored well-attended parties, balls and performances. Finally, though, The Circle tells the story of Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, a schoolteacher and a drag entertainer, who enter a lifelong romantic relationship through their involvement in Circle activities. The surprise ending is far too good to spoil here.

Harlock: Space Pirate: Blu-ray
Fat Planet
The venerable Japanese manga and anime franchise — spawned from Leiji Matsumoto’s 1977 “Space Pirate Captain Harlock” — is set in and around 2977, when 500 billion exiled humans have decided it’s time to return home. Earth has finally recovered from the devastating war that ravaged the planet, causing a mass evacuation. The speed of light no longer a barrier, space travel has permitted humans to colonize planets in the far corners of the universe. Never having learned how to conserve resources or conquer boredom, all 500 billion of them have decided to return home simultaneously. Knowing exactly what could happen if this many people were to descend on the Earth’s fragile environment, the ruling Gaia Coalition committed to a war to prevent the homecoming from happening. Operating from a huge spacecraft that emits inky-black plumes of smoke, Captain Harlock and his rogue crew of space pirates present the greatest threat to the coalition. Beyond that, I’m not at all sure what the hell is happening in Harlock: Space Pirate, the latest iteration of the epic series. That’s mostly because three of the primary male characters look as if they were drawn from the same template and one of them, at least, is a coalition plant. The good news for fans and newcomers, alike, however, is that director Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) was allowed a budget of $30 million to create a movie that would cost a Hollywood studio $100 million to duplicate. The CG animation is a joy to watch and the action rarely stops long enough to allow fans to catch a breath.

Also set in the far reaches of the universe, Fat Planet is a very silly cautionary comedy that might have been recommendable if it weren’t such a bargain-basement production. On a planet far, far away, a population of obese aliens has decided that the only way to prevent extinction is to lose weight. Sound familiar? In the course of monitoring video signals from Earth, the elders have discovered an exercise show that delivers on its promise to make people thinner and healthier. Health guru Jack Strong and some of his students are teleported to the planet of fatties to work their magic. Co-writer/director Dennis Devine would have been better served if they had abducted Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons. Mr. Skin Hall of Famer Priscilla Barnes is, by far, the most recognizable cast member. I hope she got paid up-front.

Outcast: Blu-ray
Every week, it seems, I’m sent at least one new historical drama from China, Korea or Japan to review. Fifteen years ago, that might have caused me to consider a future in the barista business, instead of reviewing DVDs. Since then, however, Chinese and Korean filmmakers have done for dynastic action-adventures what John Ford, Howard Hawks and Raoul Walsh did for American Westerns. (Decades earlier, of course, Akira Kurosawa accomplished the same thing with Japanese samurai epics, leaving the job now to creators of anime and manga.) It wasn’t until recently that Chinese and Korean were given the money, resources and manpower to venture into the country’s vast and often spectacularly scenic hinterlands to make movies that didn’t rely solely on swordplay and pyrotechnics. Moreover, the studios also figured out how to exploit the appeal of young and attractive pop stars without sacrificing action. For the most part, Outcast looks like any one of a dozen Asian exports that pass my way every month. The difference comes in the casting of Hayden Christensen and Nicolas Cage, as war-weary veterans of the 12th Century Crusades. After slaughtering a staunchly defended compound full of unfortunate Islamists, the crusaders inexplicably decide to travel east, instead of northwest. Christensen’s opium-starved crusader, Jacob, stumbles into the imperial kingdom at approximately the same time as the dying emperor hands the keys to his teenage son and daughter, instead of their older war-hero sibling. When the emperor is assassinated by the passed-over son, he decides to use every means at his disposal to kill his younger, more helpless rivals. Jacob’s presence levels the playing field, somewhat. As the legendary White Ghost, Cage is given free rein to freak out whenever he feels like it. Many potential viewers will see his inclusion as sufficient cause for a rental … others, not so much. If the producers thought the unusual casting would sell tickets outside China, they misjudged the American marketplace. Cage is nothing, if not over-exposed at the moment, and Christensen hasn’t had a hit since Star Wars: Episode III. For A-list stunt coordinator Nick Powell, Outcast represents his first foray as a director. As such, the action and fight scenes are excellent, while everything else – except the set and costume design and Yunnan scenery – is underwhelming.

3 Nights in the Desert
In this exceedingly unconvincing rom-dram, three thoroughly estranged members of a long-dead band get together for a 30th-birthday weekend and, ostensibly, an excuse for freshman screenwriter Adam Chanzit to contrive a reunion album. Since splitting up, the lead singer (Amber Tamblyn) has made a name for herself on the cruise-ship circuit and nightclubs along the Pacific Rim; the drummer (Vincent Piazza) has gotten a business degree and moved to Squaresville; and the guitar player (Wes Bentley) has tuned in, turned on and dropped out to a sweet pad in the desert. Early on, chances look good for a rapprochement and possible re-entry into the ranks of folk-rock attractions. It isn’t until the guitarist dares his pals to enter an enchanted cave on the property that things begin to go sideways. They all recognize something different in themselves, while spending approximately 30 seconds in the shallow cave, but it mostly translates into faulty logic. 3 Nights in the Desert benefits from the Agua Dolce locations – on the far fringes of Los Angeles County – and some not-bad songs performed by Tamblyn. Nothing else works, though, including the dweebish costume and glasses assigned Piazza.

Day of Anger: Blu-Ray
I don’t know how much exposure Day of Anger (a.k.a., Gunlaw or I giorni dell’ira) received off the American drive-in circuit. It took a while for genre buffs to embrace Sergio Leone’s spaghetti-Westerns as something other than curiosities, so, in 1967, a picture by one of the master’s assistant directors might have gone unnoticed entirely. Not only does Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray edition of Tonino Valerii’s shoot-‘em-up look excellent in hi-def, but it also marks a big step forward for Italian-made Westerns. Lee Van Cleef plays gunslinger Frank Talby, who, one day, arrives in a dusty high-desert town whose residents don’t take kindly to strangers messing with the status quo. Here, that includes the local pooper scooper and street sweeper, Scott Mary, portrayed by Giuliano Gemma. Scott Mary is made to feel unwelcome by everyone who employs his services, so, when Talby invites him to share a bottle of hooch, some of the bar’s patrons decide to teach him a lesson. Instead, the gunslinger demonstrates his willingness to outdraw anyone who tests his skill. Scott Mary convinces Talby to take him under his wing as he rides to another town, hoping to collect a long-held $50,000 debt. When he’s told that the money was stolen by leaders of the last town he visited and it was reinvested in projects of their own, Talby begins his scorched-earth mission to exact revenge. By now, Scott Mary has absorbed all of the lessons administered by his mentor and become a heck of a sharpshooter, as well. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out early on that there will come a time when the student will have to stand up to his teacher and demonstrate, one way or another, that he’s ready to step out on his own. Without having to resort to trademark Leone conceits, Valerii crafted a Western that bears comparison to many of the best oaters churned out by Hollywood studios. The Blu-ray package contains the original version, in English and Italian, and the edition edited for export; interviews with Valerii, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and critic Roberto Curti; a deleted scene; an illustrated booklet, featuring new writing on the film by historian Howard Hughes; original archive stills; and new cover art.

The Roommates/A Woman for All Men: Blu-ray
Once upon a time, attending a double- or triple-feature at a drive-in theater was both an entertaining way for dad, mom and the kids to kill a few hours on a hot summer night and a rite of passage for teenagers experiencing the first pangs of sexual freedom. For one thing, agreeing to a drive-in date – even the safer option, a double-date — was a giant leap of faith for teen couples, too many of whom had yet to get to the chapter in their hygiene textbooks dealing with the hazards of unprotected sex. Drinking presented other potential dangers, especially at a time when designated drivers weren’t added into the equation. Other variables included crappy speakers, fogged-up windshields, mosquitoes and voyeuristic neighbors. Then, there were the movies.  Unless the bill of fare that night was a collection of movies starring Elvis Presley, John Wayne or Vincent Price, a first-run attraction generally was followed or sandwiched between a B-lister and C-list picture of wildly varying interest and quality. By the mid-1970s, some exhibitors had given up on showing A-list movies entirely, preferring, instead, to program inexpensive grindhouse films. We’ll never know how many accidents were caused by gawkers distracted by a pair of 38-DDs reflected on a giant white-painted screen clearly visible from the highway.  Much of the blame for these fender-benders could be laid at the feet of such soft-core auteurs as Arthur Marks, who, not unlike Eloise at the Plaza, spent most of his life absorbing the facts of movie-making life on various studio backlots, soundstages and locations. Before turning to T&A and Blaxploitation movies, Marx cut his filmmaking teeth directing and producing such television series as “Perry Mason” and “Gunsmoke.” MPI Media Group’s hi-def double-feature of Marx’s The Roommates and A Woman for All Men offers a delicious look back to the Wild West of exploitation pictures.

The Roommates is set in Lake Arrowhead, a little slice of heaven in the San Bernardino National Forest, 90 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. Four drop-dead gorgeous “coeds” and a “sexy stewardess” are enjoying a summer getaway in sylvan splendor when a splatter movie breaks out. Actually, the horror aspects of the movie play second fiddle to the T&A, which, while ample, is no more graphic than a 1973 Playboy pictorial. By contrast, A Woman for All Men can be enjoyed as a crime thriller or grindhouse hybrid. If it feels a lot like a better-than-most made-for-TV movie – a relatively new genre – at least it features recognizable stars, a legitimate femme fatale and a logical narrative. Judith Brown (The Big Dollhouse) is perfect as a Las Vegas working girl who strikes it rich by marrying a ego-maniacal tycoon (Keenan Wynn), thus pissing off the man’s children who were counting off the days until he died. As a dead-ringer for Ginger McKenna, in Casino, Brown could easily have been mistaken for Sharon Stone’s mother. The only question becomes how long Karen can pull off her scheme before being busted by her husband or his heirs. We’ve seen this exact same plot played out in dozens of movies and TV shows, but Brown’s steamy portrayal of a woman without scruples kicks it up several notches. Brown and Wynn are accompanied here by such veteran character actors as Alma Beltran, Alex Rocco, Lois Hall, Don Porter and Andrew Robinson, who had just portrayed the Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry. The package includes interviews with Marx, Brown and other participants.

Turkish writer/director Elif Refig’s debut feature is a coming-of-age story that could have been set anywhere in the world that working-class parents scratch out a modest income and one or more of their children dream of escaping to a life of their own choosing. That it’s set in the roiling melting pot of Istanbul only makes it that much better. Ali works for his father, servicing ships anchored in the harbor with goods ranging from blow-up dolls to lambs intended for religious sacrifice. When he isn’t doing that, Ali wanders the waterfront minding his pigeons and searching for a ghost ship that’s haunted his dreams. On one of his walkabouts, Ali is attracted by a wall painting depicting a seascape that could only have been conjured by a kindred spirit. Eda’s life has just been turned upside-down by the return of the father who abandoned the family years earlier. Consequently, she’s suspicious of all men. Once Eda and Ali recognize the point where their imaginations intersect, they are forced to make the kinds of drastic decisions required of all dreamers and drifters. Where Ships differs from other coming-of-age stories is the setting, which couldn’t be any more intriguing. Istanbul is a crossroads city that’s always provided fertile ground for the fantasies of people seeking something completely different and the horns of the ships in the harbor seem to call out specifically to kids like Ali and Eda, whose next few steps could determine their fates forever. The DVD is accompanied by Refig’s short film, “Man to Be,” another gritty tale of a boy forced to grow up too soon. The disc I received was plagued with unsynched dialogue on the original Turkish soundtrack, so I would recommend renting a copy of Ships before investing in a purchase. Other than that, the movie is a delight.

Diamond Heist
Here’s one of those pictures that look as if the reels were misplaced in the shipping process and confused with material from other movies or television shows. Diamond Heist (a.k.a., “Magic Boys”) appears to borrow liberally from Guy Ritchie’s criminal milieu, Magic Mike and the two wild-and-crazy Czech brothers on “Saturday Night Life.” If that sounds appealing to you, Róbert Koltai and Éva Gárdos’ cock-eyed dramedy might provide a few hours of pleasure on a rainy night. Straight-to-DVD mainstays Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones play key figures in a diamond heist gone wrong. Caught in the middle are a pair of misfit Hungarians recruited to replace dancers in a male review. Adding a bit of flash to this mess are Hungarian hottie Nikolett Barabas – once known best as Russell Brand’s new girlfriend – pop singer Jamelia and newcomer Nansi Nsue.

The Shift
Less a feature film than an episode in a hospital-based television series, The Shift tells the unpleasant story of a drug-addicted emergency-room nurse who makes Nurse Jackie look like Florence Nightingale. Things begin to unravel for Kayle (writer Leo Oliva) when his boss (Danny Glover) asks him to mentor a fledgling nurse over the course of a 12-hour hospital shift. He objects, but not strenuously enough to have Dr. Floyd (Danny Glover) kick him out the door on his ass. The poor young thing (Casey Fitzgerald) makes the mistake of taking his abuse personally, but, once she figures out his game, realizes that the last place Kayle should be working is in a hospital, where play God should be left to real doctors. Oliva trained as a nurse, before turning to filmmaking, so it’s safe to assume that The Shift was a project near and dear to his heart. Unfortunately, he decided to make Kayle one of the most disagreeable characters I’ve experienced in a long time.

A Second Chance: The Janelle Morrison Story
Films about athletes who have survived serious injuries and gone on to compete again have become so prevalent lately that they have become something of a dime-a-dozen commodity. At 31 and on her way to becoming a fully certified teacher, Janelle Morrison decided to pursue a career as a professional tri-athlete. No, I didn’t know that was a career option, either. Morrison had just won her first Ironman event, as an amateur, and would go on to place third in her first professional competition. A year later, after her car was struck by a truck on the Trans-Canada Highway, she was left clinging to life in a hospital. Her doctors were more concerned with keeping her alive than getting her in shape for her next triathlon, but, once out of her coma, that’s all Morrison could think about doing. And, of course, she did beat expectations by defying her doctors’ recommendations and getting back on track. For their first non-fiction film, Dave Kelly and Rob Kelly were just as determined to record her recovery in A Second Chance: The Janelle Morrison Story. My problem with the movie probably wouldn’t be shared with anyone who’s competed in an extreme sport or decided to tempt fate by going against the wisdom of doctors, trainers, coaches and relatives, simply to prove a point that’s already been established. Or, perhaps, I’m prejudiced against activities, like the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlete, which began as a novel test of extreme physicality but have since allowed themselves to be corrupted by companies pitching overpriced products to easily manipulated wannabes. I wonder how far the Kellys would have gone with the project if Morrison had simply been able to finish one leg of the triathlon, which would have been sufficient cause for rejoicing for most people, but a severe disappointment to an adrenaline junky. Or, if something happened to reverse all of the hard work put into Morrison’s recovery. Those are the movies we don’t see.

Liars, Fires and Bears
Memory Lane
One of the things producers and agents look for at film festivals is the spark of creativity that shines through a movie passed over by the judges or left unembraced by audiences. While the offbeat buddy picture Liars, Fires and Bears clearly is the product of first-timers, burdened with a barely there budget, festival-goers stayed in their seats long enough to find the promise in its creative team. Charming newcomer Megli Micek plays Eve, a criminally precocious 9-year-old desperate to escape her foster parents and locate the successful brother she believes is being kept away from her. A habitual runaway, Eve sneaks around parking lots at night in search of unlocked cars and drunks willing to drive her to Denver. She hits pay dirt when she breaks into the car belonging to an alcoholic doofus, Dave (co-writer Lundon Boyd), who is sober enough to realize he shouldn’t be driving, but too drunk to appreciate the downside of putting a wee lassie behind the wheel. Naturally, his plan falls apart almost as soon as it begins leaving Dave in the hoosegow and in need of money to pay his fine. In the film’s most unlikely scenario, Dave hooks up with an unscrupulous pawn-shop operator who agrees to take him on as an accomplice. He screws up his first break-in so badly that he becomes Public Enemy No. 1, with his surveillance-camera photograph flashed on newscasts far and wide. Conveniently, Eve has just torched her foster parents’ home and Dave’s too dim-witted to see the hole in her pipedream about having a brother who’s a lawyer. As far-fetched as this scenario sounds, it provides plenty of time for the odd couple to form a convincing bond between them on their trip to Colorado.

Word on the street is that one-man-band Shawn Holmes made Memory Lane on budget limited to $300. Whenever I’m asked to believe something as patently absurd as that, I’m tempted to point out, “… and it looks like it.” Fact is, though, Memory Lane could easily pass for a genre flick that cost 20 or 30 times that amount to make … which isn’t saying all that much, either. Michael Guy Allen plays a despondent veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who, when he finally finds a woman to love (Meg Braden), finds her dead in his bathtub, wrists slashed. In a failed attempt to electrocute himself, Nick flashes on the possibility that Kayla may have been murdered. The only way he’s likely to confirm his suspicion, one way or the other, is to repeatedly push the envelope on death. It’s not the genre’s most unlikely premise and on a penny-for-penny basis, anyway, succeeds surprisingly well.

PBS: Language Matters With Bob Hollman
PBS: Nature: Owl Power: Blu-ray
PBS: Nova: Building Wonders
PBS: Frontline: Putin’s Way
I Am Not Giordano Bruno/Judge Not
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXII
WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season/Quincy, M.E.: The Final Season
One of the most diabolical things a conquering force can do to the vanquished is take away the roots of their culture, including native languages and dialects. American and Canadian authorities demanded of Indian children that they endure severe haircuts and ignore their native languages. Missionaries required the same of native Hawaiians. Australia did even worse by its Aboriginal population by forcibly diluting their bloodlines and restricting the purebreds to the Outback. When the British annexed Wales, they attempted to eliminate all traces of the language, probably because they’d never be able to understand what was being said about them. PBS’ Language Matters With Bob Hollman” explains how frightfully successful these imperialist forces were in extinguishing traditional cultures, while describing how descendants have struggled, mostly since the 1960s, to rekindle pride and interest in nearly lost languages and the customs attached to them. Scholar and poet Bob Holman takes viewers to a remote island off the coast of Australia, where 400 Aboriginal people speak 10 different languages, all at risk, and introduces us to a 73-year-old man who’s the only living link to his tribe. In Wales, Holman joins in a poetry competition and finds a young man who raps in Welsh. In Hawaii, we learn how the oft-maligned hula is a language in dance. “Language Matters” is a documentary that parents can share with their children and discuss at length afterwards.

I wonder how many people under the age of 40 or 50 have seen an owl in its natural habitat and not in a zoo or aviary. It’s truly a unique experience. In the “Nature” presentation, “Owl Power,” bird trainers Lloyd and Rose Buck enlist cutting-edge technology – digital cameras, computer graphics, X-rays and super-sensitive microphones — in their search for answers to the mysteries surrounding the owls’ hunting techniques and ability to sustain themselves in a sometimes cruel environment. In doing so, the Bucks make scientific comparisons between their very own family of owls, eagles, falcons, geese and pigeons. We’re also able to follow the progress of two newly-hatched barn owls. Much of the material on display is nothing short of mesmerizing.

The fascinating “Nova” DVD package, “Building Wonders,” is a compilation of three recent episodes, “Colosseum: Roman Death Trap,” “Petra: Lost City of Stone” and “Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Ancient Mystery.” In each, modern engineering techniques and cutting-edge instruments are used to understand how buildings made millennia ago have been able to withstand the ravages of time and natural disaster, allowing us to marvel at them today. Modern architects use medieval tools to figure out how Turkey’s massive 1,500-year-old cathedral dome has been able to survive countless quakes in one of the world’s most violent seismic zones.  In the middle of Jordan’s parched desert, a “Nova” team investigates how Petra s architects were able to create a thriving metropolis of temples, markets, spectacular tombs carved into cliffs, bathhouses, fountains and pools? Also curious is how builders of the Colosseum were able to create water-tight tanks for mock sea battles and control the movement of men and animals throughout the bowels of the monumental structure.

The producers of the “Frontline” presentation “Putin’s Way” go the distance to describe how the Russian leader has destroyed the hopes of tens of millions of Russians anticipating post-Soviet peace and prosperity, by turning the country over to greedy plutocrats and hoodlums. At the same time, the Russian leader schemed to make himself a very wealthy and powerful man. The investigation also revisits the horrific 1999 Moscow apartment bombings and failed attempts to uncover corruption at the Kremlin. At a time when Putin could have exploited the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, he began stoking nationalism, conflict, authoritarianism and a bloody war in the Ukraine, during which Russian-backed insurgents decided it would be a keen idea to shot down a Malaysian jetliner. The episode includes firsthand interviews with exiled Russian business tycoons, writers and politicians, in addition to archival material and evidence of his abuses of powers.

The documentaries “I Am Not Giordano Bruno” and “Judge Not” attempt to answer the questions surrounding how Russian political cartoonist Boris Efimov and Tikhon Khrennikov, the one and only head of the Composers Union of the USSR, managed to survive under the bloodthirsty leadership of Joseph Stalin and several subsequent Soviet leaders. Efimov, whose brother was assassinated on Stalin’s orders, spent most of his 108 years on Earth drawing sharp observations about leaders and policies of the USSR’s enemies, while following the company line at home. Khrennikov took over the musicians’ union in 1948 and stayed on the job until 1991. At the same time as he worked to protect Soviet artists from prison and death, he also made sure that music was written in accordance with Communist ideology. The documentaries are extremely dry, but nonetheless intriguing.

Historically, we’ve come to expect the best of the worst from the hyper-critical crew of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” spacecraft and, in Volume XXXII, three of the four features are inarguably cheesy:  Hercules, Radar Secret Service and San Francisco International. What’s unusual is the inclusion of John Sturges’ Space Travelers (a.k.a., Marooned), a well-reviewed stranded-astronaut thriller that anticipated Apollo 13 by 25 years and Gravity by 44 years, and can still grip viewers’ attention. Besides the presence of Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, Lee Grant, Mariette Hartley and Nancy Kovack, Space Travelers is reputed to be the only “MST3K” selection to have won an Oscar. In a new introduction, Frank Conniff attempts to explain how such a prestigious production ended up on the Satellite of Love’s viewing menu. The irony of the crew of the SOT watching a movie about astronauts stranded in space wasn’t lost on Joel Robinson, the only character who actually would require oxygen to survive a similar mishap. Other featurettes include “Marooned: A Forgotten Odyssey,” “Barnum of Baltimore: The Early Films of Joseph E. Levine,” “A Brief History of Satellite News,” “MST-UK, With Trace and Frank” and mini-posters by Artist Steve Vance.

Shout Factory’s latest additions to its a la carte menu of full-season compilations are represented by “WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season” and “Quincy, M.E.: The Final Season.” Both benefit from facelifts accorded the series in last year’s boxed sets and bonus material.

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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