MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: McFarland USA, Scarecrows, Mickey Rourke, Justified, Rectify and more

McFarland, USA Blu-ray
There is a subgenre of sports movies in which hard-scrabble groups of young athletes defeat immense odds by becoming champions. Typically, they represent one ethnic-minority group or another, but it can be stretched to include a movie like Miracle, the dramatic story of the 1980 U.S. ice-hockey team’s amazing triumph over the dominant Soviet team or, even, Stand and Deliver, about Jaime Escalante’s determination to turn potential dropouts into competitive math wizards. Recently, too, we’ve seen inspirational stories about the first group of poor Mexican kids to win the Little League World Series (The Perfect Game) and Hispanic students from Texas who pit their robotic creations against those from a team from MIT. In basketball, there’s Hoosiers, in which a group of farm kids from a tiny Indiana school, conquered an Indianapolis team led by Oscar Robertson and perennial powerhouse Muncie Central, and Glory Road, in which five African-American players started for the first time in a NCAA championship game upset Kentucky’s all-white squad, coached by the “legendary” Adolph Rupp. All such films take liberties with the facts, if simply to boost dramatic effect or condense the disparate elements, but the climaxes can hardly be fudged.

Kiwi filmmaker Niki Caro’s McFarland, USA is the latest entry in the subgenre. Kevin Costner is typically effective as the high school football coach who’s fired for throwing a shoe at the starting quarterback – the wiseass deserved worse – and forced to look for work elsewhere. He finds it in a predominantly Mexican-American school in the Central Valley of California. As beneficiaries of the unionization of farm workers, led by Cesar Chavez, the families no longer are migratory and some have found ways to control their own livelihoods.  They are still poor, however, and many of their kids are required to split their days between work in the fields and school, with little or no hope of going on to college. As depicted here, Jim White (a.k.a., Coach Blanco) and his family are dismayed by their first impressions of McFarland, which they find to be as boring as it is impoverished. As an assistant to the school’s bone-headed football coach, White witnesses abuses that appear to be taken for granted by the principal. Long story short, White volunteers to create the school’s first cross-country team, based simply on watching a few of the boys running around during gym class or in the fields. Conveniently, California had just agreed to fund off-brand sports in minority-heavy schools and organize an inaugural statewide meet in cross-country. You can probably guess the outcome of McFarland, USA from that much information, alone.

What wouldn’t be obvious, though, are the many fresh twists added by Caro (Whale Rider, North Country, A Heavenly Vintage) to avoid clichés and invent dramatic confrontations where none actually existed. The rapport between White, his wife (Maria Bello) and daughters, and the students and their parents isn’t always ideal, but it feels genuine and the bad times are frequently relieved with humor. Moreover, Mexican-American family life is depicted in a straight-forward fashion that doesn’t ignore the strains caused by living with belts constantly tightened, while accentuating the positive aspects of life in a close-knit ethnic community. Being 1987, the inexperienced and poorly equipped Cougars are easy targets for the racist taunts of runners from Palo Alto and other all-white teams. Once the meets start, however, the cheap shots end. As anyone who’s driven north or south on I-5 can attest, the terrain in around McFarland doesn’t lend itself to picture-postcard sentimentality, but what beauty does exist is nicely captured by Terry Stacey and Adam Arkapaw. The Blu-ray adds deleted and extended scenes; the music video, “Juntos,” by Juanes; and featurettes “McFarland Reflections” and “Inspiring McFarland,” which describes how the miracle continues, today.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water: Blu-ray
I wonder if sales of marijuana – medical and otherwise – were up in the week preceding the theatrical release of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. I’m old enough to remember when the Beatles’ animated musical, The Yellow Submarine, opened to audiences of older teens and young adults, who were stewed to the gills on pot and psychedelics. It wasn’t the kind of movie intended specifically to blow the minds of its audience, but its animators probably weren’t discouraged from paying special attention to themes, shapes and colors that catered to altered states. Launched in 1999, “SpongeBob SquarePants” is an animated television series created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg for Nickelodeon. The series chronicles the adventures of the title charac6ter and his various friends in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. While there isn’t an obvious link between “SpongeBob” and “Yellow Submarine,” they’d make a dandy double feature at Sea World or on the flat-screen TV of your local dispensary of legal marijuana. Perhaps, it’s worth noting here that the ticket-counters at Box Office Mojo estimate that the audience for “Sponge Out of Water,” which combines live-action segments and animation, was 53 percent male and 60 percent under the age of 25. My guess is that most of those viewers under 25 grew up watching “SpongeBob SquarePants,” first as wide-eyed kids, but, then, as teens and young adults able to parse the hip double-entendres and cross-generational sight gags. Consequently, the movie outperformed estimates by posting $53.3 million in revenues over its opening weekend, on its way to a pre-video haul of $163 million at the domestic box office and another $148.6 million overseas.

Not surprisingly, the movie’s central conflict involves the theft of the secret Krabby Patty formula, not by Plankton, as could be expected, but a real-life pirate, Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas), who wants to convert his amphibious vessel into a food truck. Absent the recipe, Bikini Bottom is threatened with becoming a ghost town. It causes SpongeBob and Plankton to put aside their differences long enough to recover the recipe and put Bikini Bottom back on the underwater map. This brief synapsis in no way does justice to the crazy stuff that happens between the theft and recovery of the recipe or of the delightfully drawn characters and backdrops and zippy musical interludes. The retention of original cast members Tom Kenny, Clancy Brown, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Doug Lawrence, Carolyn Lawrence and Paul Harrison Tibbitt ensured, as well, that 16 years of fandom wouldn’t be disappointed by a possible introduction of promotable guest voices and cameos. The Blu-ray looks terrific, in or out of 3D, and the bonus features go a long way toward explaining how the movie and TV episodes come together, especially the voicing of characters. The featurettes are divided into four segments, “On the Surface,” “Underwater Awesomeness,” “Bikini Bottom Boogie” and “Deleted/Extended/Alternate/Test Scenes.” All add value to the total package, without spoiling any of the fun.

The Taking of Tiger Mountain: Blu-ray
In 1966, any progress China was making in the creation of the ideal socialist state, whose leaders were answerable only to “the people,” was thwarted by the paranoid delusions of 72-year-old Chairman Mao Zedong and the so-called Gang of Four. The intended goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of what a handful of Communist Party zealots considered to be revisionist elements determined to restore capitalism and bourgeois values to the Peoples Republic. They established the militant Red Guards to root out individuals hey determined to be less than committed to armed struggle and the elevation of what party leaders determined to be proletarian values. Anyone whose job required a modicum of intellectual thought or clean hands, even, could be sent to the boonies to work on communal farms, quarries or re-education camps. One byproduct of the Cultural Revolution was the banning of all plays and ballets that didn’t glorify the accomplishments of the Peoples Liberation Army or promote revolutionary change. When all was said and done, Mao’s widely despised wife, Jiang Qing, approved the creation of six model operas and two ballets, including Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, based on a novel by Qu Bo. It chronicled an actual battle in the Chinese Civil War, between a squadron of Peoples Liberation Army soldiers and a gang of bandits and brigands terrorizing villages in the mountains of northeastern China. The play was adapted into a rousingly patriotic movie in 1970 and, again, last year, as an action adventure by the estimable Tsui Hark. Shot in winter in the same mountains, “Tiger Mountain” stars Tony Ka Fai Leung as a ruthless bandit whose fortress sits beneath the summit of Tiger Mountain. Zhang Hanyu plays the spy sent to destroy the gang from the inside. To divert the warlord, Lord Hawk, a map to a treasure left behind by Japanese troops is fabricated. The Vietnamese native, Hark, is renowned for his Hong Kong action pictures and his brilliantly staged fight scenes are wonderfully entertaining. While the PLA soldiers, including a gung-ho woman warrior, wear drab standard-issue military uniforms and winter gear, Lord Hawk and his officers are decked out in all manner of fashionable furs and trinkets. (“Game of Thrones” appears to be referenced in the costumes.)  The mountainous backdrops couldn’t be any more formidable, either. Viewers may require a scorecard to keep track of the many different characters and storylines. There’s also a contemporary framing device, intended, I suppose, to appeal to viewers who may never have been required to memorize the Little Red Book of quotations from Chairman Mao. Western audiences may not grasp the conceit, but fans of modern Chinese epics won’t have any trouble getting past it. The Blu-ray captures the grandeur of the setting, as well as the winter chill, while adding interviews with cast and crew.

Scarecrows: Blu-ray
I wonder how many farmers still use scarecrows to ward off birds and other critters anxious to ravage their fields before crops have had an opportunity to take hold. While watching McFarland, USA, which is set in California’s agricultural belt, I didn’t notice a single burlap sack, stuffed with hay to resemble a ragamuffin’s torso. Of course, I didn’t see any hot-air balloons, tin men or yellow-brick roads, either. Neither, does William Wesley’s 1988 chiller, Scarecrows, take place near Kansas, Oz or anywhere else corn is grown in large quantities. Those geographical lapses aside, the movie makes the most of what little the filmmakers were given and the ability of cinematographer of Peter Deming (My Cousin Vinny, Mulholland Dr.) to allow us to make sense of a movie that takes place almost entirely in the dark, hundreds of miles from the nearest scarecrow. In it, a group of five former commandoes steals $3 million from Camp Pendleton, the sprawling Marine base between San Diego and Los Angeles. To make their escape, the heavily armed men and a woman force the pilot of a small propeller plane to take them to Mexico, which isn’t more than 50 miles south, as the crow flies. To ensure the pilot’s cooperation, the crooks also take his teenage daughter hostage.

Somewhere along the way, one of the commandoes grabs the money and parachutes from the plane, landing in a cornfield. Now, unless the pilot decided make a detour over the Imperial Valley, a hundred miles east of Camp Pendleton, it isn’t likely that much in the way of corn was being grown in the desert south of Mexicali. It’s where the Colorado River goes to die, after all.  In fact, Scarecrows was filmed in Florida, where there probably are several large fields of corn. Nonetheless, the commandos are able to use their search-and-destroy skills to locate the cornfield and abandoned farmhouse, around which a fierce firefight will take place. The scarecrows may not be armed with automatic weapons, but, with Satan on their side, aren’t about to let the invaders have free access to their cursed cornfield. Given the movie’s age and limited resources, Scarecrows offers a decent viewing experience for genre buffs with Blu-ray equipment. The set adds commentaries with Wesley and producer Cami Winikoff, and with Deming, co-screenwriter Richard Jefferies and composer Terry Plumeri; the featurettes, “The Last Straw,” – an interview with special makeup-effects creator Norman Cabrera, and “Cornfield Commando,” an interview with actor Ted Vernon; original storyboards; and a still gallery.

In the curiously titled Asmodexia, an itinerant exorcist pastor, Eloy (Lluís Marco), roams around the outskirts of Barcelona with his supernaturally blessed/cursed granddaughter, Alba (Clàudia Pons), curing souls possessed by the Evil One. Unlike most exorcist-themed movies, Marc Carreté’s first feature treats demonic possession as if it were a plague that attacks the soul and makes its victims resemble zombies. They exist in catacomb-like basements, some of which recall Mayan tombs with their scattered iconography and foreboding architecture. We know that there’s something special about Alba because we were there at her birth and observed the spiritual cleansing that followed her untidy delivery. At the time, Eloy was involved with a quasi-hippy religious sect. Being in a pretty bad place, the survivors welcome the return of Eloy and the girl, who might turn out to be a reasonable facsimile of the messiah. Another hint that things aren’t quite right in Catalonia is a December heat wave that has residents turning on their air conditioners and heading for the beach. Most of what’s scary in Asmodexia derives from the special makeup-effects work done by Monica Murguia and bleached-out cinematography of Xavi Garriga, in his feature debut. “Asmodexia” is a word invented by the director to make viewers think of diseases as yet unnamed. While not particularly gory or frightening, at 81 minutes, it never wears out its welcome.

The Legend of Longwood
This charming Dove-approved fantasy/adventure describes what happens when a 12-year-old American girl, Mickey (Lucy Morton), is forced to leave everything and everyone she knows in New York and adjust to life in rural Ireland. Her mother’s dragged Mickey and her little brother to the Emerald Isle to start a new life in a run-down mill she’s inherited in the tiny town of Longwood. It doesn’t take Mickey long to figure out that destiny has summoned her back to Ireland to fulfill a role in The Legend of Longwood. The village is haunted by the specter of the Black Knight, whose sad story involves having his baby daughter taken from him 300 years in the past. Mickey loves horses, so her attitude brightens when she discovers a castle with a small stable of magnificent white horses. If she can harness the most stubborn of the steeds, Mickey and a newfound friend might be able to lift the Black Knight’s curse. Directed by Irish filmmaker Lisa Mulcahy, my enjoyment of The Legend of Longwood was enhanced greatly by the beautiful scenery.

Eat With Me
Low-budget indie films tend to need all the help they can get when it comes to finding financing, distribution and an audience. It’s with that reality in mind that I tend to forgive niche distributors from putting pictures of well-known actors on the cover of movies in which they may only appear for a few minutes. Danny Trejo and Michael Madsen are famous for lending their brands to action flicks that might not find viewers, otherwise. Robert Englund provides the same service for producers of horror movies. George Takei may, indeed, be the most prominent actor in freshman writer/director David Au’s appealing fairytale romance, Eat With Me, but his photo on the DVD’s cover makes it look as if he plays a more prominent role than almost anyone else. Takei’s cameos come at pivotal points in the narrative, but anyone who chose that time to get a free refill of popcorn wouldn’t know he’d come and gone. On DVD, at least, hitting the pause button is a far better option. Eat With Me opens with Emma (Sharon Omi) realizing that her marriage to the inconsiderate Ray (Ken Narasaki) has run its course and she’s in desperate need of R&R. The closest escape route takes her to her son’s loft apartment in Los Angeles. Elliot (Teddy Chen Culver), who’s taken over the lease at his late uncle’s failing restaurant, isn’t exactly sure what to make of his mother’s arrival, which has come straight out of the blue. In the past, Emma has shown herself to be uncomfortable with the possibility of Elliot being gay, but it’s more of a hang-up for her than it is for him. Coincidental to mom’s arrival, Elliot is dealing with commitment issues with the men in his life, as well as eviction notices at the restaurant. The inconvenience of his mother’s presence is greatly alleviated by a neighbor (Nicole Sullivan) who practically adopts Emma, allowing her to hang out in her spacious apartment during a dance class and sharing a dose of Ecstasy after she mistakes it for aspirin. Still, when mom catches junior asleep in bed with his hunky musician boyfriend, she realizes that she’s still not ready to accept reality. Enter George Takei, as George, the wise gay stranger she meets in the park. You can probably already guess what happens from here, but the focus on food as the great equalizer keeps thing from bogging down in clichés.

The Pope of Greenwich Village/Desperate Hours: Blu-ray
The crime dramas that comprise this bi-polar double feature from Shout!Factory are notable primarily for the presence of future Best Actor-nominee Mickey Rourke, as well as the direct and indirect influence of Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter). Ever since his breakout performances in Diner and Body Heat, Rourke has confounded critics and viewers with his determination to play different variations of his eccentric self, instead of fully rounded and imaginatively realized characters. He looked and feIt right at home in the lead roles of Barfly and The Wrestler, and, in between, was extremely well utilized in brief supporting roles. As a romantic lead, however, Rourke was pushing his luck. His stylish wiseguy, Charlie, in The Pope of Greenwich Village simultaneously recalls Harvey Keitel’s similarly anal Charlie, in Mean Streets, and the greaseball arbitrager, John, in 9½ Weeks. They all dress as if they were about to attend a mafia funeral and care more about ruining the polish on their shoes than being punched in the face. Based on an excellent first novel and screenplay by Vincent Patrick, The Pope of Greenwich Village leads the protagonists into “Of Mice and Men” territory, this time in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Eric Roberts, already a known quantity from Star 80, plays Charlie’s borderline-moronic cousin, Paulie, whose criminal pipedreams always come back to haunt him.

After Paulie gets Charlie fired from his job as maître d’ of a mob-owned restaurant, Paulie lets him in on his plans for a $15,000 racehorse and a break-in at a warehouse, where a safe is stuffed with money. Paulie’s already enlisted a veteran safecracker (Kenneth McMillan), who’s always one eggroll away from a heart attack.  The problem is that the money belongs to a mobster known throughout Greenwich Village as Bed Bug Eddie (Burt Young) and a crooked cop is accidentally killed during the commission of the crime. It only takes about 10 seconds for Eddie’s men to narrow down the list of usual suspects to Paulie, who can’t wait to turn on the safecracker, but keeps his cousin’s name out of it for as long as he can. In another conceit that would carry over to 9½ Weeks, Rourke’s chain-smoking hustler has been awarded a beautiful blond girlfriend, this time in the form of a dance teacher played by Daryl Hannah. As 31-year-old mobster-themed movies go, The Pope of Greenwich Village remains surprisingly entertaining, thanks, in large part, to its New York locations. The Cimino connection can made from reports that the Deer Hunter director had been approached to direct the movie, but declined, only to agree to fill in for Stuart Rosenberg (Brubaker) on a few scenes when he fell ill. Geraldine Page delivered a splendid blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance as a nicotine-addicted mother of the corrupt cop, who’s confronted by his cronies looking for incriminating tapes. The Blu-ray arrives with some EPK interviews.

In 1990, Cimino directed Rourke in the risible hostage drama, Desperate Hours. Joseph Hayes’ hit play and novel had been re-adapted several times since 1995, when “The Desperate Hours” won a Tony as Best Play. I haven’t seen any of the other film re-makes, but I can’t imagine them being as ridiculous as the one crafted from a screenplay by Hayes, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (The Jewel of the Nile). By opening Desperate Hours up from its stage iteration, the filmmakers were given far too much freedom to mess up what basically was a pretty intimate drama. The nonsense starts early, as Kelly Lynch is speeding through the Utah desert in a Ferrari, before stopping at a rest stop alongside a gorgeous mountain lake. Nancy is dressed to kill in a slinky business suit, black thigh-high stockings and spikey heels. The next thing we know, she’s climbed a steep rocky hill – in her heels – and arrived at the exact spot on the highway, where, inexplicably, there’s a bus stop. The bus must have been prompt, because Nancy – a lawyer – gets to the courthouse in time to argue for the early parole of Michael Bosworth (Rourke), who pretends not to want her help, but gets it anyway in the form of a dainty little handgun attached to her garter, which is within easy reach of Mickey’s shackled hands. As intricately choreographed as his delivery to the courtroom was by sheriff’s deputies, it’s just that easy for Mickey to escape. From there, Mickey’s hustled to the Ferrari by his brother (Elias Koteas) and a nutcase played by David Morse. Almost all of the rest of the picture takes place inside a suburban house near Salt Lake City, inhabited by Mimi Rogers, Anthony Hopkins and their two children. If there’s a connection between that family and Mickey or Nancy, I missed it. Meanwhile, a FBI unit led by a strangely coiffed Lindsay Crouse has taken over the hostage siege, again, for no clear reason. Things don’t get any more logical or coherent as Desperate Hours unspools. What makes it watchable, though, are nearly over-the-top performances by Hopkins and Rourke, who appears to have been channeling Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (High Sierra), Cody Jarret (White Heat) and Sonny, in Mad Dog Afternoon. In Cimino’s hands, Desperate Hours is never less than so bad, it’s good.

FX: Justified: The Final Season: Blu-ray
Sundance: Rectify: The Complete Second Season
Lifetime: With This Ring
Nickelodeon: Dora the Explorer
“Mad Men” and “Late Show with David Letterman” weren’t the only noteworthy television series that ended their natural lives in 2015. Also saying goodbye were “Parks and Recreation,” “Parenthood,” “Glee,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Cougar Town” and, soon, “Nurse Jackie” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” Among the shows I will miss the most is FX’s “Justified,” which was based on Elmore Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole” and never wavered from the master’s ability to create sleazeball villains, conflicted heroes and memorable dialogue. Leonard must have really cherished his creation, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Oliphant), as he also made the Stetson-wearing, Glock-toting lawman the protagonist of the novels “Pronto” and “Riding the Rap.” In those books, Givens is assigned to Miami Beach, where he set some kind of record for the justified shootings of dangerous criminals. In “Fire in the Hole,” Leonard had Givens transferred to his boyhood home of Harlan County, Kentucky, as a round-about punishment for provoking a Western-style shootout with an enemy on a hotel deck in Miami. It effectively reunites Givens with his old mining buddy, Boyd Crowder, now the leader of a white supremacist group, his ex-wife, Winona, and Boyd’s sister-in-law, Ava Crowder. In a dandy bit of narrative symmetry, all four of those characters also play crucial roles in the powerful and violent sixth season. It opens with the remaining members of the Crowe and Crowder clans up to their old tricks and Raylan attempting to talk Ava into testifying against the duplicitous Boyd.  For her part, Winona has split for Florida with baby, Wila, awaiting Raylan’s final decision about hanging up his holster and coming to live with them. It remains an open question for the next 13 episodes. Among the actors making their first appearances here are Mary Steenburgen, Sam Elliott, Garret Dillahunt, Jeff Fahey and Jake Busey. Jamie Davies returns as the incarcerated Dickie Bennett, as does Patton Oswald as the hapless Constable Bob Sweeney. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and featurettes, “Hollywood to Harlan,” “Directing the Show: Adam Arkin” and “Dutch Speaks,” a vintage interview with Elmore Leonard about his thoughts on “Justified.”

In its first two years on Sundance, critics have made “Rectify” one of the most honored shows on television. Besides being named to 10 different top-10 lists, twice, the series was awarded with a 2014 Peabody Award. The committee called it, “A powerful, subtle dramatic series about a death-row inmate released after nearly two decades thanks to new DNA evidence, it ponders whether what’s been lost can ever be repaid, not just to him but to everyone he and his alleged crimes touched.” At a time when more and more prisoners are being vindicated for crimes they never committed and another state, Nebraska, has decided that no more possibly innocent inmates should die, it’s no small issue. While the media is always at the prison gates to document their release, next to nothing is said concerning the officially guiltless ex-cons’ re-entry into society. No matter how much microscopic DNA is collected, some folks will refuse to accept the fact that our system of justice is imperfect. Indeed, the second season picks up with Daniel (Aden Young) in the hospital, comatose, after taking a beating from hooded thugs seeking to avenge something he didn’t do. In his dream state, Daniel imagines being back on death row with his best friend – executed before he was freed – and a convict who tormented them. Finally out of his coma and released to the care of his family in Paulie, Georgia, Daniel is far from normal. The search for his attackers intensifies, with the most obvious suspect being the slain teenager’s brother.  Seemingly with plans of his own for the man, Daniel refuses to bring charges against him. And, of course, things get stranger and more complex until season’s end. The third stanza begins on July 9.

Halfway through Nzingha Stewart’s romantic fantasy, “With This Ring,” I began to wonder why it looked so much like a Liftetime original movie. If anything, with its entirely African-American cast and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” attitude, I thought it might be a movie that ends up on BET or Starz, between “Power” and “Survivor’s Remorse.” First instincts almost always being right, however, I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that “With This Ring” was, in fact, a Lifetime movie, one of only a few made to attract so-called middle-class urban audiences. While attending a friend’s New Year’s Eve wedding, three thirtysomething women make a vow not to be single by the time the bride’s first anniversary rolls around. Besides being attractive and sufficiently wealthy to afford homes that wouldn’t be out of place on any of the “Housewives” series, the women have jobs on the upper-rung of the entertainment industry. And, yet, they’re desperate enough to land husbands they’d settle for second- or third-best, simply to make good on a silly vow. Regina Hall, Jill Scott and Eve portray an up-and-coming talent agent, popular gossip columnist and between-gigs actress, respectively, all facing challenges common to single African-American women of a certain age. The gossip columnist enjoys a friendly relationship with the father of her young son, but, until she took the vow, treated him as if he were a business associate. Just as is the case in most afternoon and prime-time soap operas, there are few allowances for reality when it comes to fashions, décor, nightclubs and parties. All of the characters, including the extras, look as if they could star in their own series, as well. This includes Brooklyn Sudano, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, Stephen Bishop, Jason George and Brian White. “With This Ring” was adapted from
“The Vow” by Denene Millner, Angela Burt-Murray and Mitzi Miller, and should appeal to women –mostly – who enjoyed “Waiting to Exhale,” “Jumping the Broom,” “Think Like A Man” and “Baggage Claim.”

Like the above-mentioned series, Nickelodeon’s formidable “Dora the Explorer” has slipped off into the sunset to make room for the spin-off series “Dora and Friends: Into the City!” and a slightly more mature female protagonist. New friends have been introduced and the destinations are more urban in nature. In fact, though, the change was initiated in 2011, with “Dora’s Explorer Girls: Our First Concert,” in which Dora and her friends get five tickets to see Shakira in concert but lose them among the charitable donations to the show. It forces them to go on a desperate search through Puerto Verde for the valuable ducats. The “Big Little Movies” collection adds “Dora the Explorer: Dora Saves Fairytale Land,” which debuts on DVD before its TV premiere. In this extended adventure, Dora and Boots must travel deep into the Never-to-be-Seen-Again Forest to the Sparkling Lake in order to bring magic back to Fairytale Land. In this offering, the younger iteration of the extremely popular character prevails. In “Big Little Movies: Umi Space Heroes,” the Team Umizoomi crew goes into action to save the moon after the Trouble Makers blow it into four pieces. Their intergalactic adventure requires them to use their math and problem-solving skills. They’re joined by the compilations, “Max & Ruby: Sharing & Caring” and “Bubble Guppies: The Puppy & the Ring.”

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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