MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Madame Bovary, Adult Beginners, Descendants, Salvation, Wyrmwood, Seashore, Snow Girl, Flamenco, Bilko … More

Madame Bovary: Blu-ray
Among the distinguished women who’ve portrayed Emma Bovary on film over the last 80 years are Isabelle Huppert, Frances O’Connor, Carla Gravina, Jennifer Jones, Pola Negri, Lila Lee and, if you count David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, Sarah, Miles. There have been more, of course, but these are the most recognizable actresses. Like the Olympics and presidential elections, a new adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s debut novel comes around every four years, or so, whether the public is clamoring for one, or not. In Sophie Barthes’ lushly mounted Madame Bovery, 25-year-old Aussie Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) convincingly plays the disillusioned wife of a country doctor (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) whose unmet expectations and boredom are sated by material pleasures they can’t afford. If there isn’t anything wrong with the approach taken by Barthes (Cold Souls), its bourgeois trappings and rural splendor are all too familiar in a marketplace filled with period adaptations of classic novels, however tragic and sexy. What could be more contemporary than a story about a woman so disgusted by her husband’s lack of financial drive that she decides to take matters into her own hands … and his credit cards? Given the media’s obsession with celebrities and their closets full of designer fashions, how could a modern Emma Bovary resist the temptation of looking, acting and partying like a Kardashian? Greedy enablers, like Rhys Ifans’ unctuous Monsieur Lheureux in Madame Bovary, can found everywhere these days, especially on such fashion-lust shows as “Project Runway,” “The Rachel Zoe Project” and red-carpet coverage leading to the Oscars, Emmys and Grammy awards ceremonies. (Or, the Home Shopping Network and QVC for a low-rent remake of “Madame Bovary” for shut-ins.) It wouldn’t take long for a spouse – gay, straight or indifferent – to drive a successful lawyer, doctor or athlete into bankruptcy these days. A fresh take on the story wouldn’t have hurt. Also on hand in Barthes’ Madame Bovary are Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Laura Carmichael (“Downton Abbey”), Logan Marshall-Greenand (“Dark Blue”) Paul Giamatti (Sideways).

Adult Beginners: Blu-ray
Like so many other comedies featuring actors, writers and directors who’ve graduated from such sketch-comedy mills as National Lampoon, Second City, the Groundlings, “SNL” and Upright Citizens Brigade, Ross Katz’ intermittently funny,  yet heart-warming Adult Beginners appears to have been inspired by an existing character or improvisational conceit. It worked in such extended-skit movies as The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World, but fell flat in a dozen other “SNL” offshoots. The Nick Kroll we meet at the beginning of Adult Beginners isn’t at all dissimilar to the characters he’s invented previously in “The League,” “Kroll Show” and “Parks and Recreation.” Kroll’s Jake is an arrogant hipster entrepreneur accustomed to living large and partying like it was still 1999. When the bottom falls out of one of his investment schemes, he becomes persona non grata with everyone who put money into it. Jake has nowhere to turn, except the sister he hasn’t seen in three years. Justine (Rose Byrne), Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and their 3-year-old son, Teddy, live in the suburbs in a too-small home and with another baby in the oven. After a few months of lounging around on the couch and feeling sorry for himself, Jake is asked to act as a nanny for Teddy. He’s a handful, but no worse than most of the other kids left in the hands of male adults in such comedies. And, of course, Jake quickly learns the benefits of showing up at the local playground with child in tow and a tale of woe to tell the husband-less mommies. Writers Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive do a reasonably good job avoiding most time-worn clichés of the sub-genre, so Jake’s maturation process isn’t as predictable as it could have been. Credit, there, belongs to the seasoned supporting cast and such occasional drop-ins as Joel McHale, Paula Garcés, Caitlin FitzGerald, Mike Birbiglia, Jason Mantzoukas and Bobby Moynihan. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette.

Every Secret Thing
Sometimes, even the certified best novels fail to make the transition from page to screen. Of all the hundreds of mysteries published each year and dozens optioned for possible production, only a handful are fully adapted and made available for viewing. Best-selling author Laura Lippman has written dozens of novels and short stories. I don’t know how many have been optioned, but only one has been successfully translated into a feature film, Every Secret Thing. Besides making book-sellers and critics happy, the 2004 novel was accorded top honors in genre competition. Its success allowed Lippman to quit her day job at the Baltimore Sun. Alas, the difficulties inherent in attempting to stuff 400-plus pages of a novel into a 93-minute R-rated thriller are readily apparent in Every Secret Thing. Although the story’s skeleton holds up pretty well, a whole lot of good stuff gets lost along the way, including the original scene of the crimes, Baltimore. In Oscar-nominated documentarian Amy Berg’s first feature film, the action has been transferred to a more generic city in Upstate New York. Two creepy 11-year-old girls are convicted of kidnapping and murdering an infant they’d snatched from a stroller on a porch. Seven years later, skinny blond Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) and seriously overweight Alice (Danielle Macdonald) are released from their juvenile-detention facilities, far from rehabilitated and wholly unprepared for a world full of harmful temptations. Sure enough, not long after the girls, now 18, get back home, a child goes missing. Based on similarities in the kidnappings, Ronnie and Alice are quickly visited by dogged police detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks). As drawn by screenwriter Nicole Holofcenor, both of them are potentially guilty and wholly unworthy of our sympathy. As portrayed by Diane Lane, Alice’s crazy mother could be every bit as guilty of something, anything, as her daughter. The boyfriend of the newly kidnapped girl’s mother (Common) also is grilled by the cops, but, because we already know he’s only guilty of being a belligerent jerk, his presence mostly is a diversion. Even so, Every Secret Thing can be recommended for the quality of the acting and sustained aura of menace. Banks’ character, especially, would be a welcome addition to a series of her own.

Hot on the heels of Disney Channel’s vibrant time-travel musical, “Teen Beach 2,” comes “Descendants,” a clever merger of classic fairytale characters and the cable network’s fabulously successful “High School Musical” franchise, right down to director/choreographer Kenny Ortega. Here, the live-action offspring of several famous Disney villains, including Maleficent (Kristen Chenoweth), Evil Queen, Jafar and Cruella De Vil, are cleared to leave Isle of the Lost for the first time, to attend prep school in idyllic Auradon, with the children of beloved Disney heroes. Their parents include Belle, Beast, Snow White and Prince Charming. While the kids from Isle of the Lost have been instructed to corrupt the squeaky-clean preppies in Auradon, it’s likely that good ultimately will triumph over evil, as it always does in suburbs of the Magic Kingdom. After watching a few of these extravaganzas, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the production values invested by the studio into what’s basically a made-for-TV (and DVD) project and the stunning level of teen talent on display. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Disney has a robotics factory hidden somewhere in the swamps of Orlando, where fresh-faced actors are created to fit the needs of the Disney Channel. Before they leave the plant, the singing and dancing cyborgs are programed to smile, even under duress, and sublimate their natural sexual urges, lest they follow in the tarnished footsteps of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Vanessa Hudgens and Lindsay Lohan. The stars here include Dove Cameron, Booboo Stewart, Cameron Boyce and Sofia Carson. The DVD adds a backstage featurette, bloopers and “eMal.”

Brother’s Keeper
Any Day
Just when you think that faith-based filmmakers have begun to treat their audiences with the same level of respect as their mainstream peers, along comes a Brother’s Keeper to dissuade you of that notion. I’ve rarely encountered a movie that plays as fast and loose with internal logic and narrative integrity as co-directors T.J. Amato and Josh Mills and writer Briana Hartman’s debut feature. What seems to have been ignored by the filmmakers is that Christian audiences occasionally turn off Pat Robertson long enough to watch the many legal shows on networks programmed by unsaved TV executives. A casual perusal of “Perry Mason” reruns should have told them that our legal system, while imperfect, doesn’t work the way it does in Brother’s Keeper, even to accommodate the lesson in John 15:13 and Ephesians 4:32 . (That last bit constitutes a spoiler, if such things matter to you.) Identical blond twins Andy and Pete Goodwynn (Alex and Graham Miller) have been dealt a really crappy hand in life, losing their mother and father to violence at an early age. One walked the straight-and-narrow path in 1950s Georgia, while the other has yet to find one he cared to follow. With high school graduation near, Pete plans to marry the love of his life, Maggie (Mackenzie Mauzy), and head off to the seminary to become a preacher. Alex is the quintessential greaser, right down to his leather jacket and cigarettes. On prom night, the son of the town’s most prominent asshole, er, citizen (Ray Wise), rapes and murders Maggie in the bathroom of the high school. Only minutes later, Pete is seen running from the bathroom after Gordon (Daniel Samonas), who viewers know is responsible for the killing.

During the chase, the guilty teen trips and hits his head on a log. Knowing that Pete looks dirty as sin in the killing, Andy demands that he be allowed to take the rap until the truth is discovered by police and the court. Instead of going along with the ruse, Pete later feels compelled to confess to the thoroughly corrupt police chief (Michael Rooker) and city officials, including the part about who really belongs in jail. So, while Pete changes places with his brother, Gordon’s powerful father conspires with the judge and sheriff to make sure the jury only hears perjured testimony from unreliable witnesses. While Pete is being railroaded to the electric chair, apparently minus appeals to higher courts, Andy decides to find Jesus for himself in the seminary and Gordon stews in his own juices, afraid to defy his father by admitting his guilt. Anyone who’s managed to stay with Brother’s Keeper this long wouldn’t have to be a bible scholar – or  the world’s worst lawyer – to guess what happens in the next hour, or so. Having already suspended my disbelief to its maximum level, I was surprised to find myself as moved by the overall experience as I was. I do know it had more to do with the ability of the Miller twins to make the plight of the Goodwyn twins credible than any sudden concession to logic. Maybe I just needed to be reminded that it takes more than a bad script to ruin good Scripture.

The similarly faith-based Any Day borrows from the familiar story of an ex-boxer struggling for redemption after being imprisoned for killing a man with his fists. Although a manslaughter plea probably could have saved Vian McLean (Sean Bean) several of the 12 years he spent in jail, he probably needed the time to dry out from a severe alcohol problem. Upon his return to civilization, Vian is reluctantly given shelter by his sister, Bethley (Kate Walsh), who demands he remain sober while he’s under her roof. His case is helped by the immediate bond he establishes with his nephew, Jimmy, who’s not only missing a father figure in his life, but also is tired of getting bullied at school. The only place in town that Vian can find work is in a restaurant run by a guy (Tom Arnold) who’s faced many of the same hurdles, before turning to AA. After a few weeks of good behavior, Tommy helps Vian strike up a conversation with a pretty woman, Jolene (Eva Longoria), he meets in a supermarket. After much coaxing, they begin dating. The problem, of course, is that Vian exaggerates the minimum-wage position he holds at the restaurant, while leaving out his place of residence for the last dozen years. This is only one of the roadblocks he will face before something resembling a true miracle occurs. That it is revealed in a scenario that might have been borrowed from a dime-store religious calendar is one of things for which critics blasted Any Day upon its limited release. Working in its favor are the fine performances writer/director Rustam Branaman elicits from his cast, especially Walsh, who’s already proven that she’s as comfortable playing working stiffs as more glamorous types.

The Salvation: Blu-ray
It probably wouldn’t be fair to describe Kristian Levring and Anders Thomas Jensen’s The Salvation as a modern spaghetti Western, made in South Africa by Danes, but, really, therein lies its considerable charm. The presence of Mads Mikkelsen (“Hannibal”) and Eva Green (“Penny Dreadful”), alone, would be enough to recommend a movie, let alone one that should also remind viewers of any number of Clint Eastwood’s Westerns. As a conscious throwback to the dawn of the “existential Western,” Levring has added more than 60 genre references – ranging from the obvious to the obscure — to The Salvation. Going back and finding them is almost as diverting as it was attempting to figure out where the movie had been shot, during the first time through it. If not Andalusia or Monument Valley, where? Mikkelson plays Jon Jensen, a former soldier, who, after fighting in the German-Danish conflict, travelled to America with his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), to find peace and prosperity. Typically, Scandinavian immigrants in movies never make it past Minnesota, but, here, Jon and Peter scratch out a meager living by hunting and farming. As the movie opens, Jon has come to town to pick up his wife and young son, who he hasn’t seen for several years. Not unexpectedly, tragedy strikes on the stagecoach ride back home. The rest of The Salvation plays out as two-pronged search for revenge. After Jon tracks down the men who killed his family, the brother of one of the killers holds the residents of a small town hostage until they turn the Dane over to him.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a nice job as Henry Delarue, the truly evil leader of a band of outlaws hired to scare off the settlers. Not anticipating that anyone would miss the men he killed, Jon rides into town with his brother on their way to a new start, further west. Even after listening to Jon’s story, the residents don’t hesitate turning him over to the man who’s been terrorizing them. There’s no reason to spoil the rest of the story, so let’s leave it at that. Even if little new ground is broken in The Salvation, Levring, a veteran of the Dogme95 movement, is able to draw on his lifelong love of the genre to make it look like the real deal and keep the action fast-paced. His frequent collaborator, cinematographer Jens Schlosser, also has an excellent handle on what the American west is supposed to look like, no matter where it isn’t. So, where does Green fit in all of this? After being kidnapped by Indians and having her tongue cut out – a grotesque Western cliche, if there ever was one – she marries the sleazebag killed by Jon in the first reel. With his brother dead, Delarue considers his sister-in-law to be fair game as a lover, partner in the land scheme and punching bag. The Blu-ray adds copious interviews and a making-of featurette.

Inner Demons
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead: Blu-ray
The Last Survivors: Blu-ray
In a rare example of shoo-what-you-know, the director of Inner Demons borrows here from his experience in the reality-television game to make a thriller that exploits well-worn genre tropes and conventions. Seth Grossman uses what he learned producing three episodes of “Intervention” and a few more of “Hollywood Hillbillies,” “On the Rocks” and “Kiss & Tell,” to make a thriller about the demonic possession of a teenager featured in a rehab show.  When the daughter of religious parents transforms from straight-A student into heroin addict almost overnight, they agree to allow a reality TV show crew to stage an intervention and document her recovery. Newcomer Lara Vosburgh delivers a credible performance who self-medicates her inner pain with hard drugs and, at the same time, affects the look and behavior of an aggressively unpleasant Goth girl. Apparently, the demon that’s invaded Carson’s body isn’t at all pleased about being revealed as the kind of monster who picks on little girls, simply because they study the bible, so it takes every opportunity to ruin the show and her family. Things get pretty crazy, but most of the scary stuff gets diluted along the way by our overexposure to found-footage flicks and “reality” shows that require a couple dozen writers to invent the truthful encounters, as is the case with “Intervention.” If nothing else, though, Inner Demons demonstrates how little progress has been made in the exorcism business in the 43 years since a mere mortal was able to free little Regan from her demons in The Exorcist with little more than a crucifix and holy water. Still, fans of the demonic-possession subgenre should find something here to enjoy.

It shouldn’t have taken two directors four years to make what essentially is “Mad Max vs. the Zombies.” The long-awaited fourth chapter in that franchise cost 10 times as much money to make as the first three chapters, combined, and, while fun to watch, “Fury Road” barely carried its weight at the international box office. Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is a throwback to the glory days of Ozploitation in all of the best ways possible, including a miniscule budget pushed to the limit to produce maximum results. If, at times, it sometimes resembles a parody or homage to the current zombie-apocalypse craze, all the better. Barry (Jay Gallagher) is a talented mechanic and family man whose life is torn apart after his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), is kidnapped by a team of gas-mask wearing soldiers. She’s taken to a warehouse and experimented on by a psychotic, disco-dancing doctor. Also imprisoned are zombies captured to determine if their high-octane emissions can be refined, like gasoline, to service a fuel-starved nation. The costumes and vehicles look as if cut from the same templates as the ones used for “Beyond Thunderdome.” Fans of ultraviolence and gory makeup effects won’t be disappointed. The Blu-ray adds a lengthy making-of featurette, which explains how a genre flick can take four years to make … and not look like crap.

It’s possible that Thomas S. Hammock and Jacob Forman’s intention in making The Last Survivors (a.k.a., “The Well”) was to exploit the current drought impacting the Southwest for the purpose of creating a dystopian thriller. The setting is near-future Oregon, which usually is swimming in water, but, in 10 years, conceivably could resemble Mojave Desert. Indeed, that’s where The Last Survivors was shot by Seamus Tierney (The Narrows), who deserves kudos for capturing both the harsh reality of a rain-starved terrain and the stark beauty of the California desert. The conceit here is that 17-year-old Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) is waiting out the apocalypse in the ruins of the same juvenile facility she was raised. It is the site of one of the few wells containing a smidgen of potable water and it’s supporting a small community of survivors. When a greedy water baron lays claim to what little of the precious resource remains underground, Kendal must decide whether to run and hide or resist the corporate takeover. The Last Survivors can be recommended for its unique look, if not the improbable teenager-saves-the-world angle.

Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s coming-of-sexual-age drama is so subtle that’s difficult to tell what we’re supposed to make of it. Knowing that Seashore is based on memories shared by  the filmmakers when they were in their teens helps viewers understand why emotional fireworks are less essential to the story than quiet reflections on a time when everyone’s confused about everything. Martin and Tomaz (Mateus Almada, Maurício Barcellos) rekindle their childhood friendship on a weekend trip to the seaside town in southern Brazil where they were raised. Martin is expected to sort out a family inheritance matter, but the filmmakers’ are more focused on how sexuality inserts itself into the lives of teenagers, when left to their own devices and confronted with having to choose between same- and opposite-sex romances. In lieu of action sequences and raw sexual encounters, Seashore is carried on the backs of young actors whose lack of professional experience is more of an asset than a detriment to the proceedings. The temperamental skies of winter on the shore also contribute to the movie’s tone.

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal: Blu-ray
Black & White: The Dawn of Assault: Blu-ray
It’s difficult to determine how much a movie that required an estimated $30 million to make in China would cost if it had been produced by a Hollywood studio. My guess: a lot. Co-directed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Tianyu Zhao (The Law of Attraction), the CGI-enhanced romantic fantasy adventure Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal may, indeed, be a harbinger of expensive things to come from mainland studios. Shown in 3D and released in time for Chinese New Year, the movie reportedly pulled in more than $53 million in the first two weeks of its domestic release, a number that reflects a growing acceptance of home-made entertainments for mixed-age audiences. The goal, I imagine, is to eventually churn out the kind of non-political pictures that can compete in the international marketplace, if only in the potentially lucrative Asian diaspora. As the legend goes, once every millennium – on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month — it becomes possible for beings from Heaven, Earth and Hell to cross between the realms. Without going into too great detail, an emissary from the Jade Emperor sends his disciple, Zhong Kui (Chen Kun), a former scholar turned demon hunter, on a mission to hell. He is able to steal the Dark Crystal, a powerful force that acts as a safeguard for the integrity of the realms. Enraged, the Demon King sends Snow Girl (Li Bingbing) to Earth to get it back. She arrives with a group of other demons, masquerading as a female entertainment troupe visiting the city of Hu. It doesn’t take long for Zhong Kui to recognize Snow Girl as the mysterious woman with whom he had an intense love story three years earlier. It sets off a battle royal for control of the realms, as well as hope for renewed, if unnatural love between a demon and demon hunter. Although the filmmakers sometimes fail to maintain the equilibrium between action and romance, fantasy and reality, the problem isn’t one that prevents viewers from enjoying the spectacle. The excellent Blu-ray presentation adds a making-of featurette, along with pieces on musical soundtrack and visual effects.

The impact of American blockbusters on the Chinese/Taiwanese cinema is obvious, as well, in Black & White: The Dawn of Assault, an urban buddy film so packed with action that it’s hardly worth the effort it would take to find a coherent story within its 142-minute length. If Bruce Willis popped up somewhere in the middle of a car chase or helicopter gag, it would have come as almost no surprise to me. Released in 2012, “Black & White” actually serves as a feature-length prequel to a Taiwanese television series of the same title and sub-genre. It only lasted a single 24-episode season, but has inspired not only this prequel, but a sequel, to boot. Western audiences can jump into it without fear of having to do any homework on the series. In it, daredevil cop Ying Xiong (Mark Chao) is on the outs with his superiors for participating in yet another dangerous high-speed chase through Harbor City that ends in explosive fashion. So frequent are these occurrences that Xiong is suspended and ordered to undergo psychological evaluations. When he’s implicated in an unsuccessful diamond deal with a terrorist cell, Xiong is required to team with ready-to-retire gangster, Xu, played by popular mainland character actor Huang Bo. They find an ally in the mysterious hacker, Ning Feng (Angelababy) and are chased by a government agent (Alex To). Co-writer/director Tsai Yueh-Hsun also adds an appealing group of oddball characters to supplement the many lavish set pieces.

Flamenco, Flamenco
I Dream of Wires
Before the demise of variety shows on network television, it wasn’t unusual to turn on “Ed Sullivan,”  “The Tonight Show” or any number of entertainment specials and find a tango or flamenco artist, such as Jose Greco or Juan Carlos Copes on the night’s bill. In 1969, Greco opened for Frank Sinatra at Caesars Palace, while Copes was featured in a Broadway dance revue in the early 1960s. In his 1980s’ “Flamenco Trilogy” (Blood Wedding, Carmen, El Amor Brujo), Carlos Saura provided audiences here with examples of a dance form not limited to clicking heels and clapped hands. Shortly thereafter, the Gipsy Kings introduced the rumba/salsa/flamenco hybrid, popular in Catalonia, to American audiences who enjoyed the offshoot’s pop flavor. Tango got a boost in 1985 when the French dance show “Tango Argentino” transferred to Broadway, revealing its many artistic facets and musical influences. Such films as Sally Potter’s The Tango Lesson (1997), Saura’s Tango (1998) and Robert Duvall’s Assassination Tango (2002) kept the flame burning here by adding dramatic narratives to what already was a sexually charged and borderline violent atmosphere. The travel industry has since made it easy for aficionados to chase their passion for tango and flamenco to Argentina and Spain, without going broke. Beginners need look any further than Saura’s beautifully mounted odes to the countries’ native dance, art and music, Tango and Flamenco, Flamenco. Unabashedly sensual, flamenco has never looked as compelling as it does in Saura’s cross-generational exploration of the dance form’s evolution, influences, tradition and future. Exquisitely photographed by three-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now), the 21 short musical and dance numbers were shot at the Seville Expo ’92 pavilion against a lush background of paintings by such artists as Picasso, Goya and Klimt. The performers range in age from pre-teen to 79-year-old singing legend, Maria Bala. Saura and Storaro even find new ways to make dueling pianos exciting. The sparkling DVD adds a worthwhile background featurette.

I think it’s safe to assume that, at 107 minutes, I Dream of Wires, will be at least 47 minutes too long, even for fans of electronic dance music and other synthesized sounds. Narrated as if it were an AT&T infomercial, Robert Fantinatto’s exhaustively researched documentary chronicles the rise, fall and return to popularity of a musical genre that requires copious amounts of Ecstasy to enjoy. That isn’t to say, however, that techies won’t get hard listening to the engineers rhapsodize over the relative merits analog and digital equipment and resurgence of high-end modular synthesizers favor by a new generation of plugged-in musicians. Fantinatto’s gathered an impressive list of witnesses on the subject, including Trent Reznor, Gary Numan, Flood, Carl Craig, Morton Subotnick, John Foxx, Vincent Clarke, James Holden and Factory Floor. Prohibitive licensing fees probably prevented the filmmaker from adding more melodious examples of genre fare, which is a shame.

She Loves Me Not
In Brian Jun and Jack Sanderson’s underwhelming three-chapter drama, She Loves Me Not, Cary Elwes plays an novelist whose acute alcoholism is complicated by a severe case of narcissism. Through most of the movie, it’s a near-lethal combination for the writer and viewers, alike. We meet Elwes’ Brady Olinson as he’s bouncing along the rock bottom of his career. He’s living with one of his students (Briana Evigan), an aspiring novelist who puts up with Olinson’s self-destructive behavior because he allows her to sleep around, a bit, and it might pay off in the form of blurb on the jacket of her first novel. The sting that comes with knowing Olinson’s been in no hurry to read the manuscript is mollified by sharing his mansion, which overlooks the Mississippi River. Because Brady tends to pass out before climbing the stairs to bed, their sex life isn’t anything to write a novel about. More frustrated than cruel, Charlotte finally decides to push Olinson toward some kind of recovery by inviting her current lover home and doing the deed upstairs, while he’s stewing in his own juices. In the second chapter, Charlotte is long gone, but not at all forgotten. If Brady’s still a bad drunk, at least he can fall back on the profits from his new book, which his publisher is sure will be a best-seller. To that end, he’s been assigned a publicist (Caitlin Keats) who’s also expected to keep him sober long enough to make it through each day’s cycle of interviews. In the final vignette, Olinson’s been clean for several years, but is no less obnoxious to the women in his life. Here, they’re represented by his real estate agent (Joey Lauren Adams) and a potential buyer (Lisa Edelman), with whom he’s more interested in seducing than forging a deal. She Loves Me Not’s two biggest problems are that it’s defeated by its own conceit and we’re aren’t given an opportunity to know the writer before we’re expected to dislike him. The late, great and eternally spooky Karen Black shows up in the center segment completely without warning or any reason to be there, except to work her Karen Black magic. By trimming some fat and adding some narrative muscle, the filmmakers could have done away with the forced chapter format and strung together a more coherent story.

PBS: Frontline: Outbreak
Hallmark: When Calls the Heart: Heart of the Family
BET: Chocolate City
Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show: The Third Season
BBC: Last Tango in Halifax Season 3
Dora the Explorer: Dora’s Double Length Adventures
In a tidy coincidence, the release of the “Frontline” report “Outbreak” on DVD coincides with news out of Africa that a potentially “game-changing” vaccine has been successfully tested in Guinea and its use could soon be expanded to Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Although the number of newly reported cases has decreased to nearly zero in these countries, medical teams on the ground know that “nearly zero” isn’t good enough, when dealing with a disease than can spread like wildfire if unchecked. Not only does “Outbreak” trace the spread of Ebola from its origin in a bat-infested tree, but it also exposes tragic missteps in the response to the epidemic. Because the sick and dying weren’t as visible from Day One as the victims of a giant tsunami or earthquake, local and national officials had virtually no idea how to handle one case, let alone hundreds at a time, and the World Health Organization dragged its feet in declaring an international health emergency. It allowed time for uninformed residents to fall back on witchcraft and mob rule. President Obama’s decision to send American troops to help contain the mobility of victims and establish clinics proved to be a turning point in the crusade, but, by then, thousands of people had died and no vaccine was in sight. It’s a scary report, but one that needs to be heeded at a time when news of potential epidemics has begun to arrive at regular intervals.

I don’t know about you, but every time a uniformed member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police appears in a movie or television show, my mind flashes back to Dudley Do-Right on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” The ever-upright nimrod is in constant pursuit of his nemesis, Snidely Whiplash, and hyper-alert to the perils of his personal damsel in distress, Nell Fenwick. Not that I’m the target viewer for Hallmark’s Dove-approved series, “When Calls the Heart,” I still can’t help but be taken aback whenever Daniel Lissing arrives in Hope Valley, as Jack Thornton, in his blazing red jacket. That’s just me, however. In “Heart of the Family,” Elizabeth (Erin Krakow) returns home and immediately volunteers to look after a neighbor’s rural homestead and his two children. After Jack agrees to lend a hand, they wind up chatting by the fire, which is as close to sex as anything that transpires on Hallmark. Meanwhile, in Hamilton, Bill Avery (Jack Wagner) sets about busting a counterfeiting ring wide, an endeavor that surprisingly leads him to Hope Valley. Elizabeth is even more surprised to see her former suitor, Charles Kensington.

If there’s a harder working multi-hyphenate in the urban-entertainment scene than Jean-Claude La Marre, I haven’t found one. He makes Tyler Perry look lazy. He didn’t have to look very far to find the inspiration for Chocolate City, which has been airing on BET lately. Allusions to Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike are made loud and clear throughout the movie, which is also about the trials, tribulations and reward that derive from well-endowed males sticking their junk in the faces of women with dollar bills in their hands. La Marre needn’t have been so persistent. Anyone who subscribed to HBO in the late-1990s could watch black male strippers strut their stuff before a crowd of rabid women, in its “Real Sex” documentary series. It was a wild scene, natural for exploitation as a feature film. Besides a bigger budget and more familiar stars, the difference between Magic Mike and Chocolate City is the amount of time spent in church. Afro-centric genre films almost always make room for faith-based storylines and, here, a cash-strapped college student (Robert Ri’chard) is forced to choose between hurting the feelings of his religious mother (Vivica A. Fox) and girlfriend (Imani Hakim) or making the money needed to dig his mom out of hock and getting married. His dilemma is compounded when other dancers at the club get jealous of his money-making prowess. The dancing is good, anyway, and, for what it’s worth, Carmen Electra plays the club’s DJ.

I’m already on record as saying that “Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show,” which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1959, remains one of the four or five funniest and most influential comedies in the history of television. It captured three straight Emmy Awards as Best Comedy series, with Silvers winning one Best Actor trophy out of four nominations. The setting for Bilko’s schemes has yet to shift from Fort Baxter to Camp Fremont in California, but, otherwise, things remain largely the same. Guest stars in Season Three include Dick Van Dyke, Margaret Hamilton, Kay Kendall, George Kennedy, Gretchen Wyler, Barbara Barrie, Phil Rizzuto, Gil McDougald, Yogi Berra, Red Barber and Whitey Ford.

Proof that elderly Americans have yet to give up on broadcast television can be found television can be found in the surprising success of the BBC export, “Last Tango in Halifax,” which airs here on PBS affiliates. Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid play widowed septuagenarians, Alan and Celia, childhood sweethearts who have been apart for 60 years. After being reunited via Facebook by their grandchildren, they meet, fall in love and plan to marry. Reid and Jacobi enjoyed having the chance to play out a love story between older people. As delightful as their relationship is, there’s plenty of room left over for drama within the extended family. Loyal followers of BBC dramas and prime-time soaps also will recognize such recurring stars as Sarah Lancashire, Nicola Walker, Nina Sosanya, Tony Gardner, Ronni Ancona, Dean Andrews, Sacha Dhawan and Josh Bolt. A fourth season is in the works.

New from Nickelodeon, “Dora the Explorer: Dora’s Double Length Adventures” features three double-length episodes, focusing on Dora and Boots as they encounter pirates, fairytale characters and a dancing elf. The three-disc set includes more than four hours of adventures and special features. In “Dora & Friends: Doggie Day,” Dora and her friends have committed themselves to helping their puppy friend Cusco reunite with his brothers before Doggie Adoption Day. The DVD adds three bonus episodes, representing Dora’s journeys to Magic Land, Opera Land and Fairytale Puppet World.

Sweet Trash/The Hang Up
My Sinful Life/Las Vegas Girls
Avon Triple Feature: Savage Sadists/Den of Dominance/Daughters of Discipline
As we occasionally make the trek down Mammary Lane – last week we focused on a DVD release of stag films and a series of Japanese “pink” flicks from the 1960s –invariably arriving at the point where the full impact of Deep Throat’s release becomes even more apparent than it already is. I don’t know where Vinegar Syndrome dug up the latest additions to its Drive-In Collection — Sweet Trash and The Hang Up, both from 1970 – but they appear to provide a missing link between early Russ Meyer and narrative soft-core porn. Their director, John Hayes, was a writer, director, editor, producer and occasional actor, whose 1958 short, “The Kiss,” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. He would soon become a prolific purveyor of exploitation fare, occasionally starring his then girlfriend, Rue McClanahan, before she was discovered by sitcom pioneer Norman Lear, in the 1970s. Sweet Trash and The Hang Up featured full-frontal female nudity and simulated sex to attract grindhouse audiences and plots that may have been rejected by the Mickey Spillane School of Fiction. In Sweet Trash, an alcoholic longshoreman, deep in debt to the mob, is forced into an increasingly debauched nightmare as he tries to avoid the thugs out to get him. The Hang Up opens with a bust at an L.A. drag bar, complete with brawny cops in drag. The actors might very well have been recruited from a local burlesque house.

My Sinful Life and Las Vegas Girls are noteworthy, if at all, as twin 1983 releases by porn auteur Carlos Tobalina, although they look as if they were shot in the same warehouse as the previous two VS releases from 1970. In the former, Danielle plays a young woman who learns the sensual arts from her adopted parents and takes the knowledge to college, where she finds work in a brothel. Las Vegas Girls follows private eyes Karen Hall and Dan Boulder, as they search for a runaway teen from Texas who left her oil baron father and gold digger mother to turn tricks. William Margold hosts a swingers party in a casino penthouse that might as well be in Boise. Vinegar Syndrome has given both sets 2k restorations, sourced from original 35mm camera negatives.

Another porn auteur, Phil Prince (a.k.a. Phil Prinz), labored primarily for New York underground studio, Avon Productions. Newly restored by VS from rare 16mm vault materials and collected on DVD for the first time are Savage Sadists, Den of Dominance and Daughters of Discipline. They’re strictly for collectors of hard-to-find films of the whips/chains/leather persuasion.

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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