MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Sicario, Sleeping With Other People, Maneater, Cruel, Broad City and more

Sicario: Blu-ray
In 2010, Gianfranco Rosi’s frightening interview with a real-life cartel assassin, El Sicario, Room 164, was awarded the top-documentary prize at the Venice Film Festival. Based on a Harper’s magazine article by Charles Bowden, El Sicario gave a hooded killer the opportunity to elaborate on how he came to work both sides of the law in Juarez, one of the most dangerous places on Earth to live.  Having recently experienced a religious catharsis, his confession effectively put a $250,000 price tag on his head. That the interview actually took place in one of the squalid motel rooms in which kidnap victims were interrogated and tortured only made the documentary that much more chilling. Anyone who’s watched El Sicario, Room 164 naturally would be suspicious of Denis Villeneuve’s ability to equal those spine-tingling recantations in the largely unrelated Sicario. An assassin’s handiwork can be observed in the opening scene, during which a FBI assault team led by Emily Blunt discovers the decaying bodies entombed behind a wall of a Tucson safehouse. Beyond that, however, Villeneuve (Incendies) and writer Taylor Sheridan are more interested in the wealthy Mexicans who pull the sicario’s strings.

Stripped to its narrative framework, Sicario is a powerfully rendered procedural that, while chronicling a strike against a cartel kingpin, forces viewers to endorse or decry the extralegal tactics used in the elimination of so-called narco-terrorists. In the same way that Osama Bin Laden was denied the luxury of a trial by a Navy SEAL hit squad, the target of the CIA-led commando unit in Sicario isn’t likely to require the services of a lawyer, either. Do we care? No more than we sweated the details of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Villeneuve reserves those questions for Blunt’s ethically grounded FBI agent, Kate Macer. After leading the charge on the safehouse, Kate is assigned to a special inter-agency task force, based in El Paso. She’s never completely sure as to the role she’s supposed to play in the unit, but, by all appearances, it’s a real cowboy operation. Josh Brolin is the spook in charge, but, constantly at his side is a mysterious Colombian (Benicio Del Toro), who’s earned a reputation among drug traffickers as “Medellin.” When the CIA-led team crosses the border into Mexico to collect a prisoner from a Juarez jail, Kate is left to wonder how she’ll be able to square her participation with her superiors in Washington. Standing alongside the visibly larger and far more heavily armed commandoes, Kate senses that it has nothing to do with her tactical skills. After a shootout at the border, the prisoner is strongly encouraged by the Colombian to reveal everything he knows about the cartel’s methodology. As in any investigation of organized criminals, one clue leaked by an informer could leads to another, finally revealing the entire hill of beans.  Cutting corners through torture sometimes speeds the process.

Villeneuve has found the perfect vessel in Blunt, whose expressive eyes can’t disguise her distain either for the cartel or her unit’s tactics. He stacks the deck even further by putting her directly in harm’s way throughout Sicario, causing to wonder if Medellin is an agent of justice or a mercenary hired to settle an old score. The deceptively barren landscapes of northern Mexico and the American Southwest – as captured by perennial Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins – make the answers to her existential musings even more elusive. Neither does Villeneuve ignore the economic forces that drive poor Mexicans to risk their lives for the cartels, who profit from the insatiable appetite for illegal drugs by Americans undeterred by the body count along the shared border. Del Toro delivers an awards-quality performance as the presumptive sicario. Brolin, too, is excellent as the supercool American agent, who seemingly enjoys his job too much to listen to his conscience. The terrific Blu-ray presentation adds the featurettes, “Stepping Into Darkness: The Visual Design of Sicario,” which focuses on tone as much as actual cinematography; “Blunt, Brolin and Benicio: Portraying the Characters of Sicario,” features interviews with various cast and crew members; “A Pulse From the Desert: The Score of Sicario” profiles Jóhann Jóhannsson; and “Battle Zone: The Origins of Sicario,” with graphic evidence of cross-border horrors.

Sleeping With Other People
Somewhere between last year’s Sundance and a tentative limited release in September, Leslye Headland’s racy romcom, Sleeping With Other People, lost all of the wind that filled its sails going into the festival circuit. Its early reviews were largely positive, so the critics can’t be blamed for killing the buzz. That’s not unusual, though, as festival favorites cater to different audiences than the one necessary for commercial success. Sensing the change in momentum, distributors increasingly will redirect their resources toward the VOD, PPV and DVD marketplace. With its snappy dialogue and attractive young characters, Sleeping With Other People, reminded me of Ed Zwick’s Brat Pack adaptation of David Mamet’s 1974 play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” In an effort to capture the markedly different sexual zeitgeist of the me-decade, the producers of About Last Night decided to largely abandon Mamet’s rhythmic dialogue and episodic structure, in favor of narrative concessions more likely to appeal to mainstream yuppie audiences. It did well, considering its “R” rating, but fans of Mamet’s early theatrical works weren’t impressed. What About Last Night was able to capture, though, were characters, who, having tired with the dating grind, were willing to consider, at least, pairing up and settling down. The Reagan-era economic boom afforded them soft places to land if these relationships failed.

For a while, anyway, Sleeping With Other People offers similarly attractive characters and much bright and funny dialogue. Sadly, though, just as the narrative begins to get rolling behind the kooky sexual entanglements of the star-crossed Jake and Lainey (Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie), Headland turns down the heat. Instead of fueling the momentum behind their almost bromantic relationship, the story inexplicably takes a detour into the realm of sitcom clichés. The movie opens promisingly in 2002, when students Jake and Lainey get over their unearned sexual braggadocio long enough to take each other’s virginity on the roof of his dorm at Columbia. Love doesn’t have much to do with their encounter, so we aren’t surprised to learn that they haven’t seen each other in a dozen years. In an extreme example of unlikely coincidence, they bump into each other at a 12-step program for sex addicts. Instead of becoming lovers, again, though, Jake and Lainey become confidantes. Obviously, given the undeniable appeal of Sudeikis and Brie, such a limiting situation can’t be allowed to last very long. Naturally coquettish, Brie is especially fun to watch. Like Demi Moore in About Last Night, she easy conveys the heartbreak that comes with putting too much trust in a cad.

The Complete Lady Snowblood: The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Memories of the Sword: Blu-ray
The House Where Evil Dwells/Ghost Warrior: Blu-ray
The most convenient reason for American fans of Japanese manga to seek out Criterion’s two-film collection, “The Complete Lady Snowblood,” is for its resemblance to Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” Lucy Liu’s half-breed assassin, O-Ren Ishii, is believed to have been inspired by Meiko Kaji’s interpretation of the brilliant swordswoman, Lady Snowblood, in Toshiya Fujita’s 1973 revenge thriller, Lady Snowblood, and its almost immediate sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance. Tarantino’s never felt it necessary to limit his inspirations to one or two sources, so O-Ren Ishii isn’t an exact match to Fujita’s Yuki Kashima. Still, the resemblance not only is uncanny, but also a very good excuse to invest in a rental or download. Kaji was a familiar presence in such Japanese genre pictures of the late-1960-70s as Stray Cat Rock, Female Convict Scorpion and Wandering Ginza Butterfly. She sings the theme songs to Lady Snowblood (“Shura no Hana”) and the Female Convict Scorpion series (“Urami Bushi”), both of which were used in Kill Bill. In the “Lady Snowblood” twin-bill, she plays the deceptively flower destined to avenge the deaths of her mother’s husband and son at the hands of four brutal bandits. After being sentenced to a life penalty for killing the bandit who raped and enslaved her, Yuki’s mother seduces a guard for the sole purpose of conceiving a child capable of exacting her vengeance on the three remaining bandits. The woman dies shortly after giving birth, but not before handing Yuki over to a stern priest anxious to begin her training in the martial arts. At 20, she’s fully prepared to carry out the responsibility inherited from the mother she never knew.

From this point on, Lady Snowblood offers almost non-stop action in the form of over-the-top swordplay and criminal chicanery. On the way to completing her mission, a reporter coins the nom de guerre Lady Snowblood – a play on the Japanese words for Snow White – ensuring mythic stature in the popular press. Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance picks up the story just as Yuki is about to be executed for her killing spree a year earlier. Instead, as she is sent to the gallows Yuki is rescued by Kikui Seishiro, head of the secret police, who offers her a deal to assassinate some revolutionaries and retrieve a crucial document. The plan backfires when Yuki begins to sympathize with her anarchist target, becoming a threat to the secret police and Imperialist government. The supplemental features include original trailers for the two films; new interviews with writer Kazuo Koike and screenwriter Norio Osada; and an illustrated leaflet with Howard Hampton’s essay “Flowers of Carnage.”

From Korea comes Memories of the Sword, another epic story of revenge in which a young swordswoman fulfills the destiny handed down to her by her parents. Set in the Goryeo era (sometime between the 10th and 14th centuries), Park Heung-Sik’s drama chronicles teenager Hong-yi’s (Kim Go-eun) quest to kill legendary fighters Sul-rang (Jeon Do-yeon) and Duk-gi (Lee Byung-hun), the two anti-imperial dissidents who murdered her father. It’s worth mentioning that Hong-yi’s hard-as-steel mother is blind. The handicap doesn’t prevent her from being a formidable warrior and an expert reader of the aroma of tea leaves. The story, which may actually be too complex for western audiences forced to rely on subtitles, benefits from some spectacular scenery, wild martial-arts action, dynamic swordplay and the fun that comes with watching another precious flower evolve into a stone killer.

The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior put an American spin on a pair of Japanese genre standbys. Considering that both pictures probably were destined for drive-in purgatory here, I was surprised by how entertaining they remain three decades after their original release. When I say “entertaining,” however, I don’t want to imply that either film bears comparison to most newly imported Asian fare, just that they retain a certain campy charm. The House Where Evil Dwells (1982) offers early evidence that American filmmakers were aware of the appeal of Japanese ghost and haunted-house stories. In it, an American family newly transferred to Japan falls in love with a traditional home in which a terrible tragedy occurred a century earlier. The three participants in the ill-fated love triangle still inhabit the houses, but as ghostly specters intent on messing with any new tenant’s mind. Viewers of a certain age will appreciate the casting of Edward Albert (Galaxy of Terror), Susan George (Straw Dogs) and Doug McClure (Humanoids From the Deep), as well as the typically unsubtle direction of Kevin Connor (Motel Hell). For once, the doubly exposed ghosts look reasonably credible.

From 1984, Ghost Warrior (a.k.a., “Swordkill”) describes what happens when the intact body of a 400-year-old samurai warrior is found by skiers entombed in an ice cave. After being smuggled into the U.S., Yoshimitsu (Hiroshi Fujioka) is miraculously revived through cryosurgery. If it weren’t for a hapless attempt to steal his 400-year-old sword, Yoshi might not have been able to escape the evil scientists’ lab and Ghost Warrior would have been far shorter than its current 81 minutes. Instead, Yoshi’s allowed to wander through L.A., in search of sushi bars, antique stores selling ancient armor and homeless people to rescue from street gangs. Ghost Warrior benefits from our memory of the discovery, seven years later, of the mummified body of Ötzi the Iceman, high in the snowfields that separate Austria and Italy. Instead of cryosurgery, though, Ötzi’s DNA could potentially be used in any re-animation experiment. The Charles Band production stars Janet Julian (King of New York).

Deathgasm: Blu-ray
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse: Blu-ray
if there were any two artistic pursuits that are made for each other, they’re heavy-metal music and zombie movies. Deathgasm, digital-effects specialist Jason Lei Howden’s first feature, combines both disciplines in a horror movie that’s so far over the top that it might not be considered appropriate viewing for anyone older than 18 or with an IQ score higher than, say, 80. It tells the story of the head-banging new kid in a high school dominated by jocks and cheerleaders. Just as water will always find its level, Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) has little trouble hooking up with the handful of like-minded dudes in school, as well as a Barbie look-alike who sees in the newbie an excuse to have her breasts and thighs tattooed. Naturally, these misfits form a band, while Medina (Kimberley Crossman) causes a rift between Brodie and her square boyfriend. Long story short, Brodie and his pal, Zakk (James Blake) stumble upon a mysterious piece of sheet music said to grant ultimate power to whoever plays it. The downside, however, is revealed when the music summons an ancient evil entity known as Aeloth, the Blind One, who threatens to destroy humanity as we know it. Once this force is unleashed, the only way to put the genie back in the bottle is to play the song backwards. Meanwhile, the gratuitous violence and zombie-inspired carnage perpetrated on the Auckland populace is, as they say, epic. The gore is so phony, it’s laughable. But, that’s sort of the point. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Howden, featurettes and the music video “Bulletbelt Deathgasm.”

Christopher Landon’s Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse should appeal to the same demographic as Deathgasm, if not fans of more sophisticated undead fare as Sean of the Dead and What We Do in the Shadows. In it, three young friends and fellow scouts — lower-case “s,” so as not to be confused with Boy Scouts of America — are enjoying a wilderness camping adventure when a zombie epidemic breaks out back home. When two of the boys’ boredom gets the better of them, they wind up in a gentleman’s club devoid of patrons, but rife with zombies. The one stripper who was powdering her nose when the zombie apocalypse erupted joins the scouts on their new mission to save the town. Of course, she does.

The Barefoot Artist
Watching Glenn Holsten and Daniel Traub’s bittersweet documentary profile of artist-without-borders Lily Yeh, I couldn’t help but recall Mother Teresa’s selfless devotion to India’s poorest and most desperately ill citizens. I doubt that the Chinese-born artist, educator and humanitarian is destined for sainthood, as was Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, but a statue or Kennedy Center Honor shouldn’t be out of the question. If the Eagles have earned one, why not an artist who brings joy and hope to the victims of war and poverty, without charging hundreds of dollars for her services? The Barefoot Artist takes its title from the organization Yeh founded to further her personal mission of using art to replicate the “village model” in devastated communities around the world. It began in 1986, when the professor of painting and art history at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts was asked by dancer Arthur Hall to create a park, mural and sculpture garden in the abandoned lot next to his studio in North Philly. The park, created, as well, from the hard work of neighborhood residents, was the beginning of the Village of Arts and Humanities project. After transforming more than 120 other lots into gardens and parks, it also began renovating vacant homes, creating art workshops, a youth theater and educational programs. In 2004, Yeh left the Village of Arts and Humanities to pursue other work internationally. It took her to Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Ecuador, India, the Republic of Georgia and the Ivory Coast, where impoverished and war-weary citizens used scavenged material to create art that reflected both their bitter memories and newfound hope for the future. The Barefoot Artist also follows Yeh back to China, where her father’s long ignored “second family” was severely punished for his role in the civil war as a general in Chiang Kai-shek’s army. Yeh’s intention was to make amends, but some wounds had yet to heal. As uplifting as most of the movie is, Yeh’s cathartic tracing of roots she didn’t know existed is almost too heart-breaking to bear.

The Gambler
Set in a Lithuania that doesn’t appear to have changed much since the last Soviet troops departed in August 1993, The Gambler offers as bleak a view of humanity as any movie made in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The national pastime still involves drinking to excess, then passing out, and the walls of the buildings don’t look as if they’ve gotten a fresh coat of paint since the Nazi occupation. When the film’s moody protagonist, Vincentas (Vytautas Kaniusonis), isn’t saving lives as the best emergency doctor in Vilnius, he’s pissing away his paycheck as a degenerate gambler. He owes a small fortune to a mobster who doesn’t care how many people Vincentas has pulled from the brink of death. To make up for the deficit, the doctor invents a game based on the old dead-pool principle. Instead of using celebrities, though, the doctors in his unit wager on the estimated day and time one of their very ill patients will die. In their downtime, they compare notes on the severity of the ailments in play and how unforeseen complications might impact the patients’ date with Saint Peter. Because the medical data is shared on a computer network, doctors and paramedics from all corners of Lithuania rush to join in the fun. The longer the patients stay alive, the greater the jackpots grow. The higher the prizes, the greater the potential for corruption and tinkering with God’s timetable. Things get even more complicated for Vincentas when he falls in love with a fellow medic, Ieva (Oona Mekas), a single mother with a seriously ill son. Because of this, Ieva is the only medic who refuses to participate in the game. Because her medical bills now rival Vincentas’ gambling debt, however, it’s only a matter of time before she’ll have to consider compromising her values. It’s at this point that the darkness of the Baltic soul takes hold, carrying the story with it. It’s an excellent story … just don’t expect any happy endings.

The Maneater
The French title of Natalie Saracco’s debut film, The Maneater, is “La mante religieuse,” or, “The Praying Mantis.” It could just as easily have been titled “Jezebel,” as that’s the wholly appropriate name of the incendiary protagonist, played to the hilt by Mylène Jampanoï. Because that title will forever be associated with Bette Davis and “The Praying Mantis” isn’t nearly as provocative as “La mante religieuse,” the American distributors probably figured that a Hall & Oates’ reference, combined with a sexy poster, could only help sales. Maybe … maybe, not. Unlike the titular insect, Jampanoi’s Jezabel doesn’t even bother to blend into the background as she pursues the handsome village priest who conducted the funeral mass for her father. Once their eyes meet, you instinctively know that Jezabel’s real target is Father David’s soul, not his heart … and vice versa. Throw in the jealousy felt by Jezabel’s très épicé lesbian lover and loyalty of Father Dave’s acolyte, and you have a pretty decent tug of war. Even if it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, The Maneater offers plenty of cheap thrills for Francophiles.

French crime novelist Eric Cherrière makes a smooth transition from page to screen in his riveting directorial debut, Cruel. His protagonist, Pierre (Jean-Jacques Lelté), is the textbook example of a sociopathic serial killer. His personal issues can be traced to childhood musings about a distant future — most of them unfulfilled — repeated over home-movie footage taken of him frolicking on a pristine beach with his long-gone mother. Required to spend far too many of his waking hours taking care of his chair-bound father, who’s afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, Pierre only takes mind-numbing work in places he’s able to blend completely into the woodwork. It’s difficult to say what triggers his worst impulses, but they seem to involve separating his victims from what they cherish most. He studies his prey before pouncing, then locks them in the same basement cell in which his father once hid Jews from the Gestapo. Why Pierre tortures the helpless old man with his darkest thoughts also is open to the viewer’s conjecture. What’s more important is knowing that he’s a terribly efficient killer, who finally decides to help hapless police investigators connect the dots on his victims. It isn’t until Pierre is introduced to a lovely musician, Laure (Magali Moreau), that he’s given a viable alternative to killing and maintaining his anonymity. Of course, it also gives us cause to fear for her well-being. Cherrière’s pacing is such that we’re able to understand a bit more of what’s meant by “the banality of evil.” In the right hands, Cruel probably could be translated into a decent English-language thriller, but only if the temptation to cast a well-known actor is avoided.

Captive: Blu-ray
TV One: Stock Option
UPTV: Lyfe’s Journey
Valley Inn
This week’s selection of faith-based DVDs includes three films of special, but certainly not exclusive interest to African-American audiences. The best, Captive, combines true-crime drama with a story of redemption inspired indirectly from Pastor Rick Warren’s inspirational best-seller, “The Purpose Driven Life.” Clearly a product of a bargain-basement budget, Jerry Jameson’s hostage thriller benefits hugely from lead performances by David Oyelowo and Kate Mara, who probably agreed to take a substantial cut in pay as a favor to the producers. Brian Bird’s screenplay was adapted from Ashley Smith’s recollections of her harrowing experiences on March 12, 2005. In a bizarre confluence of desperate circumstances, Smith was abducted and held hostage by Brian Nichols, who was on trial for rape when he escaped from custody and murdered the judge presiding over his trial, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy and later a federal agent. Already a captive to drugs, Smith was able to talk Nichols out of continuing his bloody day-long spree, in part by sharing passages from Warren’s books. In the movie, at least, she has just been given a copy of the book by her aunt (Mimi Rogers), who’s looking after Smith’s young daughter while she’s in the process of kicking her addiction. Blessedly, the proselytizing takes a distant backseat to the drama inherent in two people looking directly into the face of death. Given the popularity of Warren and Smith’s appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show, I’m surprised that Captive didn’t draw numbers in line with War Room and other faith-based fare. It adds several making-of and background featurettes.

In Stock Option, an out-of-work and homeless stockbroker (Amin Joseph) catches a break when he rescues a model (Antonique Smith) from being raped by a hoodlum lurking in the alley next to her studio. In an unlikely act of gratitude and Christian charity, Alina invites Marv – short for Marvelous, no less — home for a shower, meal and change of clothes. Not surprisingly, a little TLC does a world of good for the strikingly handsome young man, who also turns out to be a glib conversationalist. Before long, he volunteers to help Alina complete some household chores, for which he enlists other homeless buddies. Her sudden interest in the down-and-out stockbroker doesn’t sit well with her boyfriend, of course, who’s in a far less charitable state of mind. Marv will be required to clear several other hurdles before redeeming himself in the eyes of Alina’s family and friends he disappointed on his way to the bottom.

Although both movies debuted on different cable channels, Lyfe’s Journey is a product of the same Atlanta-based production company, Swirl Films. The company bills itself as America’s “number one urban film production company,” with over 40 original titles in the past 6 years. With a seemingly insatiable audience for original programming on niche cable outlets, it’s no wonder that evergreen dramatic conceits are recycled on a regular basis. The same strategy worked for Lifetime, after all. Here, family man David Lyfe (Keith Robinson) unexpectedly loses his lucrative job as a banking executive when the company falls into dire financial straits. It couldn’t come at a worse time for the father of a little girl and another in the oven. Despite solid references, Lyfe isn’t able to find another job. One night, he makes the mistake of commiserating over drinks with a suspiciously sympathetic young woman. The next thing he knows, his wife has thrown him out of the house. Desperate for a helping hand, he connects with a preacher who specializes in patching the broken souls of folks willing to contribute to their personal redemption. Besides paint-by-numbers scripts, both movies share attractive casts and protagonists we want to see succeed.

Valley Inn may be targeted at a different audience, but it shares the same Christian foundation as other faith-based films. If it also includes a subtle anti-capitalist subtext, then, so be it. Super-cute ingénue Jordan Scott plays a New Jersey college student, Emily, who accepts a summer job selling Christian books door-to-door in rural northwest Arkansas. Despite its location at the buckle of the bible belt, the territory proves to be less than fertile for book peddlers, especially those hawking tales already familiar to local residents. Expecting to be greeted with suspicion by stereotypical hillbillies, Emily finds herself surrounded by a surprisingly colorful and supportive collection of potentially new friends. The problem, of course, comes in knowing that the company for whom she toils expects sales and Emily isn’t anxious to force books on people with greater needs. Everything in Kim and Chris Spencer’s slight, if easy-on-the-eyes rom/dram/com leads to the region’s biggest event of the year, the Rodeo of the Ozarks. It’s here that Emily is given the opportunity to demonstrate just how much she’s grown over the course of a summer.

Starz: Flesh and Bone: Blu-ray
Comedy Central: Broad City: Season 2
PBS: Nova: Cyberwar Threat/Inside Einstein’s Mind
PBS: Secrets of the Dead: Vampire Legend
PBS: American Experience: American Commandante
PBS Kids: Wild Kratts: Australian Adventures
The world of ballet may seem an unnatural setting for a premium-cable mini-series, but the folks at Starz have proven themselves to be remarkably adept at turning atypical subjects into captivating entertainments. In a remarkably short time, such shows as “The Missing,” “Black Sails,” “Da Vinci’s Demons,” “Spartacus,” “Boss,” “The Pillars of the Earth,” “Magic City,” “Outlander,” “Camelot” and “Crash” have attracted viewers to what once was considered to be a minor-league operation. Among the things the mini-series share, to one degree or another, are attractive stars, interesting locations, nudity, contentious situations and provocative dialogue. Did I mention nudity? “Flesh and Bone” doesn’t skimp in any of these categories, especially what some might consider to be gratuitous sex. (Not me, of course.) The artistic milieu also allows for some not-so-usual homosexual liaisons and post-coital extortion. The intrigue begins when Claire Robbins (Sarah Hay) flees her Pittsburgh home, for reasons that won’t become apparent for several episodes to come. No sooner does Claire arrive in New York than she impresses the socks off of the imperious creative director of a prestigious ballet company. Naturally, this spurs an outbreak of jealousy and suspicions among the other dancers. Adding to her other problems is the appearance of a potentially dangerous specter from her past. Loyal fans of premium-cable miniseries won’t be at all surprised to learn that the artistry of classical ballet isn’t the only dance discipline likely to be exploited. Claire also is drawn to a local gentleman’s club – run by a Russian gangster – where she excels in contemporary lap dancing and stripper-pole gymnastics. As goofy it sounds, “Flesh and Bone” could hardly be more compelling. This ballet on display isn’t bad, either.

If Beavis and Butt-Head died and were reincarnated into a pair of twentysomething Jewish women, both single and living in New York City, their show might look a lot like Comedy Central’s hilarious sendup of contemporary hipster mores, “Broad City.” (And, yes, it matters that they’re Jewish.) The show is an extension of improv specialists Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s web-series, which found an angel in Amy Poehler. Their characters, Ilana and Abbi, spend most of their time avoiding hard work and anything resembling mainstream culture. They smoke dope and drink wine to excess and, when high, enjoy experimenting with makeup and sex toys. Their closest friends and acquaintances are only slightly less extreme examples of themselves and, perhaps, archetypal characters introduced in “Seinfeld” and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” They might be completely foreign to viewers outside New York and other urban centers, but Ilana and Abbi probably aren’t much different than your average Starbucks barista or Whole Foods clerk. Among the weekly pleasures in Season Two are surprise guest spots by such familiar faces as Kelly Ripa, Janeane Garofalo, Seth Rogan, Kumail Nanjiani, Susie Essman, Bob Balaban, Amy Ryan, Kimiko Glenn, Alia Shawkat and Patricia Clarkson. The set includes 10 episodes, deleted scenes, pop-ups and extended skits. The show has been renewed for a third season, beginning next month.

This week’s selections from PBS include a pair of “Nova” episodes, one of which might leaving you staring at your computer in fear, while the other could leave you gasping at the brilliance of a theoretical physicist easily confused with Harpo Marx. “Cyberwar Threat” is informed by documents released by Edward Snowden and stolen from Sony Pictures – as well as the “stuxnet” attack on an Iranian computer network — as stepping stones to a frightening discussion of the potential for disaster at the hands of computer hackers. Their anonymity and elusiveness only adds to the intrigue. “Inside Einstein’s Mind” retraces Albert Einstein’s early “thought experiments,” which led to an understanding of gravity and the theory of general relativity. I tried to understand the simplified explanations, but left as clueless as ever.

In the “Secrets of the Dead” episode “Vampire Legend,” Oxford professor John Blair uses forensics sciences to demonstrate how the vampire legend popularized by Bram Stoker in “Dracula” might actually have originated in England, not Eastern Europe. Evidence discovered in recently unearthed graveyards suggests a common belief that the dead could rise and terrorize the living. Beheaded skeletons found among intact remains have inspired a reexamination of the modern vampire mythos.


In the “American Experience” offering, “American Commandante,” we’re introduced to a renegade American soldier and fighter for other people’s freedom, who, had he not actually existed, could have emerged from a novel by Ernest Hemingway. The full story of Cleveland native William Alexander Morgan remains shrouded in mystery, but what is known describes a man who completely reinvented himself, trading a reputation as a military washout and mob flunky, for a larger-than-life hero in Cuba’s revolution and Fidel Castro’s subsequent betrayal of democracy. Oh, yeah, he might also have served J. Edgar Hoover as a counter-revolutionary.

PBS Kids’ “Wild Kratts: Australian Adventures” takes the Kratts’ crew Down Under, where they will test their wiles against harsh conditions of the vast Outback desert and endangered Eucalyptus forest. The episodes include “Koala Balloon,” in which Martin and Chris help a young koala stranded in the Outback get back to his natural habitat; “Kickin’ It With the Roos,” in which they meet up with a mob of pugilistic kangaroos and get their car keys stolen by a mischievous joey; and “Platypus Café,” during which the brothers are required to save the eggs of a platypus from ending up on the breakfast menu of a wicked chef.

Steam Room Stories: Volumes 1, 2 & 3
One of the things that distinguish web-based series from mainstream television is their ability to appeal directly to niche audiences. Neither are they limited to any one length or timeslot. This isn’t to imply that their appeal is limited to a specific audience, however. While “Steam Room Stories” scored a direct hit with its intended demographic: young gay men, who spend as much time on their appearance as they do on anything else. This 248-minute collection is comprised of 99 episodes of the series, in which a small handful of attractive guys, clad only in towels, exchange observations that are alternately witty, catty, bitchy and perceptive, about all sorts of things. The skits are consistently funny and observant.

IndiePix Mix 10 II
The second grab-bag collection of previously released DVDs from IndiePix – 918 minutes’ worth of provocative entertainment for just under $80 – once again is a tantalizing mix of drama, comedy and documentaries. It includes the 2009 Sundance Grand Jury-winning documentary, We Live in Public, which documents the loss of privacy in the Internet age; Bhopali, about the world’s worst industrial disaster; Disarmed, on the continuing threat from antipersonnel mines deployed in wars long past; White Shadow, Noaz Deshe’s horrifying drama about the plight of Tanzanian albinos; That Girl In Yellow Boots, a voyeuristic drama set against the sprawling chaos of Mumbai; Soldate Jean, a deadpan Austrian comedy from Daniel Hoesel; Road to the Big Leagues, on baseball in the Dominican Republic; Satellite, a romantic fable about a young couple who give up everything to find something better; and So Bright Is the View, an offbeat story about a Romanian woman seeking a job in Atlanta that probably doesn’t exist.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More

rohit aggarwal on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More on: The DVD Wrapup: Diamonds of the Night, School of Life, Red Room, Witch/Hagazussa, Tito & the Birds, Keoma, Andre’s Gospel, Noir

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter's Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More

GDA on: The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More

Larry K on: The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter's Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Shoplifters, Front Runner, Nobody’s Fool, Peppermint Soda, Haunted Hospital, Valentine, Possum, Mermaid, Guilty, Antonio Lopez, 4 Weddings … More

gwehan on: The DVD Wrapup: Shoplifters, Front Runner, Nobody’s Fool, Peppermint Soda, Haunted Hospital, Valentine, Possum, Mermaid, Guilty, Antonio Lopez, 4 Weddings … More

Gary J Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Peppermint, Wild Boys, Un Traductor, Await Instructions, Lizzie, Coby, Afghan Love Story, Elizabeth Harvest, Brutal, Holiday Horror, Sound & Fury … More

Quote Unquotesee all »

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