MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: The Walk, Irrational Man, Look of Silence, Bitter Rice, Last Horror Film and more

The Walk: Blu-ray
On September 10, 2001, it’s likely that some visitors to Lower Manhattan pointed to the summit of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and recalled the day, 27 years earlier, when a 24-year-old French daredevil covered the 138-foot distance between the two spans on a steel cable, not once, but eight times. Twenty-four hours later, Philippe Petit’s amazing test of human mettle would be obscured in the clouds of dust and debris raised by the collapse of the two 110-story towers in a horrifying terrorist attack. Absent any physical evidence of the edifice’s longtime mastery of the city’s skyline, Petit’s feat might just as well have been a scene from a movie. Almost a year later, though, Petit would remind us of his courageous stunt in “To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers,” an impressionistic memoir of “le coup” that read like a crime thriller. Its publication would soon be followed by Mordicai Gerstein’s Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book, “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers,” which he wrote and illustrated in response to the September 11 attacks. It’s possible that New Yorkers weren’t ready to re-embrace Petit’s achievement, while the memory of the deaths and destruction were so fresh in the collective consciousness. As politicians and developers continued to fine-tune plans for the construction of a new World Trade Center, a documentary based on the two books would test the public’s willingness to look beyond the attacks, however tentatively.

James Marsh’s universally-acclaimed documentary, Man on Wire, served both as a testament to Petit’s courage and the towers’ majesty. He also introduced the pickup team of French and American amateurs who helped Petit realize his dream. It would make a clean sweep of documentary awards and win the unanimous support of critics. What it didn’t do was make a lot of money at the box office … hardly unusual for documentaries. Even so, six years later, Robert Zemeckis thought enough of the story to give it another shot, with his vertigo-inducing The Walk. In a sense, the creator of Forrest Gump and Cast Away re-cast Petit as a superhero, with powers equal to those of Batman or Spider-Man. Dedicated to the victims of the September 11 attacks, The Walk allows for more backstory and a romantic subplot, involving Petit. A true Hollywood visionary, Zemeckis has long been an advocate for digital technology and exhibition, CGI animation and IMAX 3D. He not only intended to place viewers on top of the WTC with the aerialist – well played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt – but on the wire, itself. Even if Petit avoided looking into the abyss, Zemeckis practically rubs our noses in it during the final third of the movie. Anticipating just how effective a conceit this could be, I consciously avoided watching The Walk on a large-format screen. It was scary enough on the much smaller 4K screen in my living room. The PG-rated film looks spectacular on Blu-ray, in 2D and, I’ve read, in 3D. It’s also funny, inspirational and extremely moving. It adds deleted scenes and such background featurettes “First Steps: Learning to Walk the Wire,” with Petit coaching Levi on the art of wire walking; “Pillars of Support,” which introduces the cast that portrays the supporting characters; and “The Amazing Walk,” on the confluence of human drama and movie magic.

Irrational Man: Blu-ray
For longtime admirers of Woody Allen’s comedies, there may be nothing scarier than hearing his name mentioned in the same breath as Fyodor Dostoevsky. His latest, Irrational Man, represents Allen’s fourth film that borrows themes from “Crime and Punishment,” following Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream. Throw in Leo Tolstoy (Love and Death), Anton Chekhov (September), Ingmar Bergman (Interiors, Another Woman, Husbands and Wives) and William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy), and you have a Murderer’s Row of influences mainstream audiences avoid like the plague. Those of us who’ve given up waiting for his sequel to Bananas – and carry library cards in our wallets — aren’t nearly so particular. There are wonderful things in all of his pictures, including the hardly distributed and, therefore, barely seen Irrational Man. The best reason for sampling it on DVD/Blu-ray is a cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Jamie Blackley, Parker Posey and supporting actors who demand we pay attention to what’s happening in the background, as well as the foreground. Everyone works hard, as if to show Woody that his confidence in them is warranted. When compared to such delightfully original recent successes as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love and Blue Jasmine, however, Irrational Man does feel more than a wee bit slight. Phoenix plays a boozy professor of philosophy, Abe, invited to teach at an elite small-town college, despite a sordid reputation that would disqualify him from working in most other institutions.

No sooner does Abe arrive on campus than he’s hit on by an unhappily married professor (Posey), who plies him with bourbon, and a star-struck student, Jill (Stone), who’s half their age. While he’s able to avoid being blinded by flattery, he’s never met a single-malt he could resist. Pure chance changes everything when Abe and Jill overhear a conversation about a corrupt judge and a decision that could have disastrous implications for a mother and her child. Where Jill sees the conversation as an excuse to discuss situational ethics, Abe treats it as an opportunity to put his philosophical money where his mouth is, by plotting the perfect murder. The film’s impact is limited by the small number of people whose lives would be influenced by any action taken – or avoided – by the characters. Irrational Man works best as a closely observed crime novella or short story targeted at graduates of such institutions, where gossip and betrayal are the coin of the realm. As usual with Allen’s Blu-ray releases, the featurettes are limited to red-carpet chit-chat and a photo gallery.

The Look of Silence: Blu-ray
Hate Crimes in the Heartland
Three years ago, a truly shocking documentary, The Act of Killing, demonstrated precisely what Hannah Arendt meant when she coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to characterize Adolph Eichmann’s role in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Director Joshua Oppenheimer risked his life by tracking down perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, especially the monsters who, in victory, never were required to pay for their sins. Indeed, four decades later, they lived freely among the families of the million-plus “communists” who were slaughtered as politicians, police, government troops and American advisers physically distanced themselves from the carnage. The elderly fiends even agreed to re-enact their crimes, as if Oppenheimer was a Hollywood casting director, instead of a documentarian. A decade after those interviews were recorded, the filmmaker dared to return to Indonesia at the request of Adi, the brother of a man whose death was detailed for the first time in The Act of Killing. For The Look of Silence, Adi would accompany Oppenheimer and, while fitting the old men for eyeglasses, cautiously interrogate them as to their memory of his brother’s ghastly death. He then would prod neighbors and family members as to their roles in the subsequent cover-ups. Truly disturbing, The Look of Silence, finds the perpetrators of the violence to be no less unrepentant or prepared to seek redemption for their acts than they were 12 years earlier. The conversations are almost surrealistically civil. A few of the men go so far as to describe the ritual of drinking the blood of their victims, whenever their determination to continue lagged. One man justified his willingness to eliminate the perceived threat thusly, “We did it because America taught us to hate communists.” Ari also asked them about the lies still being taught as facts about the political beliefs of the victims and actions blamed on the victims by the actual perpetrators. Although Oppenheimer was extremely cautious in approaching the interview subjects, he was pleased to note that The Look of Silence was being screened in public, before thousands of viewers, and young Indonesians are looking forward to the day that truth and reconciliation panels might be established, as they were in South Africa, to openly discuss and heal wounds left untreated for 50 years. The bonus features include post-screening Q&As and expanded material from the interviews.

If any country needs to undergo the truth-and-reconciliation process, it’s the United States. Race relations throughout the country are worse today than at any time since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the leading candidates to replace President Obama are blatantly exploiting long-held fears and unfounded prejudices. Watch Rachel Lyon’s eye-opening Hate Crimes in the Heartland after The Look of Silence and you’ll understand why advocates for the downtrodden of the world no longer look to the United States for hope and direction. Lyon demands we examine two events that took place 90 years apart from each other, in the same American city, with a similarly devastating impact on residents. How many of us can say that we’ve heard about the so-called Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, which left the prosperous “Negro Wall Street” district of Greenwood devastated and destroyed. It began, as so many vigilante attacks and lynchings have, with a rumor that turned out to be a lie. This one was spread by a white woman who made physical contact with a black elevator operator and, for some reason, cried rape. Within 24 hours, a mob of white Tulsans levelled 35 city blocks, leaving as many as 300 people dead and more than 10,000 homeless. Thanks to officially sanctioned racism among police, politicians and newspaper editors, not one white person was ever arrested, tried or convicted of any crime related to the attacks. The documentary then flashes forward to the 2012 Good Friday Murders, a string of racially motivated killings that left three African-Americans dead and two injured. This time, white Tulsans Alvin Lee Watts and Jacob Carl England would be quickly arrested and accept plea agreements, trading a date with the gas chamber for life-without-parole sentences. As the documentary makes clear, the difference in the two incidents is the aggressive response by the law-enforcement community to arrest and prosecute the killers, in large part to avoid the kind of anti-police riots that rocked the U.S. last summer. Far drier than The Look of Silence, Hate Crimes in the Heartland convincingly examines the underlying racial tensions in Tulsa, some of which have festered since the 1921 riot. It does so using interviews with a variety of scholars and public figures, in and away from the city, with an eye toward reconciliation.

Contracted: Phase II: Blu-ray
In the original edition of Contracted, a deadly sexually transmitted disease is mysteriously carving its way through a section of Los Angeles, making the symptoms of full-blown AIDS look acne. That isn’t to diminish the impact of the killer disease, just to characterize the vomit-inducing body-horror effects on display, some of which might have been inspired by “The Hearse Song.” (“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout…”) Because almost every character of any consequence died in the 2013 original, director Josh Forbes and writer Craig Walendziak have chosen to focus Contracted: Phase II on Riley (Matt Mercer), a peripheral character who stupidly courted infection by giving in to his lust for the already decaying Samantha. With the maggots now beginning to wheedle their way through his body, Riley is racing the clock to find a cure or someone who might hold the answer to the disease’s origins. To this end, he turns to a curious police detective (Marianna Palka), while being stalked by B.J. (Morgan Peter Brown), who may or may not hold the key to a solution. At 78 minutes, Contracted: Phase II feels very much like the second chapter in a mini-series or a straight-to-DVD addendum to “The Walking Dead.”

Hotel Transylvania 2: Blu-ray
Never known for his subtlety or sophistication, Adam Sandler took a more active role in the creation of Hotel Transylvania 2, than merely providing the voice of Dracula in the original and serving as executive producer with Robert Smigel. Here, Sandler adds co-writer to his previous responsibilities, which makes sense, considering the animated comedy’s target audience. While adults quickly tire of overly broad characters, slapstick humor, cheap sentimentality and lame situations, kids rarely do. Neither are children influenced by critics who blame Sandler for countless of hours of screening-room agony. If it looks funny, they’ll give it a shot. I went into “HT2” without paying any attention to the cast list, so wasn’t prejudiced by memories of such recent disappointments as Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, Just Go With It, Blended and The Ridiculous 6. By marked contrast, the 6-year-old buried inside of me genuinely enjoyed Hotel Transylvania 2, even after perusing the publicity material. Sandler is one of several familiar actors reprising the roles they voiced in “T1,” along with Moscow-born director Genndy Tartakovsky. Among the new voices are those of Mel Brooks, Dana Carvey, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman. Three years have passed since Jonathan (Andy Samberg) and Mavis (Selena Gomez) broke all sorts of human/vampire taboos by falling in love and getting married. There appears to be some confusion as to whether baby Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) is going to be one, the other or a hybrid of his parents’ gene pool.

Vampa Drac (Sandler) isn’t nearly as anxious to find out as his intolerant father, Vlad (Brooks), who still can’t understand why the hotel has put out the welcome mat for human guests. While Mavis and Jonathan are enjoying their first vacation in the outside world, Drac, Vlad and some monster friends decide to enroll Dennis in the same “monster-in-training” boot camp attended by his mother and her fanged friends. Nothing is quite the same there, either, however. The campers of both species are coddled to same degree as kids in a suburban pre-school program. If Dennis is going to earn his fangs, thus endearing himself with great-grandpa Vlad, and it will have to be here. “TH2” offers plenty of good noisy fun for kids, as well as some painless kicks for parents. The bonus package is targeted directly at younger viewers with separate commentary tracks; deleted scenes; a sketch gallery; a sing-along with Monster Scary-Oke; and interactive featurettes “Make the Scary, Silly Sounds of Hotel Transylvania 2,” “How to Throw the Ultimate Monster Party,” “How to Draw Your Favorite Characters” and “The New Guys: Meet Vlad, Dennis, Kakie.”

Bitter Rice: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Although the title of Giuseppe De Santis’ earthy drama, “Riso Amaro,” is commonly translated as Bitter Rice, it also translates as “Bitter Laughter.” The difference may only be relevant to linguists and those buffs who enjoy splitting such hairs, but it explains some of the ambiguity attached to a movie that’s defied easy classification. While most critics and historians lump Bitter Rice together with other products of the then-popular neorealism movement, it generally comes with an asterisk. De Santis’ leftist political beliefs can be detected in some decidedly anti-western conceits that feel out of place in a work of post-war drama. Apparently, by the time of its release, the spread of American pop culture was such that leftists feared it would turn the proletarian masses into bobby-soxers. That fear is reflected in the characterization of De Santis’ characterization of the sultry peasant girl, Silvana (Silvana Mangano), as the kind of jitter-bugging, gum-chewing bombshell, who, when she wasn’t in the fields, studied movie magazines. A former Miss Rome, Mangano graduated from the same finishing school as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Brigitte Bardot. Their obvious charms would clear the way for the code-flaunting exploitation of Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe and Mamie Van Doren. Then, too, while also decrying the brutal working conditions endured by displaced women in post-World War II, De Santis adds a criminal subplot that might very well have influenced Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.

It’s the confusion of conceits that prompted neorealism purists to slight the film as prurient entertainment and for audiences to embrace it. (The film even was nominated for the 1950 Academy Award for Best Story.) Bitter Rice is set in 1948, outside a train station where unemployed women are gathered to be transported to the rice fields of northern Italy for 40 days of largely thankless labor. Silvana is entertaining the crowd with her suggestive dancing, which wouldn’t be out of place in an American juke joint. Among Silvana’s admirers are Francesca (Doris Dowling) and Walter (Vittorio Gassman), who are on the lam from a jewel heist in France. Identified by police, Walter entrusts the jewelry to Francesca’s care, while he hops a train heading in the opposite direction. Francesca decides to cast her lot with the migrant workers – already divided by the employment of “scabs” — in particular the woman who seduced her boyfriend with her swiveling hips and come-hither eyes. The intrigue shifts to the rice fields, where the women express their pain, joys and solidarity in song and pine for boyfriends who are likely scratching for work in northern Europe. The melodramatic resolution occurs after Silvana and Francesca’s lovers return to collect what they think rightfully belongs to them. By then, however, the labor-hardened women have shifted their allegiances. The fully restored Blu-ray adds the 2008 documentary, “Giuseppe De Santis”; a 2003 interview with screenwriter Carlo Lizzani; and an essay by critic Pasquale Iannone.

The Last Horror Film: Blu-ray
Joe Spinell, a character actor who bore a passing resemblance to porn icon Ron Jeremy, will forever be known for his portrayal of Corleone Family henchman Willi Cicci in the first two installments of the Godfather. (He originally was intended to appear, as well, in The Godfather: Part III, but was written out and replaced by the character of Joey Zasa, following Spinell’s sudden death in early 1989.) In Rocky, the first of several films he made with Sylvester Stallone, he was the loan shark, Gazzo. In William Lustig’s critically reviled slasher classic, Maniac, co-writer Spinell portrays a momma’s-boy psychopath, loose in New York City, killing young women and taking their scalps as his trophies. Not nearly as loathsome as that film, The Last Horror Film stars Spinell as a demented fanboy – OK, fanman –who hopes to pitch and cast his slasher film at the Cannes Film Market. The trouble is, of course, that everyone who travels to the south of France in mid-May is too consumed with their own projects, image and party plans to screen a movie by a guy who looks as if he might have just escaped from a mental institution. Each new rejection, of course, results in an increasingly gory murder, with his ultimate target being the bombshell scream queen, Jana Bates (Caroline Munro).

None of that would be sufficient cause for excitement about The Last Horror Film’s Blu-ray release, 33 years later, if it weren’t for one thing: the ability of director David Winters (Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare) to turn the actual Cannes Film Festival into his own personal backlot. Employing guerrilla tactics, he found ways to inject Spinell’s psycho-killer, Vinny, into press conferences, parties, screenings and red-carpet arrivals. Viewers never know who’s going to show up in a scene. Winters also appears to have had the run of the city for locations, although it isn’t likely he paid a dime for permits. In this way, at least, The Last Horror Film reminded me of Henry Jaglom’s 2001 romcom, Festival in Cannes. I have no idea if Jaglom employed the same guerrilla tactic, but it’s the rare indie film that can afford such glamorous locations, cameos or music from a then largely unknown Depeche Mode. The Troma Blu-ray includes a new introduction by company president Lloyd Kaufman; commentary; “Mr. Robbie,” a short film by Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock), starring Spinell; highlights from the 2015 Tromadance Film Festival; a Dolphin-Man bit; and a full episode of Troma’s latest web-series, “Kabukiman’s Cocktail Corner,” starring tattoo artist Paul Booth.

White Panther
Chasing a Star
One the common elements of the international cinema is the use of boxing to dramatize the struggle faced by minorities and immigrants seeking acceptance within a society that has little use for them, otherwise. The not so subtle message being transmitted is, “If you can make it the ring, you can make it anywhere,” no matter your race, religion or nationality. Maybe, maybe not. Likewise, White Panther is an Israeli movie about making it in the ring, as well as a society less united by race, religion and nationality than most Americans have been led to believe. In Danni Reisfeld’s debut film, Alex Zeitlin (Yevgeny Orlov) is just one of an estimated million Jews from the former Soviet Union who emigrated to Israel after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. In the former Soviet Union, where following religious traditions was largely taboo, intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles was a relatively common occurrence. If the newcomers expected to be accorded a red-carpet welcome upon their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, they were quickly disabused of that notion. Even those non-Jewish fathers who volunteered for the military were shunned as outsiders – Alex’s KIA father was refused burial in a Jewish cemetery — and their children treated like third-class citizens reduced to living in rundown housing projects, surrounded by affluence and catering to tourists. Ironically, the immigrants were frequently scorned as atheists and troublemakers by the Sephardim, who historically have been looked down upon by the dominant Ashkenazi Jews.

These fissures explode intermittently during the course of the story, as gangs of Russian and Sephardi youths antagonize each other in the poorer sections of Tiberias. When Alex is arrested for participating in a brawl, he’s given the option of staying in jail or joining a fight club run by the cop, David, who arrested him. The religious Moroccan Jew takes Alex under his wing after learning that his late father was a champion boxer in Moscow, and “hero” of an IDF operation. This doesn’t sit well with David’s other boxers; his lovely daughter, Yasmin (Meytal Gal); or Alex’s hoodlum brother and his skinhead buddies. It sets the stage for melodrama of the most familiar sort: a still maturing young man finds himself torn between two father figures, until flaws of their own are revealed. “Bad seed” brother Yevgeny is destined for a life in prison for his self-loathing behavior, while the coach’s prejudice is revealed when Alex and Yasmin fall for each other and David’s prejudices are tested. While there’s nothing particularly unique in the boxing sequences, White Panther is enhanced by its Sea of Galili setting and views from hills that surround Tiberias. Boxing completists and viewers interested in Israeli themes should find a lot to like here.

Sports and gangsters figure, as well, in Avi Malka’s broadly farcical Chasing a Star (a.k.a., “Where Is Moshe Ivgy?”). In a plot that could have been inspired by Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, real-life Israeli movie star Moshe Ivgy (playing himself) is kidnaped by a disgruntled actor, Alex, whose agent appears to have forgotten he exists. If Alex can make Ivgy disappear for 24 hours, he might score a commercial intended for the more established actor. To accomplish this, he borrows a limousine from his chauffeur buddy and picks up Ivgy, who’s been slipped a mickey at party. Unfortunately, for Alex, the limousine is hijacked by a recently released ex-con who owes a pile of money to his old partners in crime –Russian, of course – and plans to split the country with his teenage lover. Sports enters the picture in the person of a talented forward for the police department’s women’s soccer team, who won’t participate in the championship game until Alex is safe and the limousine, with or without Ivgy, is located. Although Chasing a Star benefits from the fresh setting and attractive cast, the comedy probably won’t seem very new here.

Bolero/Ghosts Can’t Do It: Blu-ray
The name, Bo Derek, may not mean a lot to Americans born and raised in the Internet era, but, in the wake of her unforgettable appearance in Blake Edwards’ 10, she set the standard against which all great beauties would thereafter be measured. As the sexy newlywed Jenny Hanley, she rewarded Dudley Moore with a roll in the sack for rescuing her husband from drowning. Hanley may have defined what it meant be an “11 out of a possible 10,” but very few men disputed Bo’s claim to the title. She’s also famous for inspiring tens of thousands of white women of all shapes and sizes to embrace the ancient African art of cornrow braiding. Like her acting in movies produced with her husband, the modern-day Svengali John Derek, it was an unfortunate touchstone in the cultural zeitgeist of the Reagan era. Unlike the Kardashians and other reality-show bimbos, Bo Derek never held herself up as a paragon of beauty, acting or anything else, for that matter. Despite well-received appearances in 1981 and 1982 issues of Playboy, as well as several of the worst-reviewed movies of all time, the Dereks tended to keep to themselves, while pursuing their personal interests. For Bo, that included becoming an advocate for animal welfare legislation and support for organizations helping wounded veterans. While serving on the California Horse Racing Board, Bo’s also made guest appearances on several television shows and movies. Her husband, who also shaped the careers of sultry blond actresses Ursula Andress and Linda Evans, died in 1998.

If anything, the Shout! Factory Blu-ray double-feature, Bolero/Ghosts Can’t Do It, demonstrates how ill-equipped the photographer and former actor (All the King’s Men, The Ten Commandments), John Derek, was to direct his wife, or anyone else, in movies he’d also written. These titles contributed directly to Bo’s near-record haul of Razzy nominations and, in 2000, at the 20th Golden Raspberry Awards, for her being nominated as “Worst Actress of the Century,” alongside Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Berkley, Pia Zadora and eventual winner Madonna. Last year, she appeared in Syfy’s breathlessly awaited, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Apart from some gorgeous scenery and much gratuitous nudity, Bolero owes far less to the soundtrack of 10 than it does to such Rudolph Valentino flicks as The Sheik, Blood and Sand and The Son of the Sheik. Blessedly, George Kennedy’s chauffeur is one of the few characters who manages to keep his clothes on. Ana Obregon, Olivia d’Abo and Mirta Miller more than compensate for that lapse.

Worse, perhaps, is Derek’s swan song as a writer/director, Ghosts Can’t Do It, which combines elements of Ghost and Heaven Can Wait. Here, Bo stars as a young widow determined to bring her elderly rancher husband (Anthony Quinn) back to life after he’s stricken with a debilitating heart attack and commits suicide. Julie Newmar is the angel who greets him on the way to his date with Saint Peter. She comforts Quinn while widow Bo travels to some of the most exotic corners of the Earth – the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, and Hong Kong — in her search for the perfect body to receive his reincarnated soul. The film was given a perfunctory release here, in 1990, but not before its VHS release overseas. Believe it or not, Donald Trump appears in an extended cameo as himself. Along with both Dereks, Newmar and Leo Damian, the future presidential candidate was nominated for a pair of Razzies, winning one for Worst Supporting Actor. Quinn dodged a bullet by being snubbed by the voters. Sadly, Ghosts Can’t Do It and Bolero don’t offer viewers any bonus features, although I’m sure Trump could have been convinced to do a commentary track, if asked.

The Image Revolution
In 1992, the world of comic-book heroes and villains was dominated by two companies, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, just as it had been since the debuts of Superman, the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner in Action Comics #1 and Marvel Comics #1. The Image Revolution recalls the upheaval caused by the departure of a group of illustrators and writers who had revitalized the industry by creating characters more in tune with Gen X readers. As has been the case in most businesses accustomed to maintaining extreme profit margins, Marvel executives refused to pay its most talented staff members what they believed they deserved for their contributions. Led by the outspoken Todd McFarlane (“Spawn”), the upstarts would form Image Comics and introduce a business model that would change the industry at a most propitious time. Among them were Rob Liefeld (“Deadpool”), Jim Lee (“X-Men”), Marc Silvestri (“Wolverine”), Erik Larsen (“Savage Dragon”), Whilce Portacio (“X-Factor”) and Jim Valentino (“Guardians of the Galaxy”). Harnessing such creative talent would prove no easier for Image than it had for Marvel and DC, however. The story is told through rare archival footage and new interviews with all seven founders, as well as industry insiders, comics historians and current Image Comics creators, including Robert Kirkman (“The Walking Dead”).

UpTV: Love Finds You in Charm
Hill Street Blues: The Final Season
The Wonder Years: Season Four
PBS: Reading Rainbow: Miss Nelson Is Back
How ya going to keep them Amish beauties down on the farm, once they’ve seen Charm, Ohio? That’s the musical question asked in UpTV’s original movie, Love Finds You in Charm, an extension of Summerside Press’ “Love Finds You” series of Christian-romance books. Although dozens of titles have been published, only Terry Cunningham’s Love Finds You in Charm and Love Finds You in Sugarcreek have been filmed. Love Finds You in Valentine is on tap for release next month on the Up TV cable network. Being made aware of that connection allowed me to make sense of the newly released DVD, which is set among Amish communities in Indiana and Ohio. The last Amish romance I can remember is Peter Weir’s Witness, in which Harrison Ford goes undercover to protect an Amish boy who’s the only witness to a murder in New York. While in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the newly bearded cop falls for a local widow (Kelly McGillis) and ruffles the feathers of a perspective husband played by the late Russian ballet star Alexander Godunov. (Thirty years later, McGillis would appear as a spinster aunt in “Sugarcreek.”) Frankly, I’m at a loss as to how true Amish and Mennonites feel about movies set in their communities. Absent electricity, it isn’t likely they’d have much opportunity to screen the finished products, in any case. In Love Finds You in Charm, a pretty Amish teenager, Emma (Danielle Chuchran), decides to expand her horizons by moving to her widowed cousin’s farm in Charm, where she’ll help her sell prize-winning produce to tourists. Eventually, Emma will have to decide whether she wants to live among the “Plain People” or ride around town in her friend’s red convertible and sell her hand-made cheese on the Food Network. Anyone who enjoys inspirational stories about Christian love and romance – as practiced by fundamentalists – should find “Charm” charming.

The latest release from Shout! Factory’s library of “Hill Street Blues” episodes represents the landmark show’s seventh and final season. In it, officer Patrick Flaherty (Robert Clohessy) and officer Tina Russo (Megan Gallagher) attempt to rekindle the intensity of the Bates-Coffey relationship of years past. Sgt. Stan Jablonski (Robert Prosky) was lowered to secondary status part way through this season, but it wasn’t until Daniel Travanti announced he would not return the next year that producers decided to pull the plug on the series. It was also moved to Tuesday nights, almost midway through the season, so as to clear the way for “L.A. Law” to inherit the catbird seat on NBC’s must-see Thursday nights.

In the fourth season of “The Wonder Years,” Kevin (Fred Savage) is entering his last year at Kennedy Junior High and feeling the effects of puberty more acutely than ever.  With Winnie (Danica McKellar) now attending a different school, he’s open to temptation in the form of Madeline (Julie Condra), a new girl in his French class. Later in the season, Winnie and Kevin will struggle to maintain their relationship, suffering heartbreak, denial and even injury in the tear-jerker episode, “The Accident.” At home, mother Norma (Alley Mills) takes a job at Kevin’s school; father Jack (Dan Lauria) gets a promotion that takes him on the road; elder brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) buys a car; and sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo) enters college, leaving her room up for grabs. In other firsts, Kevin gets a job as a caddy and tries to crash a 10th-grader’s slumber party (with beer). Again, the original music has been restored to newly released seasonal packages.

For more than 30 years, the PBS series “Reading Rainbow” has been bringing print stories to life. In “Miss Nelson Is Back,” hosted by LeVar Burton, we learn what happens when the teacher in Room 207 disappears for a week and the kids conspire to “really act up.” LeVar embarks on a treasure hunt, gets transformed by a makeup artist and attends a performance by Blackstone the Magician, before stumbling upon a surprise birthday party meant for him.

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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