MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Spotlight, Good Dinosaur, Cannibal Women, Bees and more

Spotlight: Blu-ray
Sometimes, when the words “priest,” and “pedophilia” appear in a feature story or movie review, everything that comes after them is superfluous. As bummers go, the subject of Roman Catholic priests abusing their power by molesting children is right up there with gang rapes and terminal cancer. Some folks simply don’t want to be forced to deal with such a sordid subject, while others have already gotten their fill of it. At first glance, the late Oscar favorite, Spotlight, would appear to promise just such an unpleasant experience. The fact is, though, it’s no longer the kind of societal phenomenon that can sneak up and surprise anyone, anymore. Child abuse among priests and nuns has already been well covered in several fine documentaries and dramas, including Deliver Us From Evil, Sex Crimes and the Vatican, Twist of Faith, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Doubt, Sex in a Cold Climate and its dramatization, The Magdalene Sisters, Philomena and both The Boys of St. Vincent and The Boys of St. Vincent: 15 Years Later. Instead,like All the President’s Men, Spotlight is a journalistic procedural and the target of the investigation is abuse of power. While terrible crimes are unraveled, the excitement comes from watching highly trained and unusually dedicated reporters work on all eight cylinders in pursuit of a single goal: the truth. Just as President Nixon and his co-conspirators corrupted the power vested in the highest elected office in the land, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston used every available legal and extralegal tactic available to it to subvert justice and keep the crimes of its clergy secret. Nixon’s spokesmen told bald-faced lies to reporters, as did Cardinal Bernard Francis Law. In both instances, records that might have revealed the truth earlier were destroyed, misplaced or corrupted. In both journalistic procedurals, the papers’ publishers know exactly what’s at stake and understand the potential for reprisals by the targets, readers and advertisers. In both cases, too, reporters and editors acted as if the sanctity of the First Amendment depended on their professionalism, which, of course, it did. The biggest difference between the two movies can be found in the depiction of the investigative teams. By necessity, director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman portrayed Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee as if they were demi-gods and someone nicknamed Deep Throat was in possession of the Holy Grail.

Outside of the Globe newsroom, the Spotlight team mostly toiled in anonymity, absent the trappings of superstardom and exaggerated opinions of themselves. Incoming editor Marty Baron, now at the Washington Post, gets the props he deserves for finding a way to advance the story beyond what had already been reported by the Boston Herald and Phoenix. Laboring outside New York and the Washington Beltway somehow renders everything a journalist exposes less important, even taking down a deeply entrenched and ethically challenged Cardinal of the Church. Director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) does a nice job cutting through the fog of hard-core Catholicism that permeates every nook and cranny of official Boston. He gets terrific performances from Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James and Rachel McAdams, as the Spotlight reporters; Liev Schreiber, as Baron; John Slattery, as Ben Bradlee Jr.; and Stanley Tucci as attorney Mitchell Garabedian, the primary subject of the Showtime drama on the same case. The movie’s subtext pertains to the self-inflicted diminishment of the newspaper industry in the years since the Spotlight investigation. In 2001-02, the American newspaper industry was still riding pretty high. That would begin to change dramatically in the next few years, as papers began to pay attention to the demands of Wall Street over the expectations of readers. In some communities, investigative teams were deemed luxuries and dismantled. That situation is addressed in a panel discussion with the actual Spotlight reporters, “Uncovering the Truth: A Spotlight Team Roundtable,” along with a couple of short featurettes.

The Good Dinosaur: 3D/2D Blu-ray
The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar
If Pixar/Buena Vista’s The Good Dinosaur didn’t exactly set the international box office on fire when it opened in time for our Thanksgiving weekend, if not anyone else’s, it might be because, 1) animated dinosaurs are as overexposed as zombies on the big screen, or 2) news of it being a “troubled” project spread beyond the Hollywood trades, diluting any positive buzz before it began. My guess is No. 1. By all of the usual standards, The Good Dinosaur is a very good movie. It tells a compelling story in an entertaining way and looks great on whatever size screen it’s shown. Critical mass had already been reached on anthropomorphic dinosaurs, along with stories about lions, tigers, polar bears and penguins threatened by man’s encroachment on their habitats. Then, too, there’s the matter of the PG rating, which, while not unusual for Pixar, is something parents expect of Disney products. When characters die or are wounded severely in a Disney movie, the MPAA invariably gives it a pass, with a “G.” This doesn’t always apply to Pixar-branded products, however, and The Good Dinosaur does contain a couple of things that might disturb very young viewers, if no one else. The “what if” premise might require some explaining, as well, especially for home-schooled children of fundamentalists. What if the asteroid believed to have been responsible for the destruction most animal life 65 million years ago actually missed the planet by an eyelash and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? Among other things, the movie suggests, giant cold-blooded lizards would be the dominant life force and human evolution would be stunted by the sheer force of their enormity and head start in the evolutionary race. Wisely, The Good Dinosaur doesn’t address the possibility that the Garden of Eden, itself, might have been devoured by grazing does omnivores, leaving Adam and Eve naked and hungry. Instead, vegan dinosaurs here have mastered the ability to raise crops on farms on well-manicured farm, while carnivores herd buffalo instead eating everything in sight. (Appropriately, Sam Elliott provides the voice of the cowboy T-Rex.)

After being washed away from his family in a flood, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes friends with a feral human boy, Spot, whose playfulness sometimes gets in the way of the journey home. The imaginatively drawn landscapes and backdrops – reminiscent of the American west – will help younger viewers understand what’s happening. So will the stellar voicing cast, which includes co-writer/director Pete Sohn, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley and, of course, John Ratzenberger. The final product probably was compromised a bit by a midcourse correction during its six-year production schedule. It resulted in the original director being replaced, the story rewritten and most of the voice cast let go. Serious staff compression couldn’t have helped morale, either. The highlight of the 2D/3D Blu-ray package is the Oscar-nominated theatrical short, Sanjay’s Super Team, in which a fully assimilated Indian-American boy, Sanjay, connects with his family’s traditional religious beliefs by fantasizing a battle between three Hindu deities and a three-headed demon. Pixar board artist Sanjay Patel (The Incredibles) directed the semi-autobiographical short, with Brent Schraff providing the voices. As a thematic and stylistic merging of West and East, “Sanjay’s Super Team” is an example of the freedom accorded makers of short films, unhindered by commercial expectations and meg-budget pressure. Other bonus material includes an audio commentary, with Sohn and teammates going deep on making-of and inspirational background; “The Filmmakers’ Journey,” with Sohn addressing issues related to embarking on a first feature, especially in midstream; “Hide and Seek,” with Arlo and Spot; “|True Lies About Dinosaurs,” in which kids can learn what separates movie dinosaurs from real ones; “Recyclosaurus,” the crew competes to create the best dinosaur ever, from discarded items; “Every Part of the Dinosaur,” which explores the animation challenges; “Following the T-Rex Trail,” in which artists visit a working cattle ranch to research how things are done; deleted scenes, with intros; and scenes developed for the previous version.

The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar extends Disney’s Pride Lands franchise by introducing Kion, the son of Simba and Nala, and the younger brother of Kiara. He serves as the prince of the Pride Lands and the leader of the Lion Guard, an elite team of animals tasked with preserving the savannah. Along with Bunga the honey badger, Fuli the cheetah, Beshte the hippo and Ono the egret, Kion vows to defend the Pride Lands from predators and maintain balance within the Circle of Life. Typical of the series, “Return of the Roar” benefits from lots of lots of humor, music and kids’ familiarity with beloved characters. It coincides with the debut of a new “Lion Guard” series on Disney Channel.

The Girl in the Book
Freshman writer/director Marya Cohn’s The Girl in the Book could have wound up being the quintessential made-for-Lifetime movie, in that its protagonist is an ambitious young woman whose bad choices as teenager come back to haunt her as an adult. Although Emily VanCamp’s movie-star good looks sometimes work against the credibility of her character, Alice Harvey – she tries to un-glam the publishing-house drone, but to little avail — she’s probably representative of a certain kind of yuppie, who blows her paycheck on fashions seen in Vogue, makeup and overpriced cocktails. Ana Mulvoy-Ten, the European newcomer who plays the teenage version of Alice, kind of reminds me of Stevie Nicks on her best days. As the daughter of an aggressively obnoxious literary agent, teenage Alice allows herself to be seduced by one of her dad’s clients (Michael Nyqvist) in return for some writing advice. When she discovers that the loss of her virginity plays a central role in the cad’s new novel, she crawls into a shell she’ll be forced to carry throughout early adulthood. Instead of punching out the writer, Alice’s dad (Michael Cristofer) applauds her choice in mentors. Nearing 30, Alice is doing well enough as a virtual go-fer to somehow afford a cool Manhattan apartment, but she suffers from almost chronic insecurity caused by the first two men in her life. In another soap-opera cliché, it manifests itself in occasionally feverish bouts with promiscuity. At the same time as the novelist unexpectedly walks back into Alice’s life, and she’s cynically assigned to supervise his publicity junket, she discovers a needle in the haystack in the form of an up-and-coming female author. Instead of being hailed as the house’s next great literary agent, Alice is forced to watch the men in her life – now, including her dick boss – stumble over themselves taking credit for the find. It probably works that way in real life, too. Cohn’s juggling act includes humanizing Alice’s various dilemmas while avoiding the yuppie and feminist clichés that offer easy answers for difficult problems.

Frankenstein: Blu-ray
As rites of passage go, watching the 1931 version of Frankenstein, alone, in a darkened room, is pretty imposing. Not only has this introduction to the horror genre passed the test of time, but it also serves the purpose of bonding parents to their children. Usually, fathers and sons, but, occasionally, dads and daughters. (I’ve never met a woman who’s bonded with her daughter or son over a classic Universal monster flick, not even Bride of Frankenstein, and certainly not the Three Stooges.) Even though they share the same title, Bernard Rose’s Frankenstein shouldn’t be confused with James Whale’s original, especially as a rite of passage. Rose has given us such idiosyncratic indie entertainments as Immortal Beloved, Ivansxtc, The Kreutzer Sonata, Mr. Nice and 2 Jacks. The closest he’s come to the mainstream is Candyman, a warmly recalled horror fantasy partially filmed in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing Project. His Frankenstein is told entirely from the perspective of the monster (Xavier Samuel), here named Adam. As created by Danny Huston and Carrie-Anne Moss in their 21st Century lab, Adam is born with superhuman strength, but the mind of an infant. At first, his creators are giddy with hope for Adam. It doesn’t take long before he begins to regress physically, however, coaxing the scientists to start all over again with a cloned Monster. Adam may not be a genius, but he recognizes the pain that could come with a premature autopsy. His strength allows him to break away from his constraints and escape into a world he can’t possibly be prepared to face. From this point on, Frankenstein follows Mary Shelley’s blueprint, right down the unfortunate little girl and blind musician. His basic problem is that he doesn’t know how to differentiate kindness and confrontation. Neither is able to modulate his Hulk-like strength. The reason I caution those unfamiliar with the story and its place in the canon from starting with Rose’s Frankenstein is because of the hyper-realistic depictions of surgical gore and brutality. This includes Victor Frankenstein’s attempt to dissect his failed creature and coping with life as a homeless Monster. As before, viewers will be required to decide for themselves as to whether Adam is more or less humane than humans he confronts on the mean streets of L.A.

Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death: Blu-ray
American Horror Project, Volume 1: Blu-ray
At one time, political satirist and standup comedian Bill Maher must have harbored ambitions of becoming a star of the comedy stage, silver screen and television. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Watch his magnum cinema opus, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, and you’ll see for yourself how much more difficult it was Maher to play a politically incorrect jungle guide than to become a politically incorrect talk-show host and celebrity atheist on HBO. Of course, he was young in 1989 and probably envisioned parleying “Cannibal Women” into a regular sitcom gig, in addition to his standup gigs, just like everyone else on the comedy circuit. In J.F. Lawton’s feature debut, Maher also had to overcome playing second fiddle to Shannon Tweed and Adrienne Barbeau, who had already reached iconic status in the world of T&A exploitation flicks. The movie itself is a parody of radical feminism, constructed on a foundation laid by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, with a few references to The African Queen, Indiana Jones and Disneyland’s Jungle Ride thrown in for pop-culture mavens. Tweed plays Margo Hunt, a card-carrying member of N.O.W. – really! — and respected anthropology professor at a SoCal college. She’s enlisted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to counter a plot by fellow educator Dr. Kurtz (Barbeau), who’s raised a guerrilla army of Piranha Women to corner California’s avocado market. No man dares enter the jungle surrounding San Bernardino and Riverside – that’s right, jungle – as long as the cannibal warriors control the orchards. Accompanying Maher and Tweed on the harrowing up-river journey is Bunny, an impressionable home-economics major and brunette in dumb-blond drag. While the leading ladies get to keep their clothes on, a few of the Piranha Women get viewers hopes up by shedding their tops in the opening scene. This qualifies as a semi-bummer, considering that most of the reason for watching “Cannibal Women” is the possibility of Hall of Fame boobage from Tweed and Barbeau. In its place is a screenplay that is frequently quite funny and genuinely satirical. The nicely upgraded Blu-ray only adds a bevy of trailers from other kooky Full Moon pictures.

Over at Arrow Video/MVD, this week’s genre treat arrives in the form of American Horror Project: Volume 1, a compilation that promises “three tales of violence and madness from the 1970s” and largely delivers. The first, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973), is most noteworthy for the appearance of Herve Villechaize, immediately prior to his breakthrough appearances in The Man With the Golden Gun and “Fantasy Island.” Here, though, the heavily French-accented actor is only one of several malevolent freaks residing in the bowels of a run-down fairground. Outsiders Vena Norris and her parents take jobs at Mr. Malatesta’s carnival, running a midway game booth, so they can search for their missing son. Its manager, Mr. Blood (Jerome Dempsey), is a vampire who sees in the Norris clan a temporary supply of plasma. In an underground chamber, Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich) performs deranged experiments and runs old horror films to keep the company of cannibal freaks amused. Christopher Speeth keeps thing creepy by experimenting with camera angles, lighting and atmospheric music. The movie’s low-budget constraints are part of its charms.

In Matt Cimber’s truly disturbing American giallo, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Millie Perkins plays a woman whose dreams and fantasies – triggered by memories of her sexually abusive father – push her to the brink of madness at a most inopportune time for her male lovers. Twenty years after her dad “disappeared at sea,” Molly is finally coming to grips with the reality of her childhood ordeal, which she’s sublimated for all those years. Now, hooked on pills and booze, and working in a Venice Beach nightclub, Molly takes advantage of her access to high-profile father figures to take out her frustrations. They include a pair of Muscle Beach boneheads, a pair of NFL stars and an actor in a popular commercial for razors. Still best known for her debut performance in The Diary of Ann Frank, Perkins shows a lot of courage in a role that requires her to be semi-nude for long stretches of time and be a credible psycho-killer. Turns out, she was perfect for the part. The fact that the story was written by her second husband, Robert Thom (Bloody Mama), probably explains why she accepted such a challenging role. Forty years later, it easily qualifies as an arthouse slasher flick.

Robert Allen Schnitzer’s The Premonotion tells the story of another woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After she’s released from a mental institution, the still unstable Andrea (Ellen Barber) is determined to locate the daughter she gave up for adoption years earlier. When her closest friend, a well-meaning midway clown, takes a photograph of a girl who looks like the child, only five years older, it triggers Andrea’s obsessive need to kidnap her. Danielle Brisebois (“All in the Family”) plays little Jennie, who loves her foster family and has no desire to reconnect with her birth mother. Jennie’s foster mother, played by Sharon Farrell, has premonitions of bad things to come, so it comes as no surprise when investigators are required to rely on ESP and other paranormal techniques to locate and rescue the child. Andrea’s the key suspect, so things get very weird and scary when she’s killed in an accident before the child is discovered. Bonus materials on the six-disc set include three short films by Schnitzer; several background and making-of featurettes, featuring fresh and vintage interviews with casts and crew; a production stills gallery; reversible sleeves for each film., featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork; and a limited edition 60-page booklet, containing new articles on the films. Each film arrives with interesting interviews and background material. This is especially true for Perkins’ recollections from “The Witch.”

The Bees: Blu-ray
The Curse/Curse II: The Bite: Blu-ray
Millennium / R.O.T.O.R.: Blu-ray
The environmental consciousness that grew out of the 1960s’ political movements not only inspired Earth Day and its various green-tinged offshoots, but also a slew of eco-horror films informed by the same dire warnings of disaster that fuel today’s cautionary tales about global-warming. Lacking sophisticated CGI technology and hobbled by Corman-esque budgets, few of these movies were scary enough to keep audiences from collapsing in unintended laugher. Nevertheless, eco-cide wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility, so devising new twists was never a problem for screenwriters. Among the critters that were exploited almost to extinction, but still pop up occasionally in straight-to-DVD flicks are the 28 recognized subspecies of Apis mellifera, a.k.a., killer bees. The “Citizen Kane” of killer-bee movies, of course, remains Irwin Allen’s The Swarm, a big budget affair with lots of stars. Also released in 1978 was Alfredo Zacarias’ much less ambitious The Bees, which probably cost a tenth of what Allen spent on his picture, but squandered every opportunity to become a cult classic. Even with a driven-in-proven cast in John Saxon, Angel Tompkins and John Carradine, the Mexican director approached the project as if Tompkins hadn’t already proven her grindhouse cred in Prime Cut, The Teacher and Walking Tall, Part 2; Saxon hadn’t co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and was coming off a string of giallo flicks; and Carradine wasn’t a living legend in the horror genre. Instead, Zacarias played it completely straight, with his stars portraying the only three scientists standing between an accidental invasion of killer bees and the apocalypse. Vinegar Syndrome has accorded The Bees a bright new 2k restoration from the 35mm negative and added a video interview with Zacarias,

In a double-feature of The Curse and it unrelated sequel, Curse II: The Bite from the late-1980s’ drive-in circuit, the eco-monsters are represented by a toxic meteorite from space hell and irradiated rattle snakes. Neither movie is very good, but genre completists will find a modicum of value in both low-budget pictures. Based on H. P. Lovecraft’s short novel, “The Colour Out of Space” – re-adapted in 2010 by the promising Viet-German newcomer, Huan Vu — The Curse describes the evolution of a waterborne plague somewhere in the rural South, caused either by a virus carried by a meteorite or a fear-mongering land speculator. As the icy-blue rock begins to melt, the nearest farm’s vegetables and fruit appear to flourish unnaturally. On closer inspection, the produce is rancid. Soon, the drinking water is corrupted, as well, leaving residents horribly disfigured. When I say “horribly,” however, I don’t mean in a scary way. As directed by actor David Keith and written by David Chaskin, the most frightening thing in the movie is Claude Akins’ bible-banging bully of a patriarch. Also along for the ride are Wil Wheaton, Malcolm Danare, Cooper Huckabee, John Schneider and, as the horny hausfrau, Kathleen Jordon Gregory. The campier they play it, the better the movie is. Curse II: The Bite is set in the desert Southwest, where radioactive residue from an abandoned nuclear test site has had an adverse effect on the snake population. Once bitten, a snake’s victim begins to develop characteristics of the serpent (enhanced by special-effects master, Screaming Mad George). Here, the central focus is on a pair of young lovers (J. Eddie Peck, Jill Schoelen), who reject the advice of a local yokel by making a detour through the impacted area. Also playing along are Jamie Farr, Shiri Appleby and Bo Svenson.

A second double-feature from the same period and distributor, Shout! Factory, resurrects a pair of sci-fi turkeys, one of which could have benefited from a much larger budget and higher production values, and the other, a RoboCop and Terminator 2 rip-off, that is so unbelievably bad, it demands to be seen. Based on a novel by John Varley, Millennium opens with the collision of a commercial jetliner and alien spacecraft, trolling through a crack in the time/space continuum. Kris Kristofferson plays the NTSB investigator, who, after being encouraged to investigate the peculiar radio transmissions from the cockpit, can’t help but fall in love with a time-shifting woman warrior, Louise (Cheryl Ladd), from 1,000 years in the future. Louise’s cohorts want to prevent the Earth’s suicidal rush to environmental apocalypse, but her romantic inclinations complicate their mission. Originally slated for a much grander presentation, directed by Douglas Trumbull, Millennium suffers from budgetary malnutrition. In 1989, kiddie-television specialist Cullen Blaine decided to jump into the deep end of the filmmaking pool with R.O.T.O.R., a movie about a futuristic cop from the Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research workshop near Dallas. In its prototype stage, R.O.T.O.R. is mistakenly activated and hits the street looking for criminals on whom to exercise its programmed directive: “Judge and execute.” We know that robotics have come a long way from the drawing boards of 1989, but, if anyone had actually seen it, R.O.T.O.R might have stopped all development in its tracks. That said, you may never experience a better worst movie.

The Space Movie
In 1979, British rockumentary specialist Tony Palmer was commissioned by NASA to make a film celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It wasn’t a natural fit, but someone at the space agency admired his epic history of 20th Century music, All You Need Is Love – spanning ragtime and glam rock – and gave him a shot at the project. At the time, the space program had lost the luster attached to it during the 1960s and early 1970s, and American taxpayers had adopted a been-there/done-that attitude, which would extend to the shuttle missions. Released to almost no acclaim or marketing push, Virgin Films’ The Space Movie combines rarely, if ever seen color footage made available by NASA with the prog-rock stylings of British musician and composer Mike Oldfield, whose “Tubular Bells” became a smash hit after being showcased in “The Exorcist.” Nowhere near as trippy as Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” Oldfield’s heavily engineered score complements the underlying mood of excitement and apprehension that accompanied every space mission, from the early rocket tests to the landing on the lunar surface. I’m pretty familiar with most of news footage that emerged from that period, but was surprised by the different looks NASA made available to Palmer. The same applies to some of the radio communications between the astronauts and engineers in Houston.

When Bette Met Mae
If there are two more luminous stars in the Hollywood firmament than Bette Davis and Mae West, you’d need the Hubble Space Telescope to locate them. Ingénues come and go, but the great stars shine forever. If When Bette Met Mae won’t win any awards for its documentary attributes, as a souvenir from a bygone era, it’s a pip. In the fall of 1973, a cocktail party was given by Charles Pollock, a West Hollywood antiques dealer, for his irrepressible friend, Davis, and her truly legendary guest, West. While they’d never met, Bette and Mae held each other in high regard. West was accompanied by her two escorts, Stan Musgrove and Glenn Shahan, who were eager to meet Davis. Also present were Vik Greenfield, who had been Davis’ personal assistant, and Wes Wheadon, a young optometrist and friend of the host. That night, Wheadon happily agreed to serve drinks to Pollock’s guests. He also made sure that a reel-to-reel tape was running and unobtrusive. Blessedly, the men held their peace while Mae and Davis discussed their careers, how they crafted their unique styles of acting, their screen images, writing scripts, demanding fair pay, screen rights and residuals. Neither did they ignore censorship and the Hays Code, stardom, husbands, boyfriends, children and their loyal gay fan base. Indeed, Mae recalls her controversial 1927 stage show, “The Drag,” which was gay, gay, gay before being gay was cool … or legal. What’s captured on tape and dramatized by lip-synching actors is the very definition of the lively art of conversation. If the acting is bothersome, close your eyes and imagine you’re listening to the radio. Sally Kellerman serves as narrator, adding some historical background and introducing archival clips, Polaroids and contemporary interviews. The tape recording has been painstakingly restored and is easy on the ears. The only regret comes in hearing Wheadon admit to running out of tape just as dinner was being served.

Becoming Bulletproof
Every so often, an actor with a physical or learning disability will land a recurring role on a television series, such as “Glee,” “Life Goes On” or “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” While their characters aren’t necessarily there to send a message to viewers about the need for inclusivity in the media – Peter Dinklage and Marlee Matlin are prime examples of actors who’ve transcended what others might consider to be their disability – it’s no sure bet these parts will go to similarly disabled actors. Becoming Bulletproof is a documentary about a Western being made by mixed group of able and disabled actors, as part of an annual endeavor under the Zeno Mountain Farm marquee to write, produce and star in original short films. The participants come from all parts of the United States and represent a myriad of disabilities. Prominent in both the documentary and “Bulletproof,” for example, are A.J. Murray, who uses a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy, and Jeremy Vest, who was born with Williams syndrome and plays the film’s titular hero. Such assignments aren’t easy to perform, but all of the performers are committed to completing the project and attending the Hollywood premiere. There’s nothing sappy about it. Two years ago, activists raised a storm when NBC cast Blair Underwood to play the paraplegic protagonist in a re-boot of the 1970s hit, “Ironside.” It’s possible that the network felt as if it could dodge controversy by hiring an African-American actor, but protesters would have preferred someone who’s actually confined to wheelchair. The makers of Becoming Bulletproof are making a similar case, although it’s more likely that it will be easier to prove their points by appearing in podcasts and on stage, first. To paraphrase the legendary Chicago Alderman Paddy Bauler, “Hollywood ain’t ready for reform.”

Jesus of Nazareth: The Complete Miniseries: 40th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Chuggington: Delivery Dash at the Docks
One thing is clear from the GOP presidential debates: while all of the candidates claim to have a personal relationship with God, none understands what it means to be Christian, according to the gospels in anyone’s bible. If Jesus suddenly appeared on the stage of a televised debate, he’d sweep it clean of politicians and spin doctors the same way he evicted the merchants and money changers from the Temple. When Pope Francis observed, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” he was acknowledging the messages delivered in “Jesus of Nazareth: The Complete Miniseries: 40th Anniversary Edition.” The pontiff probably would disagree vehemently with some of the positions held by Hillary and Bernie, as well, but, at least, they don’t claim to have God on their sides. While it’s true that Pope Paul VI asked Sir Lew Grade to consider making a film on the life of Jesus, the British impresario envisioned the project as being truly ecumenical in spirit. Directed by Franco Ziffirelli (Romeo and Juliet) and co-written by Zeffirelli, Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange) and Suso Cecchi d’Amico (White Nights), “Jesus of Nazareth” has been described as a cinematic Diatessaron (“gospel harmony”), blending the narratives of all four New Testament accounts. Even at 382 minutes, the writers elected to compress aspects of the biblical texts and use a few composite characters. There are miracles, but none that require elaborate special effects. Anticipating an international audience, Grace rounded up a cast of familiar names and faces, including Olivia Hussey, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, Valentina Cortese, Claudia Cardinale, James Earl Jones, James Mason, Ian McShane, Christopher Plummer, Donald Pleasance, Rod Steiger, Peter Ustinov, Michael York, Stacy Keach, Ralph Richardson, Fernando Ray and Sir Laurence Olivier. Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino were considered for leading man, but it was awarded to the relatively unknown Robert Powell, whose performance appears to have been informed by Max von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told. In 1977, Zeffirelli’s no-frills, naturalistic approach to the subject and setting stood out from such less-traditional plays, books and movies as “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell,” “The Passover Plot” and even “Life of Brian.” It should be noted that Jesus doesn’t break out in song at unexpected moments and families escaping tyranny aren’t referred to as “terrorists.”

I don’t know how much the British children’s series, “Chuggington,” owes to the earlier success of “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends,” both of which feature anthropomorphized train locomotives and adventures targeted at very young viewers. Despite giving more than a 25-year head start to the folks at ITV/PBS behind “Thomas,” including guest conductors Ringo Starr, George Carlin, Alec Baldwin and Pierce Brosnan, the Ludorum/BBC production benefits mightily from a distribution partnership here with Disney Junior. It would have been difficult for the creators of “Chuggington” not to be impressed by the merchandising, licensing and video acumen that propelled “Thomas” into the commercial stratosphere. In “Chuggington: Delivery Dash at the Docks,” Koko is thrilled to be spending the day training with Daley, the yard’s new express delivery engine, and new dock master Skipper Stu. Patience and teamwork are the primary lessons being learned in the new DVD compilation, which contains six episodes from the show’s fifth season and a collectible Daley collectible toy.

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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