By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Freaks & Geeks, Daddy’s Home, Censored Voices,Black Mama White Mama, Mammon and more

Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series: Blu-ray
Like “My So-Called Life” before it and “Veronica Mars” after it, “Freaks and Geeks” was a show about suburban teenagers that blurred traditional genre boundaries and appreciated the fact that parents and teachers didn’t have all the solutions to life’s problems. For all of the respect shown these fondly remembered “cult classics,” however, “My So-Called Life” and “Freaks and Geeks” lasted all of one of season, while “Veronica Mars” was always in danger of being cancelled. Indeed, the shows’ greatest accomplishment might have been clearing the way for “Glee,” a show that smashed through the imaginary lines they blurred. Shout!Factory’s Blu-ray release of “Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series” is unusual for taking full advantage of a show that lasted all of 18 episodes, only 15 of which actually were aired in the original 1999-2000 season on NBC. Normally, a show that was canceled prematurely would be accorded a single multi-disk package and, perhaps, some liner notes. Here, though, one multi-disc package contains 18 episodes in their original aspect (1.33:1), with deleted scenes, while another carries the same episodes in the widescreen format (1.78:1). A third disc contains such bonus material as a Museum of Television & Radio panel discussion; complete script for a never-shot episode; three full-episode table reads; original cast audition footage; raw footage; skits by the Sober Students Improv Players; NBC promo material; and several making-of and background featurettes. A separate “notebook” adds a letter and Q&A from creators Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, essays, memorabilia and synopses.

Set in 1980 at the fictional McKinley High near Detroit, “Freaks and Geeks” focused on two groups of outsiders: the stoners, tough kids and bad girls; and the brains, nerds and squares. The jocks, cheerleaders and bullies were noteworthy only in their interaction with the two fringe entities. A few of the teachers were featured in recurring storylines and parents ran the gamut from comic relief to completely dysfunctional. The prevailing lesson to be taken away from the series was and remains: there are no easy answers in life or high school, so keep your eyes, ears and mind open for everything to come. From a distance of 15 years, “Freaks and Geeks” isn’t devoid of cringe-worthy moments, but they’ll seem authentic to anyone who isn’t harboring the misconception that high school was anything but torture. Most fun, I think, is recognizing the faces of actors whose careers were still years away from blossoming and themes that Feig (Bridesmaids) and Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) would revisit in future projects. The co-creators would find several other good excuses to hire Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel in movies. (Segel, Samm Levine, Martin Starr and Busy Philipps would all appear in the series “How I Met Your Mother.”) In the end, “Freaks and Geeks” didn’t suffer from pathetically poor ratings, as do most canceled shows. The licensing fees for the music, alone, would have crippled most series. The large ensemble cast was no bargain, either. NBC probably didn’t want to risk the bottom falling out in the second season. I’m guessing, too, that the network’s sponsors weren’t anxious to have their brands associated with episodes dealing with such issues as teen pregnancy, binge drinking, enjoying pot and other drugs, bashing the establishment, overripe libidos, homosexuality and gender-reassignment surgery. (The problems faced by teachers and parents seem trivial, by comparison.)

Daddy’s Home: Blu-ray
While watching the Blu-ray edition of Paramount’s Christmas comedy, Daddy’s Home, I couldn’t help but wonder when Will Ferrell began morphing into Fred MacMurray. After being successfully cast against type in such great dramas as Double Indemnity, The Caine Mutiny, There’s Always Tomorrow, Pushover and The Apartment, MacMurray would once again face typecasting, but this time as the All-American Dad, in Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber and as single father Steve Douglas, on “My Three Sons.” In the lightweight, if commercially successful Daddy’s Home, Ferrell plays the All-American stepdad to his wife’s two children. Although his Mark Whitaker would appear to be the perfect counter to an absentee father who rides a Harley, wears top-to-toe leather and thinks proper parenting mostly takes place at the mall, he gets nearly no respect at home. Naturally, the kids are crazy about their dad-by-birth, Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg), and openly hostile to Mark. (I didn’t buy the rude behavior directed at such a decent man, but it’s the film’s central conceit.) Their mom, Sara (Linda Cardellini), is too buffaloed by her ex-husband’s blarney to tell him to book a room in a motel or to see through his scheme to reclaim her heart. Mark sees through the ruse, but is too nice a guy to send Dusty packing, especially after he schmoozes his boss (Thomas Haden Church). The more Mark tries to even the playing field at home, the more paranoid and buffoonish he acts in front of the family. The one-upmanship doesn’t really get funny until the two men try to out-impress the kids at a Lakers’ game. Mark spends a fortune for courtside seats and souvenirs, but is trumped by Dusty’s ability to stage a meeting with Kobe. It causes Mark to drown his disappointment and envy in beer, which translates into a hugely embarrassing performance in a halftime three-point competition. It’s the only scene that demonstrates co-writer/director Sean Anders understands the difference between cheap slapstick (That’s My Boy, Horrible Bosses 2) and the precise comic timing Ferrell can bring to physical gag, when he’s on his game. Like I said, however, Daddy’s Home did extremely well against very tough competition over the Christmas holiday, so I might not be the right person to listen to on the subject. The PG-13 rating seems fairly earned, with only a couple of silly dick gags standing in the way of a PG. The package adds several deleted scenes, a blooper and a half-dozen background and making-of featurettes.

Censored Voices
Almost 50 years ago, this June, Israel kicked the crap out of a coalition of Arab states determined to wipe it off of the maps redrawn after the 1948 war. It did so by launching a devastating pre-emptive strike against the Egyptian Air Force and a nearly simultaneous ground offensive against tanks and infantry massed in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai. Unwilling to admit defeat, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser convinced his counterparts in Syria and Jordan that reports of his military’s demise were greatly exaggerated and they shouldn’t dissuade anyone from going ahead with plans to attack Israel from the north and east. Even before the Arabs could say “uncle” and forestall the disaster, Israeli counterattacks resulted in the seizure of East Jerusalem and West Bank from Jordan, while Syria was forced to pull back from the Golan Heights. If the defeated countries had played their cards right, they might have found Israel responsive to some concessions on captured territory, but the sound of sword-rattling drowned out any hope for long-term peace. Almost overnight, Israel went from underdog to potentially invincible superpower, with a new problem weighing heavy in its hands. By not immediately resolving the plight of Palestinians expelled from annexed territory or forced to live in ghetto conditions in their own homes, the country opened its windows to the winds of political hypocrisy, opportunism and media manipulation by the PLO and other terrorist organizations. The only thing that’s changed in the last half-century is the increased threat to Israel by previously powerless states and its conservative government’s willingness to spit in the eye of longtime allies.

Mor Loushy’s impassioned documentary Censored Voices reminds us that, except in times of imminent danger, Israeli homogeneity has never really existed. The ink hadn’t even dried on the ceasefire agreement before people on all sides of the political spectrum began to debate the ramifications of annexing captured territory and issues relating to Palestinian despair. One week after the war, while much of the country was still celebrating the reclamation of Old Jerusalem, novelist Amos Oz and historian Avraham Shapira visited several kibbutzim to record the fresh and candid recollections of reservists returning from the battlefield. Although severely censored by the Israel Defense Force, the transcripts would provide material for a popular work of non-fiction, “The Seventh Day.” Loushy had read the book, but wondered what the “censored voices” had to say. It took some convincing on her part to get Shapira to give her permission to peruse the tapes and compare them to the edited transcripts. While it can be argued that the kibbutzniks interviewed might have been predisposed to adopt more progressive, anti-nationalist attitudes after experiencing the horrors of war, the authenticity and sincerity in the anonymously recorded voices is palpable. Even so, Censored Voices doesn’t pretend to offer a balanced accounting of post-war public opinion. Once Loushy had gained access to the tapes, she attempted to round up the men interviewed and film them. She didn’t, however, record anything except their facial expressions. What’s striking about the observations is the prescience in evidence. While considering the implications of Israel so suddenly evolving from David to Goliath, the men predicted the eventuality of future wars and the unending turmoil surrounding the occupation of land Palestinians traditionally called home. Also included are tales of heroism and recrimination, based on battlefield memories. Censored Voices is a sobering document, but one that’s no less relevant today than when the censors took their red pencils to the transcripts.

Addiction Incorporated
In 1999, Michael Mann enlisted considerable star power to tell the story of a research chemist who came under personal and professional attack when he decided to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco. Despite only tepid box-office numbers, The Insider, was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including one for Russell Crowe as valiant whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. Charles Evans Jr.’s provocative documentary, Addiction Incorporated, tells a remarkably similar tale of corporate malfeasance, greed and fraud. Instead of Brown & Williamson, where Wigand was employed, Victor J. DeNoble was employed by Philip Morris in the Behavioral Research Department from 1980-84. As such, he performed in-house rat studies on nicotine and addiction and was later fired because of the sensitive nature of what his studies revealed about nicotine dependency. His superiors had heard enough and decided to bury the evidence. After his lab was shuttered and publication of the results of years of research was canceled by scientific journals, DeNoble decided that it was his civic duty to make his findings public. The startling revelations prompted the 1994 congressional hearings, during which the seven heads of the major tobacco companies declared, under oath, that they believed nicotine was not addictive and could not be manipulated to ensure dependency. The legislators demanded that DeNoble be relieved of his contractual pledge to maintain silence on the research, clearly proving the executives were lying. Before the dust settled, an alliance of journalists, politicians, attorneys and whistleblowers set out to achieve what was once considered impossible: the first-ever federal regulation of the tobacco industry. Released in 2011, Addiction Incorporated only played in a couple of big-city theaters and festivals. It certainly didn’t benefit from being so far removed from 1998, when the Master Settlement Agreement was announced between states’ attorneys general and tobacco companies to settle lawsuits. The war against tobacco addiction continues, but the really loud guns were fired more than a decade earlier. In another similarity, journalists interviewed here from ABC News became the target of bullying by Big Tobacco, just as CBS’ Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) felt the heat in The Insider. Like CBS, ABC caved to the pressure of multibillion-dollar lawsuits.

Rage of Honor: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Invasion U.S.A.: Blu-ray
Braddock: Missing in Action III: Blu-ray
In February, Arrow Video released a nicely restored edition of the ninja action flick, Pray for Death, starring martial-arts all-star Sho Kosugi (Enter the Ninja) and directed by Gordon Hessler (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). It’s only taken a month for its virtual sequel, Rage of Honor, to arrive in Blu-ray, with the same principals on board. The stories aren’t identical, as was the case with other mid-1980s action series, but they certainly aren’t different enough to warrant separate releases. A double-feature package would have served the same purpose, while saving collectors a few bucks. Instead of being set exclusively in a big U.S. city, Rage of Honor takes place in the American Southwest, Argentina and the Philippines, a location historically synonymous with low-budget action slop. After the death of his partner in a bungled drug bust, federal agent Shiro Tanaka (Kosugi) trades his badge and standard-issue sidearm for an arsenal comprised of nunchucks, blades and ninja stars. He follows the trail of blood to Buenos Aries and the jungles of Brazil (a.k.a., Philippines) for a series of showdowns with an international team of narco-terrorists. There’s nothing really new here, except the South American locations, which allowed for some excellent chase scenes, including one pitting cigarette boats. Besides performing the ninja tropes with care and precision, Kosugi is a master acrobat and, in Pray for Death and Rage of Honor, Hessler takes full advantage of his athleticism. The new Arrow edition is from a transfer of original elements by MGM. It adds the featurette, “Sho and Tell, Part 2: The Domination,” which extends interviews shot for Pray for Death; vintage trailers; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; and a collectors’ booklet with new writing on the film and an extract from Kosugi’s upcoming book.

At about the same time in American movie history as Kosugi was kicking butts and taking names, Chuck Norris was selling tickets like hotcakes as the second great American avenger to Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo. While Stallone fought terribly hard not to be pigeonholed as a punch-drunk pugilist or jungle fighter with a chip on his shoulder, Norris pretty much rolled with the punches. An accomplished martial-arts fighter and teacher, Norris played to the crowd desperate for a non-Asian protagonist – Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren would follow – committed to killing commies for Christ and serving as America’s last hope to find and free the 1,000-plus POWs said to be held by the Vietnamese, who soon become a trading partner. Other Norris characters crushed drug pushers and organized crime at home and abroad. His association with Cannon Films ensured that he’d never be accorded the same budgets or marketing campaigns as Stallone. Neither, though, were the financial expectations as high. When Cannon went out of business, Norris was able to resuscitate his career on the small screen’s “Walker, Texas Ranger” and by making movies designed to go straight to video. Released in 1985, Invasion U.S.A. plays like the Bay of Pigs Invasion in reverse, crossed with Charles Manson’s helter-skelter theory of instigating a race war. As former CIA agent Matt Hunter, Norris is asked by the agency to put down an invasion of generic anti-American rebels, led by a former foe simply named Rostov. One of the reasons Hunter quit is because he wasn’t allowed to kill Rostov when the opportunity arose several years earlier. So, it isn’t until his nemesis attacks his home in the Everglades that Hunter agrees to eliminate Rostov and stop the invasion. Absurd, yes, but packed with hard-core action. The Blu-ray adds commentary by director Joseph Zito and interviews with writer James Bruner, special effects makeup artists Tom Savini, Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero.

Braddock: Missing in Action III is the third in series of “MIA” titles dedicated to the memory of Norris’ younger brother, Wieland, who was killed in the Vietnam War in 1970. It was directed by brother and frequent collaborator, Aaron, who also served in the war and is a martial-arts expert. This time Colonel James Braddock returns to Southeast Asia after he is told that his Vietnamese wife and 12-year-old son are still alive and possibly living among other Amer-Asian dependents left behind in the chaos of the takeover of Saigon by NVA and Vietcong forces. Without going into too much detail, Braddock somehow locates the stronghold in which the children are being held. After being captured and tortured for what seems be an eternity, Braddock is required to fight half of what’s left of the Vietnamese army, after its decimation in the first and second “MIA,” before crossing into Thailand with the children. He survives less on kung-fu than state-of-the-art weaponry.

Black Mama, White Mama: Blu-ray
In the annals of exploitation and grindhouse history, no picture stands taller or stoops lower the Eddie Romero’s Black Mama, White Mama. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize it as the Citizen Kane of the genre, few pictures fused as many key thematic and visual elements into such a wildly entertaining product. Filmed in the Philippines from a script co-authored by Jonathan Demme and Joe Viola — collaborators on The Hot Box, Angels Hard as They Come and Rio TigreBlack Mama, White Mama (a.k.a., “Women in Chains,”
“Chained Women” and “Hot, Hard and Mean”) borrowed liberally from Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, which starred Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in roles assumed by Margaret Markov and Pam Grier. For Grier, the movie sat on the cusp of her transition from women-in-prison (The Big Bird Cage) and Blaxploitation (Coffey) flicks. They play diametrically opposed convicts – a revolutionary and “harem girl” — who meet on a bus heading for a hell-hole prison in the boonies. Before escaping in chains, they engage in an unforgettable cat fight and shower scene, complete with a voyeuristic blond guard watching behind a peephole. What else makes “BM/WM” essential viewing? Well, there’s Corman regular Sid Haig, as an American cowboy bounty hunter; Lynn Borden, whose previous credits included Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Frogs and The Weekend Nun; the insanely prolific Philippine actor Vic Diaz; truckloads of U.S. surplus weaponry; fake nuns in chains; drawers full of white cotton panties; and the extraordinary tagline, “Chicks in chains … on the lam from a prison hell … manacled together by hate and the strange ideas a woman gets after 1,000 nights without a man.” The excellent Arrow Video restoration arrives with high- and standard-definition presentations; the original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray); commentary by filmmaker Andrew Leavold, director of “The Search for Weng Weng”; essential interviews with Markov, Haig and Romero; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips; and a first-pressing booklet with new writing on the film by Temple of Schlock’s Chris Poggiali, as well as archival stills and posters.

Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs
All Hell Breaks Loose
Anyone whose taste in movies runs to such wacky straight-to-Syfy flicks as Sharknado, Lavalantula, SnakeHead Swamp and the upcoming Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre will want to rush out and find Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs. None of these titles could be considered good by anyone’s standards, except those used to judge movies that are so bad they almost demand to be watched and passed around by friends. Also known as “Jurassic Hunters,” Ari Novak’s first quasi-theatrical feature benefits from tight pacing, some decent sight gags and the mountains surrounding Livingstone, Montana. Dollar-for-dollar-spent, Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs makes Jurassic World look like, well, Sharknado: Heart of Sharkness. In a plot that might have been inspired by Rodan, miners are ordered by their greedy boss to break through an artificially constructed wall in a shaft leading to an iridium deposit. No sooner do they crack the blockage than they’re attacked by Velociraptors that have been trapped inside the chamber for God knows how long. The foreman manages to toss an explosive charge behind him in his rush to get out of the cave, temporarily stopping the advance of the vicious carnivores. It doesn’t long for the surviving raptors to clear the impediment and make a beeline to a small lake where a group of bikini-clad babes are taking a dip. In fact, the monsters appear to have an appetite for women in and out of uniform. The crazy thing about the Velociraptors is how easy it is to take them out with handguns, shotguns and flame-tipped arrows. In movies with exponentially larger budgets, it requires a small army to kill a single dinosaur. Here, a square-jawed cowboy (Rib Hillis), his ex-girlfriend and her sheriff dad (John Freeman) take out a bunch them with the kinds of constitutionally protected guns that kids in Montana and Texas receive as gifts for their First Communion. For variety, an actual T-Rex and Triceratops escape from the mine, as well. I don’t remember the latter being killed, so it might still be wandering around Montana looking for a Hooters to terrorize. And, lest I forget, the always delightful Eric Roberts plays a jailhouse lush.

If Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs pays homage to Japanese creature features of the 1950s, All Hell Breaks Loose is a throwback to the heyday of bad-biker movies, which may have met their waterloo when Joe Namath and Ann-Margaret were paired in C.C. & Company. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Jeremy Garner’s debut feature a religious film, but it involves a motorcycle gang from hell, Satan’s Sinners, determined to kidnap a virgin to be defiled by their demonic master. In doing so, they murder her husband before the geeky couple can consummate their marriage. While she’s being held hostage in a dirtball strip bar, God appears in cowboy drag to breathe new life into the newlywed. Even in his resurrected form, the poor sap, is an inordinately inept soldier of the lord. Without coming close to freeing his wife, he’s repeatedly murdered and reborn. Despite the DIY budget, the bikers look convincingly sleazy and comfortable in their native environment. There’s plenty of ridiculously gory action, too. For what it’s worth, the screenplay was penned by a self-described movie critic, who goes by the name of The Vocabulariast. That has to count for something.

Disturbing Behavior: Blu-ray
I can’t imagine many more dispiriting things for a director to experience than watching his picture being pecked to death by ducks assembled by studio executives in focus groups to nitpick pictures they may not completely grasp. Just as hurtful is reading reviews that blame the director for screwing up a picture that actually was dismantled and stitched back together by producers wielding mallets where a scalpel would have been the appropriate tool. Apparently, this is what happened to Disturbing Behavior, a movie that started out as a teen-horror version of The Stepford Wives, but ended up looking more like Frank Oz and Paul Rudnick’s uncharacteristically lousy 2004 remake. Essentially, David Nutter (“The X-Files”) and Scott Rosenberg (Beautiful Girls) imagined a high school on an isolated island in Puget Sound, where the normal pecking order has been subverted by the evil Dr. Edgar Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood). In his scheme, the naughty boys and girls are transformed into “blue ribbon” students, without losing all of their bad tendencies. The new kid in school senses that something isn’t kosher, but may be overmatched in restoring the status quo. The cast includes James Marsden, Katie Holmes and Nick Stahl. For some reason, 1999 overflowed with movies about demonic teens. The Blu-ray adds a slightly snarky commentary with Nutter, deleted scenes and an alternate ending.

MHz Networks: The Heavy Water War
MHz Networks: Mammon
AMC: Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season: Special Edition: Blu-ray
AMC: Turn: Washington’s Spies: Season 2
NOVA: Secret Tunnel Warfare
NOVA: Mystery Beneath the Ice
Maude: Season Four
Nickelodeon: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Half-Shell Heroes: Blast to the Past
PBS Kids: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Super Daniel
Of all the little-known stories about World War II, the least little-known may be the one in which Norwegian resistance fighters and British intelligence specialists combined forces to stall Hitler’s war machine by depriving his scientists of the “heavy water” required to control nuclear fission. That and the absence of key researchers – many of whom were Jewish and, therefore, scientists non grata in the Third Reich – kept Germany from beating the Allies to nuclear dominance. Besides being the subject of several books, the same story was first covered in the 1948 Franco-Norwegian production, Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water, with many of the original Nordic commandos playing themselves. In the 1965 British film, The Heroes of Telemark, Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris were cast in the key roles. Ray Mears’ 2003 documentary, The Real Heroes of Telemark, corrected several of the fudged facts in Anthony Mann’s hit movie. It and other historical made-for-cable docs have kept the memory of the courageous men and women alive to this day. At 267 minutes, MHz Networks’ mini-series “The Heavy Water War” (a.k.a., “The Saboteurs”) enjoyed the luxury of being as close to historically correct as possible, while also exploiting the inherent drama of the top-secret preparations and execution of the raid; the pressure put on German Nobel Prize-winner Werner Heisenberg to create a pineapple-sized bomb capable of decimating London; and the stress of family dynamics in Norway and Germany. There’s a hint of romance, but, unlike in The Heroes of Telemark, only of the unrequited variety between the essential Norwegian defector, Leif Tronstad (Espen Klouman Høiner) and a widowed intelligence officer (Anna Friel), who’s fictitious. What may not be recalled from previous versions of the story is the terrible toll paid by several dozen potential saboteurs, who were captured and killed by German soldiers before they could rendezvous with the advance team of four Norwegian fighters, who’d run out of food. Otherwise, the action bounces between Norsk Hydro plant in Rjukan, the British training base in Scotland, Berlin and the snow-covered mountains that stood between the raiders and factory. The mini-series doesn’t ignore the moral and ethical issues faced by scientists and spies, alike, including the slaughter of innocent civilians whose only crime is living too close to the target.

Also from Norway, by way of MHz Networks, comes the contemporary mini-series “Mammon,” which documents the end days of a decades-long financial and political conspiracy that becomes unraveled when a participant’s role is uncovered by his reporter brother, Peter Verås (Jon Øigarden), and, rather than spilling the beans, commits suicide. Bewildered and grief-stricken, Peter continues his investigation but the closer he gets to the truth, the more dangerous it becomes for him and his family. Another mysterious suicide provides the journalist with the single verbal clue, “Abraham,” that suggests the financial wrongdoing also involves some old-fashioned Old Testament violence. Naturally, as Peter gets closer to developing leads into the increasingly bizarre scheme, he encounters resistance from his pastor father, nephew, an ex-girlfriend, police, editor, paid assassins, other reporters and prominent businessmen and politicians, who may or may not share links to Abraham. Given the six-day time span of the narrative and mini-series, the story is only slightly less complicated than it could have been if William Faulkner had been called in to do a rewrite. I didn’t recognize any of the cast members, but I’m pretty sure they’re all big stars in Scandinavia, where “Mammon” was a hit. Fans of such recent exports as “The Killing,” “Borgen,” “Wallander,” “The Bridge” and “Lilyhammer” should find a lot to enjoy here.

Working from the principle that American television will always find room for zombies and other undead creatures, AMC parlayed the huge success of “The Walking Dead” into a potentially even greater franchise, by adding the combination origin story/prequel, “Fear the Walking Dead,” into a companion series. The six-episode horror/drama mini-series is based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Its second season, debuting on April 10, will be comprised of 15 episodes.  This time, the epicenter of the plague in Los Angeles, when some hope for a cure is held by public-health officials and the infected are being warehoused in sports arenas. The family around whom the narrative revolves lives in the working-class enclave of El Sereno, on the city’s Eastside. It’s been set apart by a high chain-link fence, monitored by soldiers, after riots break out downtown. After escaping the violence, the Clark/Manawa and Salazar clans have found shelter in the abandoned homes of the barricaded suburb. Both extended families have troubles of their own to conquer before finding a permanent home, maybe in Georgia. Foremost among them, perhaps, is the heroin addiction of teen burnout Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), who’s finding it difficult to cop in the zombie apocalypse. The Salazars don’t trust the gringos and the Clark/Manawas are divided by marriage and rivalries between Travis’ first and second wives. “Fear the Walking Dead” gets a bit soapy around the edges, but it’s relieved by plenty of cool head-splattering action, as the epidemic spreads and becomes uncontrollable. Not surprisingly, the production values are all top-notch, especially settings that will be familiar to anyone who lives east of La Brea in L.A. The Blu-ray package adds the featurettes, “A Look at the Series,” a brief look at the series’ timeframe, setting, characters and trials, and “Inside the Characters of ‘Fear the Walking Dead,’”; audio commentaries; a widescreen version of the pilot episode; deleted scenes; and other undead goodies.

In the second season of AMC’s “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” the producers have moved beyond the origins of the Culper Ring, a spy network centered in New York City, Long Island and Connecticut formulated to feed intelligence directly to General George Washington. In 1776, the outcome of the Revolutionary War was anything but a foregone conclusion. As Season One opened, British forces recaptured Long Island, Staten Island and New York City for the Crown, leaving Washington’s army in dire straits. Against the wishes of his loyalist father, Long Island farmer Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) would put his life in constant danger by passing through enemy lines in the guise of a merchant carrying produce to New York. The ring members developed invisible ink and other unique ways of communicating with fellow spies, known only by numbers. The arrest of Woodhull in the early episodes of the second season allows for the focus to shift to the evil machinations of Benedict Arnold and John Graves Simcoe; the fragile mental states of King George and General George; women volunteers on both sides of the fence; and the key roles played by black freemen. There are times in the narrative when it seems as if every character not fighting is spying, passing along gossip as fact or positioning himself for a job after the war ends. I think “Turn” is a terrific series – it returns in late-April – with a clear ring of authenticity throughout. Even at the end of the season, the war has a long way to go before it’s over. I hope “Turn” can find the audience necessary to take us there, with it.  The DVD adds deleted and extended scenes and a background featurette on Washington and William “Billy” Lee.

“NOVA” takes on two very different subjects, a world apart, in this week’s DVD packages. “Secret Tunnel Warfare” returns to the blood-drenched fields near the village of Messines, in Belgian West Flanders, where some of the heaviest fighting of World War I took place. To break a years’ long stalemate, Allies devised a devastating attack, planting 600 tons of explosives in secret tunnels carved under the German trenches. Scratch the surface of the cornfields there today and you’ll find a largely intact network of trenches, tunnels and mines left behind when the Armistice was signed, compete with live ammunition and corroding grenades, the skeletons of horses killed in the line of duty, helmets and unexploded ordinance. At the expense of a few dozen ears of corn, archaeologists are revealing the extraordinary scale and risks of the Allied tunneling operations in one of the biggest excavations ever undertaken on the Western Front. It opens a unique window on the frenzy of Allied mining activity that led up to the attack in June of 1917, during which mines planted under the German lines were simultaneously triggered, killing an estimated 10,000 German troops instantly.

In “Mystery Beneath the Ice,” the loyalty of PBS viewers is rewarded with yet another reason to worry about the imminent disruption of life on Earth. Apparently, the krill apocalypse has begun and it’s taking place under a thick crust of ice. The population of krill crucial to the Antarctic ecosystem – and, by extension, the world’s ecosystem –is crashing for reasons that continue to baffle the experts. One theory argues that the krill life cycle is driven by an internal body clock that responds to the waxing and waning of the Antarctic ice pack. As climate change alters the timing of the ice pack, their life cycle is disrupted. If krill go the way of the dodo, a primary food source for large sea animals goes with it. Scientists are working on, above and below the ice pack to discover ways to reverse the situation, but diving in frigid conditions makes it tough to find the breeding caves, where krill life begins.

It’s appropriate that Season Four of “Maude” opens with Our Heroine considering a run for New York State Senate, which, on paper, might sound like a good idea, but seriously threatens her marriage to Walter, who’s in danger falling off the wagon. Later in the season, Maude really shows off her independent streak when she spearheads a campaign to elect Henry Fonda as President of the United States, whether or not he wants to be typecast in the role.

Targeted at a slightly younger audience than other TMNT products, “Half-Shell Heroes: Blast to the Past” finds the turtles in the Jurassic Era, where they encounter some friendly dinosaurs and decidedly unfriendly aliens from the future. Using their ninja skills and transportation supplied by the dinosaurs, the four brothers must find a waу to save the daу and future simultaneously. It previously aired as a hourlong special, counting commercials, on Nickelodeon.

From PBS Kids comes Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Super Daniel, with nine episodes sure to tickle the fancy of your preschoolers. Here, the young tiger uses his imagination and “superpowers,” to figure out ways to help his friends out of predicaments. The new collection offers almost two hours of previously aired episodes, including bonus feature, “Goodnight Daniel.”

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

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