By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup:  Ip Man 3, Lady in the Van, Chainsaw 2, Antonia’s Line, Gangster VIP, Dangerous Men, Lamb and more

Ip Man 3: Blu-ray

The story of the truly legendary Chinese martial-arts teacher, Ip Man, has been told many times on film over the last 22 years. He was introduced in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story(1993),, but mostly as a sidebar reference in an overly reverential biopic about the world’s most famous kung fu fighter. It wasn’t until 2008 that Ip Man, who introduced the Wing Chun technique to Lee 50 years earlier, would be lionized in movies in which the more famous studentLee would be an incidental character. Ip Man 3 marks the end of a trilogy starring Donnie Yen and directed by Wilson Yip. Although exaggerated, the series remained faithful to the spirit of the man and influence Wing Chung had on the discipline. In 2013, Hong Kong writer=director Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love) chimed in the on the subject in The Grandmaster, which did well at the international box office and was nominated for Academy Awards in the cinematography and fashion-design categories. Just as that film covered much of the same territory as Yip’s first two installments, Ip Man 3 adds biographical material also introduced in The Grandmaster, including the death of his wife to cancer. Now peacefully settled in British-controlled Hong Kong, Ip Man once again finds himself in the middle of hostile territory, this time when a local triad and land developer combine their efforts to take over property being used by a karate school. They’re formidable foes, but Ip Man has the backing of former students against the hordes of thugs available to the triad.

The thing that really sets Ip Man 3 apart from the first two films, however, is the presence of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson – huh? – as, who provides the muscular frontmanmuscle for athe property-development team. Soft-spoken as ever, Tyson’s Frank is a family man, as well as a two-fisted brawler. That he will engage in mortal combat with Ip Man – or one of his acolytes – is assured from the first second we lay eyes on him. Frank’s fighting style could hardly be more different than Ip Man’s Wing Chung, which is to boxing what ballet is to breaksquare dancing. It is a concept-based martial art and form of self-defense that utilizesutilizing both striking and grappling movements, while specializing in close-range combat. Frequently practiced on a wooden dummy, an expert practitioner can deliver lethal blows from a distance one or two inches from his opponent. The intricately choreographed acting scenes here also highlightutilize several forms of specialized weaponry and combat, including Muay Thai, MMA, daggersknives, Six and a Half Point Poles, Butterfly Swords, kicks, elbow strikes and eye gouges. Danny Chan, who had previously portrayed Lee in the 2008 TV series, “The Legend of Bruce Lee,” reprises the character in what amount to be entertaining cameos. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette and interviews with Yen and Tyson.

The Lady in the Van: Blu-ray

One needn’t be enamored with the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in “Downton Abbey,” or Muriel Donnelly, of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, to pick up a copy of Nicholas Hytner and writer Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van. A willingness to sample anything and everything in which Maggie Smith is involved is what could make this very, very British dramedy appealing to American audiences outside the arthouse circuit. In it, Smith plays Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her to temporarily to park her beat-up van in the driveway of his Camden home. Even though it’s a well-off neighborhood, largely populated by artsy types, Mary is the kind of woman who could test the patience of a saint. She’s disheveled, cantankerous and tortured by demons that took up residence in her nogginmind decades earlier. Alex Jennings is as well-cast as the Oxford-educated Bennett – and his professionally competitive and frequently visible alter ego — as Smith is as Mary. Fastidious, reclusive and largely closeted, Bennett already had made a name for himself in the satirical revue, “Beyond the Fringe,” by the time Mary moved into his driveway. While the writer may have been intimidated by her outspoken nature, it’s also likely that Bennett saw in Mary a bit of his mother, who was being treated for depression in a private facility.. A lot of things happen over the course of 15 years, including the unraveling of the mystery that keeps Mary locked in her own private nightmarehell. In 2000, Smith was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Theater Award for her performance in “The Lady in the Van,” also directed by Nicholas Hytner. She reprised the role in 2009, on BBC Radio 4, opposite Bennett playing himself. For his part, Hytner directed both the stage and screen versions of Bennett’s “The Madness of King George III” and “The History Boys.” Also prominent in the cast are Jim Broadbent, Frances de la Tour and James Corden. The Blu-ray adds Hytner’s commentary; the featurettes “Playing the Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd,” “The Making of ‘The Lady in the Van’” and “The Visual Effects”; and deleted scenes.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray

The Stuff: Special Edition: Blu-ray

Thirty years ago, when Tobe Hooper unleashed “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2”,” on an unsuspecting public, mainstream critics labored to find the right words to condemn it as unmitigated trash. In Roger Ebert’s single-star review, he noted that “(It) has a lot of blood and disembowelment, to be sure, but it doesn’t have the terror of the original, the desire to be taken seriously. It’s a geek show.” Furthermore, “Maybe Tobe Hooper — who went on to make Poltergeist for Steven Spielberg — has grown mainstream, less concerned to shock, more eager to show us it’s all a joke.” Today, though, the same things that turned Ebert and others against the sequel to a film most of the same critics praised, upon its release in 1974, have found a ready audience among horror geeks whose collective voice now speaks at greater volume than their counterparts in the print media. I can see both points. By all traditional standards, “Part 2” is an unholy mess. If, in 1986, the now-shuttered Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College had a film school and its students had been assigned a sequel, its students might have collaborated on a movie very much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2. With such over-the-top characters as Leatherface, Chop Top, Grandpa and Drayton “The Cook” Sawyer back in tow, in full freak-out regalia, the only thing standing between “Part 2” and some good old-fashioned screams is a script with its tongue solidly in its cheek.


Adding to the ironic fun was the casting of a newly clean-and-sober Dennis Hopper as Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright, who’s been seeking revenge against the cannibal clan ever since they butchered his niece. His next best lead comes after the Sawyers attack a pair of douchebag yuppies, driving to a big hoedown in Dallas. Just before they’re confronted on a bridge, the lads make a call to local radio host, Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams), who records the whole thing and wants to join Lefty in his investigation. Bad idea. The lawman purchases a chainsaw of his own and Stretch falls down a rabbit hole into the Sawyers’ chamber of horrors. It’s a wonderlandmasterpiece of gore, depravity and skeletal memorabilia, as are the makeup effects by Tom Savini and Bart Mixon and Cary White’s production design. I also wonder what Ebert might have made of the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition, which outdoes Criterion Collection at its own game. In addition to the new 2K HD scan of the inter-positive film element, the two-disc set adds three separate commentary tracks, with cast and crew; extended outtakes from the feature-length “It Runs in the Family” documentary, featuring L.M. Kit Carson and Lou Perryman; a 43-minute compilation of behind-the-scenes footage from Tom Savini’s archives; an alternate opening-credit sequence; deleted scenes; still galleries including posters and lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos, stills, and collector’s gallery; MGM’s original HD Master, with color correction supervision by director of photography Richard Kooris; “House of Pain,” an interview with make-up-effects artists Bart Mixon, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale and John Vulich; “Yuppie Meat,” an interview with actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon; “Cutting Moments,” with editor Alain Jakubowicz; “Behind the Mask,” an interview with stuntman and Leatherface performer Bob Elmore; “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds:” Revisiting the locations of the film, hosted by Sean Clark; the entire “It Runs in the Family,” a six-part documentary, featuring interviews with screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Bill Johnson, Lou Perryman and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini.


Larry Cohen’s cautionary horror flick, The Stuff, received a half-star greater rating from Roger Ebert than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Part 2. Had he lived long enough to see the special Blu-ray editions, he might have wondered what he missed. What was easily dismissed in 1985-86 is being re-released today with audio commentaries, featurettes, interviews, essays and other goodies, as might befit an Oscar-winning or Cannes sensation. The title refers to a white substance found gurgling from the ground near a petroleum refinery in Alaska. Turns out, the “stuff” is so addictively delicious that a purveyor of supermarket desserts decides to package, distribute and market the product as if it were Ben & Jerry’s irresistible Cherry Garcia ice cream. The Stuff immediately recalls The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and original marketing campaigns for cigarettes, cocaine-laced Coca-Cola products and miracle drugs, ranging from penicillin to Viagra. Once devoured, average consumers begin parroting advertising slogans and hoarding containers in every nook-and-cranny of their homes. Only a curious pre-teen boy, Jason, (Scott Bloom), and industrial spysaboteur, Mo (Michael Moriarty), suspect that Stuff is comprised of chemicals that may not be entirely nutritious or healthy. Indeed, once threatened, Stuff takes on a life of its own, demanding of its addicts that they protect it from close inspection by government agencies.

Despite its environmental message, The Stuff is no more convincing today than it was in 1985 and the fluffy white “creature” is far less frightening than the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. Because its R-rating is totally unjustified, it would do wellmake a good on Syfy, where such low-budget, lower-IQ fare is commonplace. The Arrow Video facelift is only as good as the original camera negative allows it to be. What is undeniably fun is seeing Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Patrick O’Neal, Brooke Adams, Tammy Grimes, Abe Vigoda, Clara “Where’s the Beef” Peller, Eric Bogosian, Patrick Dempsey and Mira Sorvino in roles they may or may not regret accepting. Other features include “Can’t Get Enough of ‘The Stuff’: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature”; introduction and trailer commentary by director and fan Darren Bousman (Saw II); a reversible sleeve, with original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin; and a booklet withnew writing on the film by Joel Harley, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials. If I were to recommend other Cohen films, I’d start with Little Caesar, It’s Alive and Q.

Antonia’s Line: Blu-ray

Marleen Gorris’ multigenerational drama, Antonia’s Line, opens in the immediate wake of World War II, in a Dutch village left largely intact by German occupation forces, but not without some permanent scars. Into it strolls a strong-willed native daughter, Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy), who’s returned to claim the family farm she’ll inherit when her desperately ill mother finally kicks the bucket. Along the way, Antonia gives her own free-spirited artist daughter, Danielle (Els Dottermans), a cook’s tour of the rural village. Among the residents who survived the occupation are such colorfully named characters as Crooked Finger, Loony Lips, Mad Madonna and Protestant. For the next 40 years of Antonia and Danielle’s life, these and other endearing characters will fit into a narrative that eventually will include their children, grandchildren, and great-children and displaced neighbors.

. The title refers to the line of women for whom men are a largely incidental force within the family. It would be stretching the point to suggest that each new daughter represents a different step on the ladder of 20th Century feminist thought, because Antonia’s Line evolves organically from the land and womb. Every so often, Gorris spices the narrative with whimsical touches of magical realism, leftover traces of latent European fascism, nihilistic gloom, repressed Protestant thought and Catholic mysticism. Another common denominator is the communal sacrament of shared bounty. You’d think that an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film — the first to go to a woman director in the category — would have assured Gorris a place in the cinematic firmament for years to come. In fact, she would helm only seven more pictures in the next 20 years, including Mrs. Dalloway, The Luzhin Defence, Carolina and an episode of “The L Word.” Sadly, that appears to be par for the course for outspoken feminists, who address themes related to sexual violence and gay and lesbian issues. The Blu-ray package includes an archival interview with Gorris and a collector’s booklet, with an essay by Thelma Adams, cast and crew credits, chapter breaks and stills.

Outlaw: Gangster VIP: The Complete Collection: Blu-ray

Of all the vintage crime series being refurbished and repackaged by Arrow Video, the six titles in the Outlaw: Gangster VIP may be the most curious. It was inspired by the titular novel, written by Goro Fujita, a former gangster who wrote about what he knew: life as a state-raised yakuza functionaryassassin in the 1960s. Like the mafia, the yakuza’s place in post-war Japanese society has been alternately romanticized and vilified on screen. The street-level mobsters we meet in Toshio Masuda’s Gangster VIP, Mio Ezaki’sHeartless, and Keiichi Ozawa’s Gangster VIP 2, Black Dagger, Goro the Assassin and Kill! control the bars, brothels, karaoke joints, gambling, noodle shops and rackets in such pockets of crime as Tokyo’s Kabukicho and Roppongi neighborhoods. They bear almost no resemblance to the modern-day samurai earlier filmmakers had painted them to be. Neither had the yakuza consolidated its power bases to seize control of legitimate Japanese industries or political parties, so most of the bloodletting takes place among rival gangs and for relatively low stakes. After serving time in prison for knifing a would-be assassin, Goro (Tetsuya Watari) re-introduces himself to a subterranean world in which, if anything, life is even cheaper than it was before he left. He’s especially appalled by the thugs who terrorize average citizens, especially young women who they see as potential prostitutes. Despite Goro’s reputation, the gangsters resent his desire to remain unattached and Lone Ranger approach to justice. His appeal isn’t based on charisma or sense of nobility, though.

If anything, Goro will remind American audiences of Charles Bronson. His weapon of choice is the hand-forged tanto dagger, which is hidden in a sleeve or under a jacket. Goro’s prowess with a blade allows him to take on dozens of yakuza minions at a time. The feature-length movies in the “Outlaw” package were released in rapid-fire fashion in 1968 and 1969. To say they are formulaic would be an understatement. Watched back-to-back, they might as well have been Xeroxed. The street punks are interchangeable, as are the bosses, prostitutes and fingers that are sliced off whenever someone requires punishment. The funny thing is, though, each of the movies is different enough from the other – sequels, prequels, stand-alones – to encourage binge viewing. A deluge of yakuza films and series from Nikkatsu and Toei studios would follow in the wake of “Outlaw,” including Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity series. The limited-edition box set (3,000 copies) contains all six films in the “Outlaw series,” available with English subtitles for the first time on any home video format. They’ve received high-definition digital transfers, from original film elements by Nikkatsu, as well as original uncompressed mono audio; commentary on Gangster VIP by Jasper Sharp; a visual essay covering the entire series, by Kevin Gilvear; new artwork by Tonci Zonjic; original trailers for all six films and promotional image galleries; and a booklet featuring an interview with director Toshio Masuda, plus fresh essays.

Dangerous Men: Blu-ray

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Dangerous Men a Death Wishfor feminists, but, way back in 1979, it must have seemed like that was what filmmaker John S. Rad had in mind. A better comparison might be made to Ms. 45, if it wasn’t for the fact that Abel Ferrara’s revenge thriller wouldn’t be released for another two years and set 3,000 miles from Malibu, where most of the movie was shot. Flash ahead 25 years, when Dangerous Men was finally finished and exhibited before a nearly empty house in Santa Monica. It, it probably elicited the same response as “Springtime for Hitler,” before the audience determined it was a goof. Conceived, financed and shot in dead earnestness by the Iranian expatriate, Dangerous Men is a revenge flick about an unfortunate young woman, Mina (Melody Wiggins), who’s attacked by a pair of bikers while enjoying a day at the beach with her fiancé. The rape is interrupted by Mina’s boyfriend, who kills one of the bikers and he, in turn, is knifed to death by athe bald behemoth. Without missing a beat, Mina devises a plan to take out her rage on the surviving biker and, a few hours later, a guy who picks her up while hitchhiking. Unlike the biker, the driver only loses his clothes to Mina and his sense of macho entitlementpride. She’ll quickly turn her attention to men who prey on working girls on Hollywood Boulevard. Because the brother of Mina’s dead fiancé is a police detective, it doesn’t take long for her to be unmasked asbecome the most wanted woman in southern California.

It’s from this point forward that whatever logic Rad invested in the screenplay gets picked up by the Santa Ana winds and blown out to sea. Every shortcut available to Rad is taken, as are the many contrivances, clichés and tropes he might have picked up watching American B-movies on Tehran television – some of which probably ended up on “MST3K” — before the Islamic revolution. Even worse, at the same time as Mina’s fate is sealed in the city, the rogue cop picks up the scent of a hitherto unknown criminal boss, Black Pepper, who looks like Dog the Bounty Hunter and gets his kicks watching a belly dancer with his sleazy girlfriend. And, after a chase through the brush, Dangerous Men ends … it just ends. No mention of Mina’s fate or that of the renegade cop. The production values are ridiculously bad, the stunt work laughable, Rad’s musical score sucks and the actors are inept, at best. Only a few of them acted in a feature before or since Dangerous Men. And, yet, it’s far from unwatchable. In fact, it’s tough to take your eyes off of it. The Drafthouse Films’ Blu-ray release features hours of extra content, including a feature-length commentary from authors Zack Carlson and Bryan Connelly; an original short documentary about the film’s original 2005 theatrical release; a video interview with cinematographer Peter Palian (Samurai Cop); the only television appearance of John S. Rad, on “Queer Edge With Jack E. Jette & Sandra Bernhard”; and a print interview.

Sex Ed

If any actor could convince us that a 23-year-old virgin is able to teach a sexual-hygiene class to junior high school students, it would be Haley Joel Osment. Still fondly remembered as the kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense, the 28-year-old actor not only is perfectly suited for the role of the teacher, but, through blurred eyes, he might be able to pass as a student. After disappearing from the big screen for a while, Osment has landed quite a few roles – Entourage, Tusk, “The Spoils Before Dying” — that don’t require the presence of a classic leading man. In Sex Ed, his Ed Cole accepts an adjunct position in a middle school teaching in a class that only requires him to show up in a tie. After discovering that the kids are completely clueless when it comes to their pubescent bodies and sex, other than what they glean from the Internet and older siblings. Given Ed’s awkwardness with the women he meets in the first few minutes of the movies, we sense that he’s a virgin before he is required to reveal it at a key point in the story. In fact, Ed’s completely comfortable addressing the sexually precocious students’ questions and anxieties. It’s the parents who are uncomfortable with the idea that their little darlings not only are capable of having sex, but likely would do the deed absent condoms or any other contraceptive. Naturally, director Isaac Feder (“Life on the Line”) and writer Bill Kennedy (“House of Cards”) have created a parallel storyline in which Ed is given every opportunity to get laid. Conceivably, Sex Ed is a movie that could be enjoyed by kids, sitting alongside their parents in front of the TV, but I don’t think either of them would make it through the movie without squirming a hole in their trousers.


Faithfully adapted from a powerful first novel by Bonnie Nadzam, Lamb puts viewers in the uncomfortable position of having to reconsider the morality of a deeply disturbing and inarguably illegal act from the points of view of the perpetrator and victim simultaneously. The difference between this story and countless others that fall under general heading of thriller are the multidimensional portrayals of two loners – one in his 40s and the other still approaching puberty – whose shared neediness clouds their better judgment. Ross Partridge (“Wedlock”) serves triple duty as writer, director and male lead, playing the part of David Lamb, a Chicago businessman severely traumatized by the recent death of his father and breakup of his marriage. While feeling sorry for himself at a strip mall, he’s approached by the precocious pre-teen Tommie (Oona Laurence), who’s been dared by friends to hit him up for a cigarette. Instead of turning her away with a smile and tired piece of advice, he lights one up for her, knowing it will prompt a coughing jag. To teach her and her friends another lesson, however, David suggests she hop in his automobile and drive away with him, as if she were being kidnapped. If the potential for serious harm doesn’t faze them, nothing will.


When Tommie tells him her own tale of woe, David immediately senses both a kindred spirit in the girl and a pedagogical opportunity for himself. A day later, when she agrees to take off with him for the mountains of Wyoming, viewers naturally will begin to fear, as well, for her health and safety. We know that pedophiles and killers share few outwardly visible physical traits, so David’s true intentions are impossible to anticipate. That fear is corroborated by his tendency tell white lies to Tommie about his background and their reality of their destination. Instead of cabin in the mountains, with horses to ride, they’re headed to a shack on the plains with a cranky next-door neighbor. Learning she’s been deceived is the first test of Tommie’s stiff upper lip. Even so, the shack is near enough the snow-covered Rockies to keep her open to the possibilities of her adventure. Like Nadzam, Partridge keeps viewers guessing throughout the entirety of the narrative. While we wait for the monster to emerge, he and cinematographer Nathan M. Miller take full advantage of Wyoming’s wide horizons and surprising beauty of the plains. Although far from being a comedy, our queasiness isn’t unlike that felt while watching or reading “Lolita.” M comes to mind as well. In addition to riveting performances by the lead actors, Lamb benefits from a supporting cast that includes Jess Weixler, Tom Bower.  Scoot McNairy and Joel Murray. The DVD adds deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and commentary with Partridge and Laurence.


If, after repeat viewingsviewing of The Martian, you still can’t get the Red Planet off your mind, you might consider taking a chance on Glenn Payne’s micro-budgeted Earthrise a shot. While clearly not in same league as Ridley Scott’s thriller or Solaris, which it resembles thematically, it asks the kind of questions sci-fi buffs enjoy pondering. Here, the thing to remember is that things have gotten so bad on Earth that 99 percent of its survivors have been repatriated on Mars. Each year, a team of colonists returns to their ancestors’ home to join the effort to rehabilitate the planet. Not having set foot on Earth previously, they’re either in for a treat orof a horror show. Everything that happens in Earthrise either takes place on the transport vehicle or in the imaginations of the passengers, who will be tortured by monsters, ghosts of family members, voices and hallucinations the others can’t see. Anyone who’s seen John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s Dark Star (1974) already knows what can be accomplished in the sci-fi arena, even on a meager budget, using makeshift backgrounds and DIY props. Likewise, Earthrise is better than it has any right to be. Casey Dillard, Greg Earnest and Meaghin Burke deserve most the credit for that. The DVD adds commentary.

Norm of the North: Blu-ray

While the idea of building an animated franchise around a NIMBY polar bear must have sounded good at the time of conception, six years ago, in execution, Norm of the Northappears to have been jinxed from the get-go. Even so, it was given a two-week release on more than 2,400 screens, as well as in theaters around the world. Judged beside other animated features, Norm of the North underperformed to an almost historic magnitude. On the plus side, though, it probably didn’t cost a great deal of money to make and the marketing campaign was more or less perfunctory. When Norm the English-speaking polar bear (voiced by Rob Schneider) discovers that real-estate developers plan to build condos for tourists near the animals’ natural habitat, he and a gaggle of lemmings set out for New York to discourage them. While in the Apple to confront the greedy developer, the ironically named Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong), he teams up with the environmentalist daughter of one of the man’s assistants (Maya Kay, Heather Graham). If the rest is predictable, a few laughs are generated by the Minion-like lemmings and Norm’s twerking moves. Then, there’s the kid-friendly potty humor, which should distract the target audience for a few minutes, at least. Good thing, thing 6-year-olds don’t base their viewing decisions on reviews. Other voices are supplied by Michael McElhatton, Colm Meaney, Bill Nighy and Zachary Gordon.


Theory of Obscurity: Blu-ray

If the band profiled in Don Hardy Jr.’s Theory of Obscuritywas a product to be sold to consumers, its slogan might be: The Residents, serving discerning hipsters and music nerds for more than 45 years. A rare breed, by any definition, the Bay Area “art collective” appears to have roots leadingwas directly todescended from Spike Jones, Flash Gordon, Sun Ra, Ernie Kovacs, Salvador Dali, Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and Art Ensemble of Chicago, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. It would, in turn, influence Ween, Primus, Devo, Yello and Ke$ha, among others, while also helping to turn the music video into an emerging art form … sometimes, anyway.  Fiercely anonymous, the Residents’ public image has always been that of a group of tuxedoed gentlemen, wearing eyeball helmets and top hats … or variations, thereof. As the title Theory of Obscurity suggests, the Residents may be the most influential band that almost no one outside northern California knows. This, despite a resume that includes more than 60 albums, numerous music videos and short films, 3 CD-ROM projects, 10 DVDs, 7 major world tours and film soundtracks.

Even if the Residents may never be accorded access to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, except as paying customers, the band practically defined what it meant to be avant-garde in the final third of the 20th Century. As such, most consumers of record albums and CDs found it difficult to listen to more than one or two songs at a time. The same can be said for the documentary, which fans will enjoy immensely and leave others cold. Among those interviewed for the non-musical sections of the film are Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Gerald Casale (Devo), Josh Freese (Guns N’ Roses, Weezer), Penn Jillette and Homer Flynn. The Blu-ray’s bonus package adds extended interviews; footage of the Residents’ first performance, at San Francisco’s Boarding House; outtakes from the uncompleted film, “Vileness Fat”; three remastered classic short films; a new short film created from never-before-seen footage from the “Hello Skinny” sessions; an animated short film from an unfinished feature, “Freak Show”; a found-footage short film, “The Walking Woman”; and aa short film of the delivery of one of only two existing copies of the $100,000 “Ultimate Box Set” to the Museum of Modern Art. (It was housed in a 28-cubic-foot refrigerator, which contained the first pressings of every Residents’ release to date, as well as such ephemera as an eyeball mask and top hat.

Love Is a Verb: Blu-ray

Shadows of Liberty

A Dog Named Gucci

Biophilic Design

On “Real Time With Bill Maher,” hardly a week goes by before the host or a guest asks why no one in the global Muslim community seems willing to publically condemn the extremists and fundamentalists who use terror to advance their various religious, political and cultural agendas. The other question commonly heard involves the seeming lack of commonality among Arab states as to who, besides the United States, should lead the military offensive against ISIS andAl Qaeda. Answers to those very good questions have eluded us since such PLO spinoffs as al-Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Black September decided that it was easier to slaughter innocent men, women and children than take on the Israeli military head-on. In the wake of brutal terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, talk-show hosts across Europe are probably asking the same questions as Maher.

After watching Terry Spencer Hesser and Stephan Mazurek’s thought-provoking documentary, Love Is a Verb, it’s less difficult to understand why no one on that side of the argument has stepped forward to condemn violence committed in the name of Allah. Now living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, the Islamic preacher, scholar and reformist Fethullah Gülen is as close to a recognized spokesman for his co-religionists as anyone else on the planet. He teaches a Hanafi version of Islam — known as Hizmet, meaning service in Turkish — deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursî’s teachings and Sufism. The secular leadership of Turkey so fears Gülen’s ability to inspire a parallel government, sufficiently powerful to impose its Islamic will on the nation, that it continually harasses and jails his followers. At first glance, the Gülen introduced to us in the documentary exists as the Bernie Sanders of Islam. Among other things, he promotes direct social activism, serving the poor and destitute, benevolent capitalism, traditional education and interfaith dialogue. He also believes that women play an essential role in the religion and science and faithreligion can co-exist in the network of schools he’s built here and around the globe.

At 55 minutes, however, Love Is a Verb begs almost as many questions as it attempts to answer. Foremost among them is why he prefers not to become the spokesman so many of us would love to see on talk shows and the speakers’ circuit. (Like everyone else, Gülen would probably love to live the rest of his life without having to fear a suicide bomber knocking on the gates of his 26-acre compound.). Despite the awards garnered by Gülen’s charter schools and graduates, are they immune from dogmaticto manipulation or a narrowing of values? If, as assumed, he favors sharia law over the current Turkish judicial system and corrupt secular elites, can it co-exist with modernist ideals. At 75, it’s also worth asking if Gülen has established a line of succession that can stand up to less moderate forces inside Turkey and beyond it, or, for that matter, the Pentagon.

For the last four years, reporters and lumberjacks have vied for dubious title of Worst Job in America, according to While I can understand why logging would be an unappealing career to pursue – if only because it’s extremely dangerous – it’s difficult to fathom how being a reporter ranks so low. Perhaps, it’s because the folks at have an increasingly difficult time placing candidates for lucrative positions and job security for people older than 45 is almost non-existent. It sure beats yelling, “Timber,” or dodging falling trees for a living. In Jean-Philippe Tremblay’s disturbing documentary, Shadows of Liberty, several distinguished journalists describe why they’ve fallen out of love with their jobs. In the cases described here, it’s because the heyday of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers ended when the government allowed international conglomerates to purchase prominent media interests and milk them for every cent they could. In doing so, company brass began to kowtow to government agencies and the White House, for any number of bad reasons. The reporters remind us of several high-profile investigations – weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the CIA/Contra/crack conspiracy — that were successfully quashed or twisted from on high and one, at least, that was deemed too hot to handle, entirely. As alarming as this stuff is, solid reporting couldn’t prevent the re-election of George W. Bush, the rise of the Tea Party, iconization of the Kardashians and emergence of Donald Trump as a political force. Among those testifying here are Dan Rather, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Amy Goodman and former CIA agent Robert Baer. The doc was originally released in 2012 and things have only gotten worse since then.

One needn’t be a dog lover to admire Gorman Bechard’s A Dog Named Gucci or even someone who’s owned a pet. All that’s necessary is a heart and profound sense of fairness for all living things. It opens with the horrifying story of Gucci, a 10-week old chow-shepherd mix, that was hung by his neck by aspiring teen sociopaths, beat up, doused with lighter fluid, and set afire. Doug James, standing on his porch nearby, heard the puppy’s cries and ran to help. After taking in the poor thing, at the request of Gucci’s 15-year-old runaway owner, he turned to specialists at Auburn University to nourish its recovery. What happened next is just as remarkable. When the perpetrators were given a slap on the wrist, James would convince local legislators to push for the passage of the “Gucci Bill,” making domestic animal abuse a felony. As word of the victory spread, Gucci’s story would inspire advocates in other states to follow the same strategy. Bechard, whose previous focus was on rom-coms and music videos, emphasizes how social media now allows people to maintain a network for the protection of domestic animals and strengthening of laws to prevent and punish it.

Normally, the last thing on the mind of business executives is the health, comfort and well-being of their office-bound employees. The more uniform the environment, the less work it will take the custodial workers to keep the place tidy. The easier the task, the fewer the number of employees are needed on the payroll, leaving more money for stockholders and budget-obsessed bosses. Too often, though, such exercises in corporate conformity cause morale, loyalty and productivity to plummet and absenteeism and turnover to rise. Stephen R. Kellert and Bill Finnegan’s documentary, Biophilic Design, makes a convincing case for so-called green architecture that humanizes the workplace by bringing the outdoors in and uses sustainable materials in creative ways. The concept is shown to work in hospitals, schools and other places where people need to be reminded of their natural roots.


Syfy: Haven: Complete Final Season: Blu-ray

PBS: The Human Face of Big Data

PBS: Nova: Himalayan Megaquake

Hallmark: When Calls the Heart: Troubled Hearts

It’s difficult for any television series to sustain a gimmick as far-fetched as the one that lured fans of “Haven” to Syfy for five seasons. It helps, of course, that the network could promote the connection between the show and the Stephen King novel, “The Colorado Kid.” As is frequently the case with cable-based series, “Haven” opened in the summer of 2010, absent the kind of competition it might have faced two months later, when the more prominent networks introduced supernatural series of their own. The series opened with Emily Rose playing FBI special agent Audrey Parker, who is assigned to the small Maine town of Haven, where strange things happen to seemingly normal people. It doesn’t take long for her to experience “The Troubles,” a plague of paranormal afflictions that have occurred in the town at least twice in the past. As it turns out, Audrey is amenable to possibility that things in Haven really do go bump in the night and someday one of those things could lead her to the mother she has never known. In Season Five, the protagonists struggle to keep the town’s secrets under wraps, even under the watchful eyes of a smart CDC doctor, who comes to believe that there may be an underlying genetic marker to the Troubles. In the final 13 of 26 episodes of the fifth season, Haven has been cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious fog bank. Through journeys into the past, the future and the very fabric between worlds, events in Haven hurtle towards a cataclysmic showdown. Patient fans will welcome the secret behind the “Croatoan” mystery. Special features 13 “Inside Haven” featurettes and commentary tracks; interviews with Eric Balfour, Lucas Bryant, William Shatner, Adam Copeland and producer Shawn Piller; a mythology refresher; and backgrounders. DVD buyer should be aware that the first 13 episodes of the final season already have been released.

After Edward Snowden became Public Enemy No. 1 by revealing the extent of spying – or, perhaps, the tip of the espionage iceberg – on people who may or may not have anything to do with terrorism, Americans were given something homegrown to replace the Red Scare. Any sense of security we’d developed over access to our financial, political and personal information vanished overnight. PBS’ “The Human Face of Big Data” argues that not everything in the digital universe is an open secret. The massive gathering and analyzing of data in real time is allowing us to address some of humanity’s biggest challenges, not all of which have anything to do with national security. This film captures the promise and peril of this extraordinary knowledge revolution.

On April 25, 2015, a devastating earthquake rocked Nepal. As it ripped across the Himalayas, it wiped out villages and left thousands dead or stranded, as were climbers preparing to tackle Mount Everest. Through dramatic eyewitness footage, expert interviews and stunning graphics, NOVA’s “Himalayan Megaquake” takes viewers beyond the pictures of destruction by exploring what we can learn from the deadly combination of earthquakes and landslides. If it seems as if NOVA’s producers are Johnny-on-the-spot whenever a large natural disaster, it’s only because they are.

In “Troubled Hearts,” the latest DVD release from Hallmark Channel’s “When Calls the Heart” series, big revelations are in store for Hope Valley as Elizabeth moves into her own house, dismaying Jack, who has been planning to build a new home for the both of them. Rosemary discovers that Lee has taken out a loan and worries that he is in financial difficulties. And Jesse, the young drifter who works in Abigail’s kitchen, has information that could ruin Pastor Frank’s good standing in Hope Valley.

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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