By Gary Dretzka

DVD Wrapup: Zootopia, Hail Caesar, 13 Hours, Anomalisa, The Confirmation, Touched With Fire, One More Time, Tom Waits and more

Zootopia: Blu-ray

The messages in Disney’s new animated gem, Zootopia, are so overtly liberal, I’m surprised none of the Republican candidates for president didn’t it condemn it during their debates for being subversive. Of course, there’s still time for Donald Trump to propose constructing a wall around the Burbank studios, lest undocumented-alien bunnies, sheep and foxes attempt to enter the country illegally. On that count, anyway, politicians who choke on words like inclusivity, empowerment, diversity and co-existence are several days late and at least a billion dollars short.  . (In 2005, evangelicals ended an eight-year boycott of Walt Disney products, ostensibly for lack of interest.) This past weekend, in only its seventeenth week of release, Zootopia hit the landmark billion-dollar barrier, grossing $337.2 million domestically and $662.8 million internationally. Where it will end up when the closely guarded Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray 2D, DVD, Digital HD and PPV numbers finally are recorded is anyone’s guess.

Another strong release from Walt Disney Animation Studios (FrozenBig Hero 6) – decidedly not Pixar, although John Lasseter oversees both departments — Zootopia imagines a metropolis in which humans are replaced by anthropomorphic biped mammals. They range in size from elephants to shrews, all drawn in perfect proportion to each other, and go about their business like humans in any American city. This means business is conducted with drone-like efficiency; burly police patrol the streets, looking for conmen and crooks; the meek fear those with greater cunning and few scruples; corrupt politicians prey on the prejudices of their constituents; and females of the species needn’t apply for jobs generally allotted males. Like Disneyland and Disney World, Zootropia is divided into quadrants corresponding to the prevailing climates of their inhabitants’ natural habitats. Bunny Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is the wee daughter of carrot farmers in the agricultural zone, where residents carry fox repellant to ward off the famously sly predators. Despite her size, Judy is determined to attend the police academy and become a big-city cop. Although the physical tests are skewed against smaller species, Judy graduates at the top of her class. None of her new co-workers in the ZPD, including Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), believe in her abilities, so she’s relegated to meter maid duty. Committed to making a difference, nonetheless, she goes about her duties with determination and diligence. It doesn’t take long, however, for Judy to fall for a con being pulled on an ice-cream vendor by Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and his “son.” Because the owner discriminates against species of whom he doesn’t approve, especially foxes, the eminently fair bunny threatens him with arrest. Naturally, the fox finds a way to turn her kindness into a profitable scam. Long story short, Judy and Nick find a way to exploit each other’s strengths in the service of a missing-persons’ case that’s baffled the chief and threatens to upend the delicate balance between predator and prey animals. If Judy can’t find the victims in 48 hours, Bogo has threatened to fire her.

It’s a longshot, of course, but never doubt the tenacity of an underdog when it comes to evening the odds in a movie made by Disney or directed by Frank Capra, which Zootopia easily could have been. In Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush’s easily digested ethical tale, however, the story is only half the fun. The verisimilitude of the all-mammal environment is true to any city in the Disney universe, with dozens of only slightly camouflaged references to studio and non-studio classics, characters and insider gags. (Yes, there’s at least one “hidden Mickey”) As such, adults will feel at home in Zootopia, too. The animal characters take on the behavioral traits of humans, in mostly comic ways, and no single animal is above corruption or beyond redemption. A hilariously constructed scene at Zootopia’s DMV, where the sloth bureaucrats work at their usual pace, is the closest thing to a cheap shot. Among the standouts in the voicing cast are Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer and Chakira. Among the mid-length featurettes are “Research: A True-Life Adventure,” in which the filmmakers immerse themselves in the real world’s animal kingdom in order to better construct the movie’s characters and world; “The Origin of an Animal Tale,” on the development, inspirations, story themes, the film’s evolution in main character focus and final film themes; “Zoology: The Roundtables,” in which Ginnifer Goodwin leads discussions on the characters, environments and animation; “Scoretopia,” on the movie’s unique music; “Z.P.D. Forensic Files,” a quick look through some of the Disney-related Easter eggs scattered throughout the movie; the music video, “Try Everything,” by Shakira; deleted character sketches; and deleted scenes.

Hail, Caesar!: Blu-ray

A TCM-level knowledge of mid-20th Century Hollywood history is all one needs to enjoy Hail, Caesar!, a story that covers 24 eventful hours in the life of nearly over-the-hill contract star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) in 1951. To love it, though, most viewers would have to be diehard fans of Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old MenFargo), who wrote and directed the closing-of-an-era comedy, with enough familiar faces to satisfy curious fans and buffs, alike. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a studio fixer whose hands are kept full by stars in constant need of supervision and protection from the cops and gossip columnists. Eddie’s also commissioned here to keep budgets from overflowing and religious leaders from questioning the theology in his latest bible epic, starring Whitlock as a Roman centurion on Good Friday. Before the climactic crucifixion scene, Whitlock is kidnaped from his trailer, in full period regalia, and taken to a beachside home in Malibu frequented by commie sympathizers. At the same time, Eddie is required to prevent his bathing-beauty headliner (Scarlett Johansson) from being exposed for having an out-of-wedlock baby and keep his cowboy star (Alden Ehrenreich) from being outed in an affair with a big-shot director.

As frazzled as he is, though, Eddie is taking an inordinate amount of time responding to a headhunter from Lockheed, offering a far more stable job away from the circus. If the storylines don’t actually connect in any noticeable way, the set pieces keep things moving briskly throughout the film’s 104-minute length. There’s a supremely well-choreographed swimming pool ballet, featuring Johansson and a bevy of mermaids; a period party scene in which the cowboy ambles into the ballroom like John Wayne with a hangnail; a homoerotic dance routine, with Channing Tatum standing in for Gene Kelly as a hoofing sailor on leave; and Tilda Swinton, as identical-twin gossip mongers. Then, too, there’s Whitlock waking up from a serious hangover and wandering into a cell meeting in the living room of the Malibu cottage, where, in his naiveté, the centurion-suited star is impressed with the logic of boilerplate Soviet rhetoric. As the story goes, Clooney forced the Coens’ hand by telling reporters that his next project would be the brothers’ decade-old idea, Hail Caesar!, which had yet to take on a life of its own.  If the finished product looks a bit half-baked, that’s probably why. The sterling Blu-ray includes backgrounders, “Directing Hollywood,” “The Stars Align,” “An Era of Glamour” and “Magic of a Bygone Era.”

Anomalisa: Blu-ray

Although Charlie Kaufman has only directed two feature films and written seven, since leaving TV sitcoms for 1999’s Being John Malkovich, his name is synonymous with movies that test the imaginations of viewers and critics, alike. It’s been eight years since Kaufman wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York, a portrait of an artist so complex and challenging that even the positive reviews it received scared the want-to-see from audiences. Roger Ebert opened his glowing four-star review by revealing that “Synecdoche” required at least two viewings to fully absorb. Then, he absolves himself for not writing a conventional review, because, “There is no need to name the characters, name the actors, assign adjectives to their acting,” because his faithful readers will understand what he’s trying to say. Some did, most didn’t. Personally, I found “Synecdoche” to be a worthwhile, if taxing cinematic experience. I was moved by its artistic vision and ability to encapsulate a lifetime of work into a play within a movie (or a movie within a play within a movie.) Among other things, Kaufman required of viewers that they learn the meaning of the word, “synecdoche,” and rare mental illness, the Cotard delusion, after which the protagonist is named. The title, Anomalisa, has no meaning beyond the place it holds in the hearts of the man and woman at the story’s core. To grasp its relevance, though, it’s important to understand the reference made to another syndrome, the Fregoli delusion, which provides the name for Cincinnati’s fictional Hotel Fregoli. It is a belief, exemplified by the insecure self-help author, Michael Stone, that different people are, in fact, a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise. All of the characters in Anomalisa are puppets whose movements are coordinated through stop-motion animation – co-directed by Duke Johnson — and, yes, the faces of the vast majority look exactly alike.

After checking into the hotel, where he’ll address a convention of customer-service professionals, Michael gets into an ugly argument with an old flame he hasn’t seen in years. He soon will meet Lisa Hesselman, a woman as vulnerable as he is insecure. A huge fan of his work, Lisa is attending the convention with a friend who she considers to be far prettier and socially evolved.  Far from unattractive, Lisa constantly apologizes for insignificant missteps, faux pas and factual errors. She does, however, succeed in breaking the ice by appealing to his ego. They enjoy anatomically correct puppet sex and discuss the kind of personal things Michael stopped exchanging with his wife years earlier. She captivates him by singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in two languages. They end up making promises to each other that may or may not be kept. Back in L.A., he’s greeted by look-alike friends invited by his wife for a surprise party and a son who immediately asks what he brought back from Ohio with him. The bust of an animatronic Japanese woman he picked up in a store for “adult toys” only serves to freak out the kid. Anomalisa began its life in 2005 as a “sound play” for the Los Angeles run of “Theater of the New Ear.” In the performance, David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh played Michael and Lisa, with Tom Noonan sitting between them voicing all of the other characters and creating atmospheric sounds (the “cacophonous drone of humanity”). Carter Burwell conducted the Parabola Ensemble and a foley artist added sound effects. The only way Anomalisa was able to be translated into film — considering the financial bath taken by “Synecdoche” – was through a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s well worth checking out the bonus material, which explains everything and adds interesting making-of featurettes.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi: Blu-ray

Last January, a lot of fuss was made over the timing of the release Michael Bay’s undeniably exciting 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, on more than 2,300 screens. It was based on first-person accounts of the October 11, 2012, assaults on American compounds in Libya’s second largest city, related in Mitchell Zuckoff’s book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” by surviving members of the Annex Security Team stationed there. The small, but select unit was comprised of contracted ex-military personnel, who were highly paid to risk their live once again to protect unspecified U.S “interests.” Paramount made the strategic decision to pre-screen the film for the GOP hopefuls then harassing the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire and stage a hyper-political mega-premiere – 30,000 tickets were handed out — at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. At the time, Republicans were attempting to tar former Hillary Clinton as a co-conspirator to the Islamist militants who stormed the gates of the facilities, leaving U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty dead. The candidates promised that a stash of Clinton’s private e-mails would reveal the “truth” about her complicity in a whitewash protecting Obama administration officials from blame. In fact, “13 Hours” took no position in the non-scandal, except to point out that U.S. outposts around the world were woefully unprepared for such attacks on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy and the CIA agent in charge put too much faith in members of a Libyan militia, hired at $28 a day. One of the team members had accused the bureau chief of ordering a 20-minute delay in sending the security team to the compound, thus stalling armed retaliation to the first wave of attacks. Others disputed the account. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time CIA put too much faith in fighters it had insufficiently vetted. Neither could the huge high-definition screen at the home of the Dallas Cowboys handle the audio demands, causing fans in the upper tech to leave early.

Working from a screenplay by Chuck Hogan (The Town), as well as the guidance of the security contractors and an estimated $50 million of studio money (peanuts, compared to any of the “Transformers” installments), Bay was able to fashion a fact-based thriller that put viewers directly in the line of fire and wasn’t required to embellish the heroism of the team with CGI effects … OK, maybe one or two. He built precise replicas of the compounds in Malta, an island only 207 miles north of Libya, and had an arsenal of advanced, if temporarily non-lethal weaponry at his disposal. The mostly anonymous militants look as if they mean business and were willing to turn post Gaddafi Libya inside-out to install a government favorable to their fundamentalist beliefs. The tension and anti-American sentiment in the streets of faux-Benghazi are palpable, as well. Bay allows plenty of time to humanize the characters played by James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Toby Stephens, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa and Freddie Stroma. They occupy their off-time playing video games, lifting weights and Skyping family members. (Significantly, one is reading Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth.”) Apart from a panicked driver who can’t tell right from left, the only person who is made to look like an unforgivably shortsighted boob is the composite CIA chief, Bob (David Constabile). The actual agent in charge that day denies ordering the contractors to “stand down.” The claim was backed up by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee’s finding that there was “no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.” Unlike American Sniper, which opened huge and ballooned to a global take of $547.4 million, “13 Hours” ended up underperforming, with a worldwide haul of $69.4 million. (In 2001, Black Hawk down scored $172.3 million.) If I were to guess, I’d say that the studio’s blatant campaign to attract blindly conservative audiences only served to convince mainstream and liberal viewers to take a pass on what must have sounded to them like an exercise in right-wing propaganda. It’s entirely possible, though, that Paramount’s excellent Blu-ray presentation — a separate disc devoted to background and making-of featurettes — could win back viewers looking for what essentially is a gripping war story.

The ConfirmationBlu-ray

Riddle: when is a faith-based movie not promoted as being faith-based or family friendly? Answer: when the faith in question doesn’t wear its “evangelical” message on its sleeve. Released on the same date in March, Sony’s inspirational memoir Miracles From Heaven, starring Jennifer Garner as the mother of boy in desperate of divine intervention, was released on 3,047 screens on its way to a formidable $72.6-million worldwide gross. By comparison, Lighthouse Pictures’ The Confirmation, with Clive Owen as the alcoholic father of an 8-year-old boy is in need of divine intervention, was accorded a release so limited that it hasn’t registered in Box Office Mojo or’s box-office tallies. I haven’t seen the former title, which won’t hit DVD for another month, but can attest to the entertainment value provided by The Confirmation. I shouldn’t have been caught off-guard by its worthiness, as it was written and directed by Bob Nelson, author of the widely acclaimed and Oscar-nominated drama, Nebraska. I was immediately attracted, instead, by the presence of Owen (Croupier), Maria Bello (History of Violence), Patton Oswald (Young Adult), Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket). That’s a lot of star power for a movie that couldn’t have cost more than $10,000 to produce. It’s a simple story, really. Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent) does a wonderful job as Anthony, a boy so effortlessly virtuous that his parish priest (Stephen Tobolowsky) has to prod him to come up with a sin worthy of single Hail Mary or Our Father penance.

The boy isn’t a Little Goody Two-Shoes clone, just someone for whom misbehaving isn’t an option worth pursuing. Father Lyons actually encourages Anthony to live a little, if only because it will make his next confession – timed to coincide with his Confirmation ceremony – a bit more interesting. The opportunity arrives when his mother, Bonnie (Bello), hands him off for a weekend stay with his alcoholic, seriously underemployed and lapsed Catholic father, Walt (Owen). Bonnie will be spending the time away from home on a church-sponsored retreat with her new husband (Modine). The unease between father and son is palpable, especially when Walt tells Anthony to stay in the truck while he ducks into a bar for a pick-me-up. After a bit of time passes, Anthony decides to confront his pop in the tavern. With the truck unguarded, a petty thief takes advantage of an unlocked security box to steal Walt’s tools, which are a custom-made to facilitate custom woodwork finishing. With a rare job awaiting him on Monday, Walt becomes desperate to locate the box, which is probably already gathering dust in a local pawnshop. As if his luck weren’t sufficiently disastrous, his landlord has padlocked the house and the misbehaving pickup finally gives up the ghost. His only option is to sneak into his ex-wife’s home and drag Anthony along with him as he scours the town for lowlifes capable of ripping off the keys to a man’s livelihood. To this end, he’s assisted by fellow down-and-outers, played by Oswald and Nelson.

Without giving anything else away, it’s safe to assume that this exercise in male bonding will be provide Anthony with every opportunity to fill Father Lyons’ scorecard in the confessional. If that scenario reminds you of Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, it should. In an interview included in the bonus material, Nelson fully acknowledges borrowing from the classic of Italian neo-realism. Its post-WWII setting is a perfect parallel for the economically depressed Pacific Northwest town in The Confirmation, as well as its quietly redemptive message. Special features include “A Father-Son Story: Inside the Characters of ‘The Confirmation’” and “The Performances of ‘The Confirmation’.”

Touched With Fire: Blu-ray

If it had been released in more than a few dozen theaters last February, Paul Dalio’s highly personal drama, Touched With Fire (a.k.a., “Mania Days”), might have benefitted from comparisons to Frank and Eleanor Perry’s 1962 campus favorite, David and Lisa, in addition to the presence of Katie Holmes. Sent out on the eve of the youth quake that forever changed America, “D&L” dared deal with serious mental health issues faced by teenagers basking in the false promise of JFK’s Camelot and Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” Parents couldn’t accept that life in this best of all possible worlds wasn’t perfect, as advertised, and psychiatric treatment might benefit kids from middle-class families. Times have changed to the point where parents no longer hesitate to seek the advice of trained medical personnel and teens aren’t stigmatized by regular visits to their shrink. If anything, they’re overmedicated and too easily diagnosed with serious emotional maladies, once reserved for stressed-out adults. Like David and Lisa, unforgettably played by Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin, the central characters in Touched With Fire meet while at a treatment facility for bipolar disorder. Carla and Marco, portrayed by Holmes and Luke Kirby, are older than the protagonists of “D&L,” but not so much that teenagers can’t relate to them. They’re both obsessed with artistic pursuits – poetry, prose, painting, sketching whatever comes to mind –and the power of the sun, moon and stars to control their moods and creativity.

As long as they stay on their meds, Carla and Marco are fully capable of functioning within a dysfunctional society. Marco, especially, feels as if the medication impacts negatively on his creativity and relationship with Carla, who isn’t thrilled with the effects of drugs designed to flatten her moods. They wonder if Vincent Van Gogh’s gifts, and those of a couple dozen other suffering artists, would have emerged if they had been prescribed anti-depressive and anti-psychotic drugs. They’re especially drawn to Van Gogh’s wondrously complex and visually stunning “The Starry Night,” which represents the artist’s view of the pre-dawn sky from the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Writer/director/composer Dalio based Touched With Fire on his own struggles with bipolar disorder and what he learned from Kay Redfield Jamison’s “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” (She makes a cameo here, as well.)  The 1993 book examines the relationship between the syndrome and artistic creativity, using extensive case studies of historic writers, artists, and composers assessed as probably having suffered with cyclothymia, major depressive disorder, or manic-depressive/bipolar disorder. Dalio encourages viewers to come to their own conclusions about whether the toll paid by troubled artists for their gifts is worth the pain that comes with it. Holmes and Kirby deliver highly compelling performances, as they dramatize the full emotional spectrum experienced by their characters. The Blu-ray adds necessary background material in the featurettes.

One More Time

Have you ever heard someone say they’d pay to watch their favorite actor read the telephone book? I’ve said it a time or two, myself, probably about Christopher Walker, who could tap dance his way through the Yellow Pages. Robert Edwards’ One More Time tests the theory. In it, Walken plays Paul Lombard, the kind of old-school entertainer who used to pop up on “The Tonight Show” occasionally, without notice, holding a coffee cup filled with booze, and dropping names to beat the band. Although only a half-generation removed from Barry Manilow and Billy Joel, the calendar has finally caught up with him. As comfortable as he appears to be in his jewel-box home in the Hamptons, where an unseen mistress competes for his attention with a sixth wife (Ann Magnuson) and pliant maid, he’d kill for one last chance to get on the road with a new hit song. So far, so good. The problems with the picture start when Lombard’s punky daughter, Jude (Amber Heard), is forced to relocate to the Hamptons from Brooklyn, when she runs out of money. She’s a frustrated singer, whose only recent gigs are singing backup on commercial jingles. Jude is having an affair with her married shrink and carries a chip on her shoulder the size of the Montauk lighthouse. Also leaching on the old man are a condescending sister and brother-in-law (Kelli Garner, Hamish Linklater), who’s still carrying a torch for Jude. They’re all insufferably self-absorbed and contemptuous of anyone and anything they can’t control. Even when Lombard does come up with a song worth selling — Edwards and Joe McGinty’s “When I Live My Life Over Again” – the ramifications of its possible success send shock waves through the family. It’s only when Lombard’s level-headed agent (Oliver Platt) shows up from out of nowhere that things pick up, again. It’s movies like One More Time that make us understand why some animal species eat their young.

Kill Your Friends: Blu-ray

Anyone as disappointed by the HBO mini-series “Vinyl” as I was probably will want to take a pass on Kill Your Friends, which does for 1990s London what producers Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger did for 1960s New York. Based on a novel by former record-industry insider John Niven, Owen Harris’ debut feature makes the same mistake as too many other show-biz tell-alls: it doesn’t give us a reason to care about the protagonist, 27-year-old A&R man Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult). As long as the Britpop format is topping the music charts, Stelfox has carte blanche to discover new acts and trip their greed reflex with unholy amounts of booze, cocaine and “birds,” as the Beatles used to call their camp followers. Even though he’s developed a tin ear, Stelfox appears oblivious to the notion that the party’s going to end someday and all the cocaine in the world won’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. Even so, any director who can’t find a few good yucks in such meaty material as that found in Niven’s novel shouldn’t have been handed the project in the first place. The filmmakers also borrow a page or two from Bret Easton Ellis’ inky-black satire, “American Psycho,” and Mary Harron’s cinematic depiction of a world in which greed not only is good, but mandatory for success. It’s a lifestyle worth killing to maintain. The nice thing about movies like Kill Your FriendsAmerican Psycho and “Vinyl” is that they tend to come with superlative soundtracks. Here, such Cool Britannia bands as Blur, Bastille, the Chemical Brothers, Oasis, Radiohead, Prodigy, Doof (“Suck My Dick”), ODB and Echo and the Bunnymen pick up the slack when necessary. James Corden and Georgia King do nice jobs in key supporting roles. The DVD adds interviews with cast, director, and writer.

No Home Movie

I’ve written so often in the last year about DVD releases of films by the late Chantal Akerman that I’ve pretty much run out of words to say on the subject. As most of her admirers already know, No Home Movie was made while her beloved mother – a Holocaust survivor, living in Belgium – was in the final stages of her life. It was first shown at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, two weeks before Akerman’s self-inflicted death, on October 5. (It would be put on display at the New York Film Festival on October 7.) Critics would get another opportunity to share their feelings on the movie and loss of such an influential artist when No Home Movie went into limited release here on April 1. Before she died and was treated for depression, Akerman said: “This film is about my mother … my mother, who is no longer with us … about this woman who came to Belgium in 1938, fleeing from Poland, the pogroms and violence … this woman who we only see inside her apartment … an apartment in Brussels. (It is) a film about a world in motion that my mother does not see.” Akerman allows us to eavesdrop on their final conversations, via Skype, or in the Brussels apartment, sometimes with sister Sylvaine and her maid. As was her wont, Akerman rarely spent much time in any one place for very long. Her work frequently took her to far-flung corners of the world, so the idea that Brussels might be “home” was a bit of stretch for her.  Her mother does live in an airy middle-class apartment in Brussels, but, for those who lost almost everything in the war, home must seem like a relative concept. Those unfamiliar with Akerman’s work probably wouldn’t benefit much from starting with No Home Movie, even if it shares familiar cinematic architecture with previous films. Even longtime fans may find the intimacy too much to bear.

Mr. Right: Blu-ray

Get a Job: Blu-ray

In another one of those matches made in Hollywood heaven, Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell easily steal the show in Mr. Right, a story about assassins in love and hate. Rockwell plays an A-list hitman, Francis, who’s every bit as adept at avoiding getting killed as he is fulfilling contracts. In the latest in a long line of disappointments, Martha has just caught her boyfriend cheating on her. Just as she’s almost conceded the game, however, Martha bumps into Francis while shopping and, yes, it’s kismet. Instead of being repulsed by his profession, she decides that Mr. Right only comes around once in a lifetime … in her case, at least. Turns out, she’s a natural born killer. When Francis’ former employer (Tim Roth) begins to close in on him, Martha becomes his right-hand gal. Her training sessions are nicely staged, with the final test being a juggling act with razor-sharp knives. If Paco Cabezas’ follow-up to the Nic Cage revenge vehicle, Rage, won’t make anyone forget Grosse Pointe Blank or Prizzi’s Honor, it is entertaining enough to recommend to fans of the stars and dark action comedies. It comes with the featurette, “A Sweet Couple.”

In 2002, Dylan Kidd made a sweet and sexy coming-of-age comedy, Roger Dodger, that quickly became one of my favorites of the new millennium. I still love it. In his feature debut, Jesse Eisenberg plays a geeky Midwestern high school student, who travels to New York to ask his playboy uncle (Campbell Scott) to teach him how impress girls out of their panties. Kidd followed up that critical success two years later with the fantasy romance, P.S. In it, Laura Linney plays a divorced woman of a certain age given the opportunity to relive her past when she meets a young man (Topher Grace) who appears to be her long-dead high school sweetheart. It garnered some favorable reviews, but made no money in very limited release. Since then, Kidd is credited with directing a TV movie and two episodes of the Adult Swim comedy, “Children’s Hospital.” I won’t hazard a guess as to what might have derailed Kidd’s career, but, if not making money were a crime, only a half-dozen directors in Hollywood would be working. Which brings us to Get a Job, a comedy that hasn’t seen the light of a projector or Blu-ray beam since it was completed in 2012. With a cast that includes the aforementioned Ms. Kendrick, Alison Brie, Marcia Gay Harden, Greg Germann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bryan Cranston, how is such a thing even possible? Get a Job, which qualifies as a stoner and slacker flick, as well as a workplace comedy on the order of Office Space, isn’t the least funny movie I’ve ever seen, as some pundits would have you believe. It’s just not anywhere near as funny as it ought to have been, given the talent involved. The story, by freshman writers Kyle Pennekamp and Scott Turpel, follows several recent college graduates as they try to find meaningful work in the cold-blooded world of corporate America. If not meaningful, then, something north of the minimum wage. If not, can they carve a niche in the emerging techno-economy? Special features include “Video Résumé Outtakes” and “Where it All Began: The Cast of ‘Get a Job’.”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Director’s Cut: Blu-ray 4K

Star Trek/Star Trek Into Darkness: Blu-ray 4K

IMAX: Journey to Space: Blu-ray 4K

As many times as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has been released into its various video and digital iterations, I can’t remember where I first saw the picture many still consider to be the best of all the “Trek” features. For all the sturm und drang that surrounded its creation, including the unseating of creator Gene Roddenberry from the bridge of the franchise, the sequel kick-started Paramount’s floundering “ST” universe, outperforming everyone’s expectations and improving the odds for everything that would follow it. After enjoying cult status for so many years, “ST” became an all-encompassing commercial juggernaut. The secret sauce included such ingredients as a commitment to returning to the show’s roots, with original crew members and a familiar villain (Ricardo Montalban); an eye to the future, as represented by newcomers Kirstie Allie, Paul Winfield and a bunch of trainees anxious to prove their mettle; an air-tight budget that demanded a return to fundamentals; no-nonsense producer Harve Bennett; outsider director Nicholas Meyer; and early buzz about a final “death scene” that would leave audiences in tears. Decades after the “Genesis Device” conceit was forgotten, Spock’s final speech continues to tear the heart out of viewers. It’s also interesting to see how easy it is to re-adjust to the analog, pre-CGI sci-fi world. “Wrath of Khan” arrives in Blu-ray with all previous bonus features intact, including three minutes of re-cut material and a 30-minute featurette, “The Genesis Effect: Engineering the Wrath of Khan.” In it, Meyer, producers Robert Sallin and Ralph Winter, and journalists Mark Altman and Larry Nemecek, walk viewers through a condensed version of how the second film in the series was made. The informative featurette was produced last year, after both Bennett and Leonard Nimoy passed away, leaving Adam Nimoy to briefly fill in for his father and Sallin to give Bennett his due.

But wait, there’s more. Those Trekkies fortunate enough to have both a 4K-equipped HDTV screen and 4K Blu-ray playback unit can be the first on their blocks to enjoy the rebooted 2009 Star Trek iteration and Star Trek Into Darkness in the newest technology extant. The key players will be seen in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond and something called Star Trek 14. There are plenty of mostly vintage bonus features, but the price tag has risen to around $50. I haven’t seen anything on 4K, so you’re on your own here.

“Star Trek” and NASA have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for more than 40 years, even extending to Paramount providing DVDs for the International Space Station astronauts to enjoy. It’s appropriate, then, that Patrick Stewart (a.k.a., Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise-D) was enlisted to narrate K2 and Giant Screen Films’ Journey to Space, an “event” picture designed to re-ignite America’s passion for space exploration. That it’s being “presented” by Toyota and Boeing makes one wonder if the producers have an ulterior motive for going to trouble of cobbling together existing hi-def footage and rounding up veteran astronauts to gush over their personal experiences. (It’s tough to afford an ambitious space program and the Pentagon’s appetite for war toys simultaneously.) Even so, it’s difficult to grow weary of the spectacular images of Mars, the ISS and deep space, captured by the rovers and Hubble Space Telescope. Shout! Factory is releasing Journey to Space in both a two-disc version, which includes the 4K UHD iteration and a combo Blu-ray 2D/3D disc, and a standalone 1080p Blu-ray 2D version. The higher the def, the greater the experience.

The Funhouse Massacre: Blu-ray

At one time or another, most of us have asked ourselves the rhetorical question, “How hard could it be to write a movie like that?” A lot harder than you’d think it is. One way to come up with an idea for a horror picture, for example, is to take any conceivable circumstance or daily occurrence and tack a worst-case scenario to it. Some movies, even the good ones, almost seem to write themselves. I would guess, for example, that the premise behind The Funhouse Massacre would have exhausted itself years ago. I’m no expert on horror tropes, but Andy Palmer appears, at least, to have come up with a new twist on an old subgenre. As the story goes, it’s Halloween and six of the world’s scariest psychopaths escape from a secret facility for the criminally insane, run by a warden played by Robert Eglund. Like moths to a flame, they are attracted to a holiday-themed fun house, whose mazes are inspired by the same murderers’ various reigns of terror. Not only do the patrons assume that the resulting carnage on display is all in fun, but they’re completely unaware, as well, of the fact that they’re about to become part of the act. Neither do the local police have a reason to believe anything is amiss inside the walls of the funhouse, even if one of the deputies (co-writer Ben Begley) has a special affiliation with escapee “Mental Manny” (Jere Burns). The others are Animal the Cannibal (E.E. Bell), Dr. Suave (Sebastian Siegel), the Taxidermist (Clint Howard), Rocco the Clown (Mars Crain) and Dollface (Candice De Visser). The Funhouse Massacre couldn’t have cost a fortune to make, so the availability of space at Land of Illusion Haunted Scream Park, outside Middletown, Ohio, must have helped keep expenses down. The Blu-ray package includes commentary with director Andy Palmer, producer Warner Davis and actors Clint Howard and Courtney Gains; Popcorn Talk’s video commentary with Palmer and co-writers/co-stars Ben Begley and Renee Dorian; “A Day on the Set”; and production diaries.

Altered Minds

How does one follow gigs directing such reality shows as “Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends,” “Guide to Style,” “One Week to Save Your Marriage” and “What Not to Wear”? In Michael Z. Wechsler’s case, you turn to the dark side of life, in a family psychodrama, Altered Minds (a.k.a., “The Red Robin”), with shades of dysfunction, horror and CIA torture. Judd Hirsch plays world-renowned psychiatrist and Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Nathaniel Shellner, who, dying of cancer, has gathered his adult children to the old homestead to celebrate what could be his last birthday. Of the four children, three were adopted in Shellner’s time visiting orphanages in war-torn countries. Things begin to go off the rails when the oldest son, Tommy (Ryan O’Nan), accuses his father of arranging the adoptions to facilitate psychological experimentation. Haunted by some recent discoveries, he wants to unlock closely held secrets before it’s too late. The wheelchair-bound scientist would like to resolve the issues plaguing his son’s mind, as well, but doesn’t always realize when he’s being played by Tommy, a writer of horror fiction. It’s only a matter of time before Shellner’s experience in the CIA’s Project MKUltra mind-control program will kick in and tip the balance of power within the family. The DVD adds deleted scenes, two commentary tracks, Wechsler’s video logs and material from rehearsals and screenings.

Tom Waits: Out of the Box/Down & Dirty

Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story

East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem

Way back at the beginning of his career, Tom Waits would slither up to the stage of a theater — relying on the wall to keep him erect – stagger to the microphone, as if drunk on sweet wine and cheap beer, a cigarette hanging loosely from lips and his eyes staring at a point three inches in front of his pointy-toe brogues. His Froggy the Gremlin voice betrayed the combined effects of whiskey, smoke and sandpaper. The lyrics, when they could be discerned, recalled American musicians and poets as diverse as Bob Dylan, Lord Buckley, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Thelonious Monk, Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart and, of course, Charles Bukowski. We hadn’t seen anything like him and none of the imitators lasted very long. If it was an act, it was a good one. The material couldn’t sound less commercial, but the gems included in such appropriately titled albums as “Closing Time” (1973), “The Heart of Saturday Night” (1974), “Nighthawks at the Diner” (1975), “Heartattack and Vine” (1980) produced FM-ready gems for himself, the Eagles (“Ol’ ’55”), Tim Buckley (“Martha”), Bruce Springsteen (“Jersey Girl”) and Rod Stewart (“Downtown Train”), among other artists. No one has a larger catalogue of unauthorized Waits DVDs than MVD Visual, with the latest titles, “Out of the Box” and “Down & Dirty,” providing fresh meat to hungry fans. The evolution and maturation of the artist are visible in both selections. At 66, the star of stage, screen, vinyl and television has stopped smoking cigarettes and drinking hard liquor – thank goodness – but he’s still a terrific raconteur. They contain interviews from every period in his career, analysis by domestic and English critics, as well as snippets from music videos and talk shows. (Be aware that “Down & Dirty” is included in “Out of the Box” and can be purchased separately.)

The history of music wouldn’t be complete without mention of the famous venues in which it was performed or staged. In this regard, at least, La Scala, Vienna Staatsoper, Carnegie Hall and Paris Opéra can be fairly mentioned in the same breath with the Ryman Auditorium, the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms, Village Vanguard, CBGB, Troubadour and Nippon Budokan. Tony D’Annunzio and Karl Rausch’s almost tearfully nostalgic Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story makes a convincing case for Detroit’s venerable showcase to be included in any such list of platforms for noteworthy music, as do such first-hand witnesses as Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, the surviving members of the MC5, Grand Funk Railroad’s Mark Farner, Henry Rollins, the Who’s Roger Daltrey and Stooges guitar player James Williamson. Although the Grande provided a stage for acts that catered to other Motor City constituencies, it will go down in rock history as the true birthplace of punk. Without the Stooges, MC5 and Alice Cooper, it would have taken a bit longer for Britain’s Clash and Sex Pistols, New York’s Ramones and Dolls and the West Coast noise bands to find their groove. In turn, if the 1960s’ counterculture hadn’t emerged at the same time as the civil rights and anti-war movements exploded, the Grande might not have become a home away from home for such popular attractions as Led Zeppelin, Cream, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and the Who. This was back in the day when a ticket to see a three-headliner show might top out a $5. The DVD adds vintage home-movie footage, archival photographs and other reminders of a Detroit that no longer exists and a grass-roots music scene that eventually would be gobbled up by rapacious record labels and promoters.

At a time when it seems impossible to imagine peace in the Mideast, it’s nice to know that some Israelis and Palestinians, at least, have reached out to each other in the name of peace, love and understanding, through music. The setting for this experiment in unforced harmony is Jerusalem, which is divided into the Arab East and Israeli West. The occasion is the recording of David Broza’s new album and documentary, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, a non-partisan collection of songs chosen specifically to be shared by musicians, singers and school children from opposite sides of the contested divide. Not all of them sound like the flipside of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” thank goodness. The traditional rhythms of Israeli and Palestinian folk music add a necessary buoyancy and sense of place to the songs. Steve Earle was brought in as producer to stretch the roots of the music even further. In between rehearsals, co-directors Henrique Cymerman and Erez Miller tour the holy city with the musicians, offering their own feelings about what makes the place special and the pain of permanent relocation and division. Bonus features, include behind-the-scenes footage of David Broza in the studio and three music videos featuring David Broza and Steve Earle.

Stardust Stricken: Mohsen Makhmalbaf: A Portrait

Although this documentary looks as if it might have been shot any time in the last hundred years, depending on the technology on hand, it’s actually focused on the period almost immediately prior to and after the Islamist revolution in Iran. It’s jarring, especially when compared to films made by Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Leila Hatami, Samira Makhmalbaf and other participants in the Iranian New Wave from the same period. It speaks to the drama inherent in the upheaval that accompanied the abrupt transition from the modern, if frequently cruel monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the fanatically repressive government of Ayatollah Kohmeini and his Koran-waving minions. Filmmakers, especially, have found it difficult to straddle the thin line drawn by censors who couldn’t possibly care less about what the judges at Cannes, Venice and Berlin think. Made in 1996, Stardust Stricken: Mohsen Makhmalbaf: A Portrait pairs two of the most important participants of the Iranian New Wave: journalist/critic/translator Houshang Golmakani and filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The documentary provides an introduction into the early life and works of Makhmalbaf, who, after being released from prison in 1979 for political activism and stabbing a cop, embraced literature and the cinema, while also finding peace in the Koran. In addition to revisiting formative locations in Makhmalbaf’s early life, Golmakani inserts footage taken during the costly eight-war between Iran and Ba’athist Iraq. Even his advocacy for the Islamic arts in Tehran couldn’t prevent five of his films from being banned in his home country. In 2001, his mostly widely known film, Kandahar, won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes. It brought him his second Palme d’Or nomination. (The first was in 1999 for Ghessé hayé kish, which he co-wrote and co-directed with Abolfazl Jalili, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Naser Taghvai.) In another classic example of the adage, “be careful what you wish for,” Makhmalbaf felt it necessary to leave the Islamic Republic in 2005, shortly after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sixth President of Iran, and has lived in Paris since then. If any documentary cried out for a sequel, it would be “Stardust Stricken.”


IFC: The Spoils Before Dying, Season 2

PBS: The Secrets of Saint John Paul

PBS: Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape

PBS: Ode to Joy: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

PBS: David Holt’s State of Music

Hallmark: When Calls the Heart: Heart of a Hero

In 1992, Bruce Springsteen recorded “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On),” lamenting the dearth of quality programming on his newly purchased satellite dish. It was the closest he’s ever come to a novelty song and I doubt if he can remember the lyrics, let alone perform it in concerts. Today, consumers have more genuinely entertaining choices available to them then at any time in history, often more than 57 in the same timeslot. Independent programmers, podcasters and Internet-based artists have usurped the responsibility once reserved for the three broadcast networks and PBS. IFC’s “The Spoils Before Dying,” an extension of its “The Spoils of Babylon,” is a series that wouldn’t have seen the light of prime-time in 1992, except, perhaps, as a sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” Produced by Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele for Funny or Die, the shows seemed to be little more than an after-school project for Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Kristen Wiig, Steve Tom, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Sheen and their funny friends. They attracted what even a cable network would consider to be a loyal niche audience of college-educated and comedy-savvy viewers. They are presented as comedy mini-series that parody classic entertainment tropes, introduced by the pompous “author, producer, actor, writer, director, raconteur, bon vivant, legend and fabulist” clone of late-career Orson Welles, Eric Jonrosh (Ferrell). “Babylon” spoofed such epic-scale “TV event” miniseries as “The Thorn Birds” and “Rich Man, Poor Man,” once-popular shows most viewers would be too young to have seen. The noir-soaked “Spoils Before Dying,” a “lost film” based on Jonrosh’s 1958 novel, follows 1950s jazz pianist-turned-private eye Rock Banyon (Michael Kenneth Williams) as he becomes embroiled in a murder investigation that hits too close to home. Banyon is given three days to clear his name in the murder of his colleague and lover, Fresno Foxglove (Maya Rudolph). It’s a lot of fun.

Catholics tend to revere the men who have been elected to shepherd their flock, while merely tolerating the cardinals who elected them and live in luxury at the expense of parishioners burdened by medieval dictates and criminal clergy. Like Pope John XXIII before him, Pope John Paul II was admired, as well, for advancing inclusive reforms that actually made Catholics feel good about their faith. The fascinating PBS/BBC documentary, “The Secrets of Saint John Paul,” made me wonder how Catholics would react to the very real possibility that the first non-Italian pontiff in more than 400 years had a romantic relationship with a married woman –Anna-Theresa Tymieniecka – who studied in Poland, before moving to the United States. Unlike the priests who prey on parishioners of both sexes, then-Archbishop of Kraków Karol Józef Wojtyla and Tymieniecka maintained a 30-year friendship, based, at the very least, on mutual intellectual curiosity and scholarship. Even when he was elevated to the papacy, Tymieniecka remained in contact with John Paul II as friend, adviser, translator and confidante. We know this only because their two-sided correspondence is part of a collection of documents sold by Tymieniecka’s estate in 2008 to the National Library of Poland. According to the BBC, the library had initially kept the letters from public view, partly to clear John Paul’s path to sainthood, but a library official announced in February the letters would be made public. BBC reporter Edward Stourton was the first to gain full, if guarded access. Veteran investigative journalist Carl Bernstein and Vatican expert Marco Politi were the first journalists to talk to Tymieniecka, in the 1990s, about her importance in John Paul’s life. They dedicated 20 pages to her in their 1996 book “His Holiness.” At the time, she denied having developed any romantic relationship with John Paul II/Wojtyla, “however one-sided it might have been.” If the recently disclosed letters and photographs suggest otherwise, I doubt that most rank-and-file Catholics would demand a retraction of his sainthood. Stourton’s research also reveals how the blatant misogyny of Vatican officials nearly forced an end to the friendship, causing the Pope to surreptitiously post letters from outside Rome. In retrospect, such revelations only make JPII more human.

In the PBS presentation, “Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape,” three Dutch scientists use 3D modelling technology to speculate on the possibility that, in 1962, bank robbers Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin could have launched a patchwork raft into the waters surrounding Alcatraz Prison and survived. The men disappeared, leaving behind a cold case that has mystified law enforcement for over a half-century. The new technology is bolstered by elaborate data collected on the tidal patterns of San Francisco Bay at a to-scale model of the region, as the waters pass under the Golden Gate Bridge. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the mixed results of their investigation beg more questions than they answer.

The new 90-minute public-television special “Ode to Joy: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9” showcases the triumphant musical masterpiece in a rare full-length television recording by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, with the Westminster Symphonic Choir, under the direction of conductor Mark Laycock. The orchestra and choir are joined by soprano Ah Young Hong, mezzo-soprano Leah Wool, tenor William Burden and bass-baritone Mark S. Doss. Technically exquisite, the symphony is performed in historic Alexander Hall on the campus of Princeton University, in honor of American scholar, philanthropist and human rights advocate William H. Scheide on the occasion of his 100th birthday celebration. The program also takes viewers to Vienna, where historical background is added.

Also from PBS, “David Holt’s State of Music” takes a reading on the health of American mountain music, as it’s been practiced for hundreds of years, from the most remote coves of southern Appalachia to the bright lights of Asheville’s public-TV studios and the Grand Old Opry stage. Grammy Award-winning performer David Holt has spent his life learning and performing traditional American music. Here, he introduces viewers to modern masters of traditional music.


In Hallmark’s “When Calls the Heart: Heart of a Hero,” Abigail and Frank pursue a romance before the town of Hope Valley is tested by the threat of a gang of outlaws and Elizabeth and Jack’s relationship is touched by jealousy, when a woman from his past unexpectedly arrives in town. While Bill grows overprotective of Abigail’s safety, Jack refuses to let the residents give in to their fears. It leads to a dramatic conclusion in which an unlikely ally joins the cause.

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Leonard Klady's Friday Estimates
Friday Screens % Chg Cume
Title Gross Thtr % Chgn Cume
Venom 33 4250 NEW 33
A Star is Born 15.7 3686 NEW 15.7
Smallfoot 3.5 4131 -46% 31.3
Night School 3.5 3019 -63% 37.9
The House Wirh a Clock in its Walls 1.8 3463 -43% 49.5
A Simple Favor 1 2408 -50% 46.6
The Nun 0.75 2264 -52% 111.5
Hell Fest 0.6 2297 -70% 7.4
Crazy Rich Asians 0.6 1466 -51% 167.6
The Predator 0.25 1643 -77% 49.3
Also Debuting
The Hate U Give 0.17 36
Shine 85,600 609
Exes Baggage 75,900 62
NOTA 71,300 138
96 61,600 62
Andhadhun 55,000 54
Afsar 45,400 33
Project Gutenberg 36,000 17
Love Yatri 22,300 41
Hello, Mrs. Money 22,200 37
Studio 54 5,300 1
Loving Pablo 4,200 15
3-Day Estimates Weekend % Chg Cume
No Good Dead 24.4 (11,230) NEW 24.4
Dolphin Tale 2 16.6 (4,540) NEW 16.6
Guardians of the Galaxy 7.9 (2,550) -23% 305.8
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4.8 (1,630) -26% 181.1
The Drop 4.4 (5,480) NEW 4.4
Let's Be Cops 4.3 (1,570) -22% 73
If I Stay 4.0 (1,320) -28% 44.9
The November Man 2.8 (1,030) -36% 22.5
The Giver 2.5 (1,120) -26% 41.2
The Hundred-Foot Journey 2.5 (1,270) -21% 49.4