By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Aferim!, WTF, Rams, Family Fang and more


Although slavery hasn’t been a taboo subject for exploitation by Hollywood filmmakers, it took Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave to fully dramatize the brutality and dehumanization inherent in the long-accepted practice for a new generation of viewers. The recent retelling of the “Roots” saga may not have been greeted with the same excitement as the original, but both versions of the mini-series should enjoy a long life in Blu-ray/DVD/VOD. The recent resurgence of gladiator movies and mini-series also called attention to slavery in the ancient world. From Romania, Aferim! tells a completely unexpected story about slavery, this time as practiced against Gypsies, Tartars, Jews and Muslims in Eastern Europe from the mid-1300s to the mid-1800s. You can count the number of films that address that horrifying chapter in history on the fingers of a single hand. The title of Radu Jude’s wide-screen, black-and-white dramedy Aferim! comes from the Ottoman Turkish expression, meaning “Bravo!,” or, if you will, “Give me five.” It is set in 1835 in the Wallachia region of eastern Romania, where a slave-hunting constable and his young-adult son have been handed the papers allowing them to search for a runaway Roma slave accused of having an affair with a nobleman’s wife. Costandin is played by Teodor Corban, who some buffs might remember from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) and 12:08 East of Bucharest. The bounty hunter would have been a perfect fit for either Django Unchained or 12 Years a Slave, as he delivers a non-stop commentary on slavery, priests, Gypsies, whores, gambling and anything else he needs his son to hear on his way to manhood. On their odyssey, they encounter people of several different nationalities, religions and ethnic groups, each of whom harbor prejudices of their own. Many still do. When the slave, Carfin, is caught, halfway through Aferim!, the dialogue between captor and caught could have been borrowed from a dozen different Westerns or, for that matter, The Last Detail. It’s an amazing picture that deserves to find a wide audience here. Special features include Jude’s excellent, Sundance-winning 2006 short, “The Tube with a Hat.”

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Blu-ray

In a strange case of art resembling book reviews, it was Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times’ chief book critic, who inadvertently sold the idea of casting Tina Fey as the protagonist in Paramount’s dark wartime comedy, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. In her review of journalist Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Kakutani observed, the author “depicts herself as a sort of Tina Fey character.” If she had recommended, say, Sandra Bullock or Anna Kendrick, they probably would have gotten serious consideration, as well. Fey’s inclusion was assured when Loren Michael’s Broadway Video and Fey’s Little Stranger Inc. joined Paramount as co-producers. Broadway Video benefits from sweetheart deals cut – enforced may be a more appropriate term — with former and existing members of the “Saturday Night Live” casts. BV has repurposed hundreds of “SNL” re-run packages, including those for individual performers, holiday and themed sets. If Broadway Video, Broadway Movies and SNL Studios have injected the show’s alumni into such unqualified theatrical turkeys as MacGruber, Superstar and Stuart Saves His Family, they’ve also nurtured “30 Rock,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Documentary Now!” and “Portlandia,” while continuing to believe in Kristin Wiig, Seth Meyers, Will Forte, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen and Rachel Dratch, whose post-“SNL” careers needed the occasional jump start. Barker’s memoir barely made a dent in the best-sellers’ lists until Fey embraced the film adaptation and the book, like the movie, suddenly became “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” (The same sleight-of-hand occurred when Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch” became “Jackie Brown,” even if the book’s original protagonist was a white woman named Jackie Burke, living in Miami.)

Just as Kakutani predicted, Fey proved to be a natural choice to play the novice foreign correspondent assigned to a seemingly endless conflict – as Kim Baker – which, in the minds of editors and readers, had become a sideshow to the war in Iraq and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. (In the movie, the character works for a TV network, while, in real life, Barker, was a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.) As a novice, Baker is taken aback by the gallows humor that informs all interaction between embedded journalists and the debauched nightlife that makes such assignments tolerable. Correspondents go to extreme lengths to score the kinds of scoops worthy of breaking through the clutter on network news shows. Here, this includes putting their sources at risk of retaliation by their superiors and playing footsie with swinish Afghan dignitaries. Even so, the longer Baker remains in Afghanistan, the more likely it becomes that she will push the limits of personal safety and sanity. To this end, screenwriter Robert Carlock (“30 Rock,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus, I Love You Phillip Morris), added melodramatic and rom-com elements to a story someone felt wouldn’t succeed at the box office without concessions to popular tastes. Unless one reads the book, however, it would be difficult to parse the fact from the invention. An almost farcical scene in which she learns to fire an automatic weapon with the same horny Afghan official was taken right from the book, while less realistic events were cut from whole cloth. After Margot Robbie’s hard-drinking correspondent, Tanya Vanderpoel, asks Kim’s permission to make herself available sexually to the newcomer’s stud security guards, she’s given a lesson in war-zone sexism. Tanya explains to the baffled Kim that women who would be rated a “4” or a “6” back home are often upgraded to a “9” or “10” in Kabul. (The obviously fallacy here, of course, is that both women would qualify for the higher grades anywhere on the planet – check out Robbie in “The World of Wall Street” –even in combat fatigues and head scarves.) Basically, though, “WTF” doesn’t stray too egregiously far from the parameters laid down in the book.

As is the norm with most movies set in Afghanistan and Iraq, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot failed to attract the same hordes of viewers who turned American Sniper and Lone Survivor – the exceptions that prove the rule – into certified hits at the box office. It did much better than the abysmal Rock the Kasbah, which was built from a similar foundation and starred “SNL” veteran Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride and Scott Caan. There’s no reason “WTF” shouldn’t do better in DVD/Blu-ray/VOD, if only because Fey’s profile still fits better on the small screen. The best scenes in the movie, in my opinion, feature Baker donning a burka to capture video images in a Taliban stronghold and meet in secret with Afghan women repressed by fundamentalists in their “liberated” village. These scenes reminded me of Erik Poppe’s 1,000 Times Good Night, in which Juliet Binoche does an amazing job as a photojournalist torn between her family in Europe and the Adrenalin flow that comes with risking one’s life to relay cold, hard facts to people who aren’t interested in the truth. The nightclub scenes recalled those in Canal+ mini-series, “Kaboul Kitchen,” which was set in the only French restaurant in the capital and provided a DMZ for politicians, journalists, thieves, prostitutes and other miscreants. Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar, shown at the Toronto Film Festival during the same week as the attacks of 9/11, describes the brutal conditions faced by women in Taliban-run Afghanistan. (Some critics have also made comparisons to the Goldie Hawn dramedy, Private Benjamin.) The Blu-ray package adds deleted scenes; an extended scene; the featurettes, “All In: The Making of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”; “War Reporter: The Real Kim”; “Embedded in Reality,” which explains how the military played a pivotal role in bringing the movie to life; “Wedding Party,” a tight focus on the joyous wedding celebration from the film; and “Laughing Matters,” which describes how the characters relied on drinking, partying and other vices to cope with the constant threat of danger.

Rams: Blu-ray

While international filmmakers continue to discover the benefits of making movies in the otherworldly settings provided by Iceland, non-Nordic audiences have yet to embrace the country’s homegrown cinema. The exceptions are such early films of Baltasar Kormákur as 101 Reykjavík, The Sea, A Little Trip to Heaven, Jar City and The Deep, which have since led to such off-island projects as 2 Guns, Contraband and the brilliantly dramatized Everest. Grímur Hákonarson’s quirky sibling drama Rams takes place a little further off the beaten path than most Icelandic exports. Instead of easily reached locations along the coastal Ring Road, Rams takes place in a secluded valley in the mountainous interior, where modified snowmobiles and other all-terrain vehicles do the work no car could attempt and where roads are a seasonal luxury. It’s in such isolated locations that hatchets remain unburied for decades at a time. Estranged brothers Gummi and Kiddi have lived side by side for 40 years, tending to their sheep, without speaking a word to each other. The lineage of their prized rams extends back to the arrival of the Vikings and is unique to the valley. After Kiddi wins the annual contest, Gummi suspects there might be something drastically wrong with the winning ram. The lethal degenerative “scrapie” may be nearly invisible in its early stages, but it can travel through an agricultural region like wildfire. The farmers not only are ordered to decimate their flocks, but destroy their stalls and any tools used to tend the sheep. The condition takes at least two years to eradicate, during which the farmers are compensated for their loss by the government. The greatest dilemma for the brothers, though, comes in knowing that the mass slaughter could put an end to the lineage and no imported variety could produce the same quality wool. Gummi understands the consequences and agrees to go along with the agricultural authority’s demands, just as Homer Bannon did in Hud when foot-and-mouth disease was discovered in his herd. The surly alcoholic, Kiddi, holds out until the very end, blaming his brother for alerting the government to the problem and everything else that’s gone wrong with his life. Hákonarson leaves room for an ending that should satisfy most viewers, even as it conforms to Iceland’s famously fickle and brutal weather conditions, captured superbly by Norwegian cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (Victoria). Hákonarson was accorded the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes. The Cohen Media Blu-ray adds an interview with the director and award-winning 2007 short, Wrestling, a love story about two gay wrestlers, living in rural Iceland, who must keep their relationship a secret from the inner world of the sport, which, in its Icelandic mode, is strangely homoerotic.

Margarita, With a Straw

Shonali Bose and Nilesh Maniyar’s consistently surprising Margarita, With a Straw describes the journey of self-discovery taken by an precocious Indian teen who refuses to allow conditions beyond her control to keep her from achieving her goals. Born with cerebral palsy, Laila (Kalki Koechlin) has gone through life as if the disease was something happening to other people in her orbit, affecting them more than it does her. Her slurred speech is only a minor impediment to communication, just as her wheelchair doesn’t preclude acting on her whims, including making out with her boyfriend or reacting to sexual stimuli on the Internet. If the emotional crises that impact other teenagers appear to have a greater effect on Laila, it’s only because her options are so much more limited. After being humiliated at an awards ceremony for her rock-music compositions – and patronized by a judge – she succeeds in winning a writing scholarship from a school in New York. Her working-class father isn’t thrilled by the prospect of sending his daughter halfway around the world to realize a dream, but her mother wouldn’t have it any other way. Mom even agrees to accompany her to the U.S. Even so, Laila quickly finds her footing socially and in the classroom. Her naiveté continues to work against her romantically, but it doesn’t prevent her from allowing herself to be comforted by a blind Pakistani/Indian student and lesbian, Khanum (Sayani Gupta), after being trapped in a street protest. Their affection for each other grows naturally and without limits based on perceived physical handicaps. Faced by the prospect of unfettered happiness, however, Laila is forced to deal with someone else’s debilitating illness and her own cluelessness when it comes to matters of the heart. In Margarita, With a Straw, Bose and Maniyar have created an all-inclusive study in acceptance that could hardly be easier to digest. The DVD adds worthwhile interviews and background material.

Precious Cargo: Blu-ray

Mark-Paul Gosselaar has one of those faces that are immediately recognizable, if not for any particular role or series. That is, of course, for those of us who’ve never watched “Saved by the Bell” or its various spinoffs and immediately recognize him as Zack Morris. After checking out his resume on, it was easy to recall Gosselaar’s grown-up turns as Detective John Clark Jr. on “NYPD Blue” and Franklin Bash on “Franklin & Bash.” At 42, he’d love nothing more than to be recognized as an actor as comfortable in action features as he was in sitcoms and genre series. In soldier-turned-filmmaker Max Adams’ directorial debut, Precious Cargo, Gosselaar plays a crook with a talent for ripping off criminals unlikely to file a complaint with local authorities or Interpol. Jack’s team includes a punky sharpshooter (Jenna B. Kelly), his veterinarian girlfriend (Lydia Hull) and pregnant former lover (Claire Forlani), who’s on the run from a crime lord played by Bruce Willis. The scheme requires of Jack’s team that it collects a safe full of stolen diamonds and hand it over to Willis’ crew in return for not being killed on the spot. If the plot isn’t all that distinctive, action fans can enjoy the film’s many explosions, car chases, airborne escapes and a nifty boat chase, staged somewhere in the vicinity of Gulfport, Mississippi. Gosselaar and Kelly display a pleasant rapport in their post-combat exchanges, while Willis once again pretty much phones in his performance, which probably only required one or two days of his time. At 45, Forlani probably wasn’t the best choice to play a visibly pregnant crook, on the run from the law and her former boss in stiletto heels. Although she remains one of great beauties to appear on big and small screens, the hi-def camera reveals far too much of the cosmetics used to make her look 30. With 4K-resolution right around the corner, makeup artists are going to have to work harder to make middle-age actors of both genres look natural. (By contrast, Willis is lit in one scene to resemble Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.) The Blu-ray adds “The Making of Precious Cargo” featurette and cast/crew interviews.

Back in the Day

Blessed with a cast of highly recognizable actors, but cursed by what I suspect was a budget best described as “micro,” Back in the Day will go over best with boxing and Mafia completists who tend to find positive things to say about the frequently interrelated subjects. Here, however, the mobsters don’t seem to be particularly interested in fixing the fights of local favorite, Anthony Rodriguez (William DeMeo), an Italian/Puerto Rican hybrid growing up on the streets of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. They exist on the same plane as the wise guys who hang around the social club run by Paulie and Tuddy Cicero, in Goodfellas, who don’t seem to work but always have money for shiny clothes. During the 1980s, when much of Paul Borghese’s drama is set, the mobsters pay lip service, at least, to keeping the neighborhood safe for women, children and shopkeepers, as long as they’re of the white persuasion. Gentrification and an influx of nationalities other than Italian wouldn’t begin in earnest until the new millennium. Growing up, Anthony was burdened by an abusive, alcoholic father, who somehow got lucky by marrying a hard-working Italian woman (Annabella Sciorra) from the neighborhood. After tiring of being called “spic” by every two-bit Joe Pesci-wannabe in Bensonhurst, Anthony decides to take out his anger on the heavy bag installed in the basement by his father, when he still gave a shit about his family. His newfound boxing skills come to the attention of local mob bosses Enzo DeVino (Michael Madsen) Gino Fratelli (Alec Baldwin) after he vents his frustrations over the hit-and-run death of his mother on the butcher who once tried to molest him. As time goes by, Anthony will be paid to vent his leftover frustrations on other professional boxers, while the mobsters continue to play their dangerous games with guns in the old neighborhood. Because Back in the Day opens with what could be Anthony’s final championship fight, we already know how half the movie, at least, is going to play out. His past is related to boxing writer Larry Merchant in flashback form over lunch in a venerable Bensonhurst restaurant. (Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson appears in an off-the-wall cameo.) Almost everything that takes place in the movie suffers from the bare-bones budget, including the boxing scenes, which could have been staged in a convenience store. Even so, the appearance of big-name stars – including Danny Glover, Joseph D’Onofrio, Shannen Doherty – keep things moving for most of the overlong two-hour length.

The Steps

The Family Fang

As the children of Baby Boomers grow older and realize their dreams of making movies about their brilliantly tortured lives, we’re going to see a lot more like The Steps, One More Time (reviewed here three weeks ago) and The Family Fang. Digital technology now allows for relatively inexpensive filmmaking and Kickstarter campaigns sometimes succeed in supplementing credit-card budgets and the occasional AFI or Sundance grant. The more stars one can round up by begging, pleading and calling in favors, the better. The presence of one or two stars once guaranteed distribution, but, now, a half-dozen might not be enough. Early positive reviews don’t always work, either. Just as a tortured family reunion provided the foundation for One More Time, which stars Christopher Walken, Amber Heard, Hamish Linklater, Oliver Platt and Ann Magnuson, a gathering of two soon-to-be-united tribes is in the forefront of The Steps. The former is staged in a beautiful home at the tip of Long Island, while the latter unspools in a splendid lakeside home in Ontario. It would be too easy to dismiss the family dynamics as “dysfunctional” – a catch-all term popularized in the 1980-90s — although they are. These nearing retirement Boomer parents are wealthy and successful in their own ways, and the kids, apart from being neglected at various times in their lives, have been spoiled and given every opportunity to succeed. They resent having to live in the shadow of one or both parents, but are too messed up to carve a niche of their own. I also doubt that these families are representative of those found outside major urban centers. In One More Time, Walken’s character is an out-of-the-limelight music star from the days of Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Billy Joel. In Andrew Currie and Robyn Harding’s The Steps, James Brolin portrays a wealthy money manager whose wheelings and dealings provided ample opportunities for him to enjoy the fat life of an absentee parent. Now that he’s met another woman (Christine Lahti) with whom to share his perfect life, Ed wants his children to embrace Sherry’s brood as half-siblings, anyway. Ed’s American children (Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jason Ritter) are neurotic and self-absorbed in a New York sort of way, while Sherry’s kids and kids-in-law (Kate Corbett, Vinay Virmani, Steven McCarthy, Benjamin Arthur) are screwed up in ways more closely associated with growing up with a free-spirited single mom in Canada. It isn’t a perfect match. The poop really hits the fan, however, when Ed and Sherry announce they’re adopting a child – Chinese, natch — to bring the family together. There are some decent ideas at play in both films, but none that cry to be seen on a big screen at a multiplex for $11 a ticket.


Walken is an even greater joy to watch in The Family Fang, an adaptation of Kevin Wilson’s best-selling novel that received an “excuse me” release before disappearing into VOD limbo last month. Here, he plays the male half of a controversial husband-and-wife conceptual-art team famous for the kind of cruel and macabre public performances that are easily confused with pranks. Michelle Kidman and director Jason Bateman play the adult versions of Annie and Baxter – a.k.a., Child A and Child B – who never got over being used by their parents as props in the often faux-gory and disturbing public performances. As a narrator explains, “The Fangs simply throw themselves into a space, as if they were hand grenades, and wait for the disruption to occur.” For their parts, the elder Fangs (Walken, Maryann Plunkett) never got over their children’s decision to pursue disciplines – writing, acting – that didn’t test the limits of decorum and normalcy. After Baxter is hospitalized in a freak accident, the family comes together for the first time in a long while. It’s an uneasy reunion, but things don’t get truly weird until Caleb and Camille take off on a ride through the Massachusetts countryside and simple disappear. Naturally, Annie and Baxter’s first thought is that it’s yet another performance, intended to draw attention to themselves. The police aren’t so sure. I don’t know how the movie squares with the novel, but, as it is, The Family Fang does a nice job asking provocative questions about what children and parents owe each other and what happens when the debt comes due. The damage done can be read on the faces of Kidman and Bateman, who can’t escape Caleb and Camille’s shadow, no matter how hard they try. Admirers of such offbeat dysfunctional-family flicks as The Royal Tenenbaums, The Squid and the Whale, The Family Stone and Running with Scissors really should take a chance on The Family Fang.


Docs-to DVD

Elstree 1976

George Crumb: Voice of the Whale

Weaving The Past: Journey of Discovery

Scary Man

Here’s another documentary that might have attracted a niche audience, if only members of the target demographic knew it actually existed. The title probably could have been a little less vague, but Star Wars buffs would have caught the reference and flocked to the film as if it were a memorabilia convention. Elstree 1976 refers to the British production facility where four episodes of George Lucas’ juggernaut were filmed, including the first one, whose huge success assured that the studio wouldn’t be repurposed as condominiums. Jon Spira’s film explores the lives of the largely unheralded actors and extras who helped create one of the most celebrated franchises in cinematic history, but weren’t named Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher or Mark Hamill. Instead, Spira found and interviewed such actors as Dave Prowse, who wore the Darth Vader suit and acted out a performance that James Earl Jones’ voice would make famous; Paul Blake, who played Greedo, the guy Han Solo shoots in the cantina bar; Pam Rose, given an addition to her noggin to play barmaid Leesub Sirln; and Jeremy Bulloch, whose character, Boba Fett, would achieve a degree of infamy unparalleled in sci-fi history. Almost everyone interviewed was a working actor before Star Wars and remained one afterwards, some reprising their characters in later episodes. Forty years later, they continue to attend fan conventions and collect money for autographs. Their stories are quite delightful.


Shuffle through any pile of 33rpm albums left behind by reformed hippies, after they left home in anticipation of careers in the straight world, and there’s a very good chance you’ll find a tattered copy of “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” a 1970 album produced by bio-acoustician Roger Payne. By the standards of the day, it was a huge hit. By demonstrating how whales communicated through a sonic vocabulary that resembles music, Payne gave environmentalists a weapon in the incipient battle to save whales from extinction. It was about this time, as well, that Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy-winning composer George Crumb used man-made instruments to re-create the sounds of whales in “Vox Balaenae for Three Masked Players,” a decidedly avant-garde work for electric flute, cello and amplified piano. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation and extended instrumental and vocal techniques. Examples include the seagull effect for the cello, metallic vibrato for the piano and using a mallet to play the strings of a contrabass. Crumb defines music as “a system of proportions in the service of spiritual impulse” … the “first cell from which language, science and religion originated.” In 1976, fledgling documentarian Robert Mugge created the first of what would become dozens of music-related films, “George Crumb: Voice of the Whale.” The 54-minute doc was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. A native of West Virginia, Crumb also was greatly influenced by the raw-sounding gospel music he heard in the churches of the poor, God-fearing mountain folk. In the segments recorded in his home, Crumb discusses his influences and techniques with fellow composer Richard Wernick, while his musician wife, Elizabeth, offers her own version of their eccentric lifestyle. As heady as the discussions sometimes get, musicologists should find them fascinating. I couldn’t find a link between George Crumb and artist R. Crumb, apart from an uncanny resemblance to each other.


What Donald Trump doesn’t know about the history of Mexico and the root causes of the poverty that continues to inspire illegal immigration could fill all of his skyscrapers and villas. The less his supporters understand about this and other key issues, the freer their candidate is to exploit such ignorance for his own personal and political gain. Conversely, the more Americans learn about the struggles of the working poor in Mexico and Central America, the more sympathy we’ll have when confronted with the faces of people driven to give up everything they know for a small piece of the pie. Walter Dominguez’ heart-wrenching documentary, Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery, was born from a desperate desire to fulfill his grandfather’s dying wish to locate his long lost family and re-connect ties severed when he escaped north for a new lease on life. Dominguez, who had drifted away from a filmmaking career in the mid-1970s, was driven to resume it after sinking into a deep depression in the wake of 9/11. By electing to fulfill the promise to his saintly Mexican-born grandfather, Reverend Emilio Hernandez, he was able to lift the fog of despair through hard work and intense research. He wasn’t given many clues as to where to begin his “journey of discovery,” but he eventually was led to led to people in Mexico who knew where to start. “Tata” Hernandez had been part of a social movement, one that strove to end oppression of Native Americans and impoverished Mexicans and exploded into a bloody revolution that touched both sides of the border. Like many people of Mexican background, Dominguez is part Native American, meaning that he has roots that extend further into the history of North America than most. While the Spanish and well-to-do Mexicans oppressed the Native Americans, on the other side of the border, white Americans exploited both the Mexicans and the Native Americans. Inspired, as well, by a promise made to his own dying father, Dominguez finally was able to locate elderly relatives and friends of his grandfather and learn about those uncles and aunts who decided not to make the trip north. His research also revealed a history of dictatorship and genocide neglected in American classrooms. How many American descendants of immigrants would benefit from tracing their roots to the Old Country and learning the conditions that led to their decision to leave home? The commonality of such experience is part of the fabric of America now being threatened by xenophobes, nationalists and outright bigots.


There was a time, not so long ago, when people who lived in close vicinity to the flyways of migratory birds could set their watches to the sight of the first V-shaped formations of Canada geese heading south for the winter. It was exciting to watch them pass overhead, knowing they’d escaped extinction for one more year and future generations might be able to enjoy the same sight. Little did we know, then, that these magnificent long-necked creatures would adjust so well to changing conditions on the ground that they would skip the arduous flight to their nesting grounds and find ways to survive the brutal winters of the Midwest. At first, it was believed that the geese were attracted solely to the cooling ponds outside nuclear plants. Before long, however, semi-flightless flocks of geese took control of golf course, public parks, corporate lawns, airports and sanctuaries, where food was easy to find and no one shot at them. It was novel, at first, but soon became a nuisance when the birds’ droppings made leisurely walks impossible and chemical imbalances polluted ponds. Dutch directors Eugenie Jansen and Albert Elings noticed how farmers and health officials there not only were dealing with over-populations of geese, but also a year-round surplus of starlings, sparrows and pigeons. Recognizing the regulations introduced to protect endangered species, Scary Man (a.k.a., “Vogelvrij” or “Outlawed”) attempts to take as objective a view of the problem as is possible. Winner of multiple international awards, including the Earth Watch Film Award from the National Geographic Society, Scary Man explores how the Dutch cope with the competition for space and resources between too many birds and too many people living in a small country. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it didn’t take long for the birds to become immune to the usual human measures – loud noises, sparkling ribbons, decoys of predators – and begin to ignore them.


Made in Cleveland

Until two weeks ago, Cleveland was a city known primarily as a city so polluted its river caught fire and as the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and losing sports teams … literally losing its longtime NFL franchise in 1995, when the owner decided to move his team lock, stock and barrel to Baltimore, where it became the Ravens. While the Indians occasionally show signs of life, it took the NBA’s Cavaliers to break the spell by bringing home the first major professional sports championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL championship. (Someday, perhaps, the annual concert honoring new Hall of Fame inductees will be staged on the shores of Lake Erie, instead of Madison Square Garden.) The 2013 anthology film, Made in Cleveland, consists of nearly a dozen short films featuring the work of seven different directors, five screenwriters and a myriad collection of widely known and local actors (news anchors Robin Swoboda and Leon Bibb, among the latter). And, while the vignettes probably could have been staged in almost any big urban center, the backdrops, landmarks and locations will be immediately recognizable to anyone who’s spent time in Cleveland. The film didn’t receive any distribution outside northern Ohio, but few of these sorts of hit-and-miss things do. Among the more recognizable cast members are Busy Philipps, Gillian Jacobs, Patrick Antone, Jeffrey Grover and Robbie Barnes. The bonus package adds a deleted piece.



Disney Channel: Adventures in Babysitting

PBS: Prince Philip: The Plot to Make a King

PBS: NOVA: Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?

PBS Kids: Odd Squad: The O Games

PBS: Nature: Jungle Animal Hospital

Disney Channel no longer lets any grass grow under the feet of its original movies. Its updating of Adventures in Babysitting hits the streets almost simultaneously with its release on Disney’s various cable outlets. The special attention accorded the nearly 30th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ classic urban misadventure, which provided an early platform for Elizabeth Shue, Penelope Ann Miller, Vincent D’Onofrio and Bradley Whitford, among others, derives from it being the 100th Disney Channel Original Movies. That number includes “Descendants,” “Teen Beach Movie,” “High School Musical” and their various sequels. Here, Sofia Carson (“Descendants”) and Sabrina Carpenter (“Girl Meets World”) assume the roles once destined for Raven-Symoné and Miley Cyrus in an aborted 2009 remake. That might have been fun, especially considering how Miley has grown up in the interim, flashing her boobs to anyone with a camera. John Schultz’ adaptation follows the same basic blueprint from the original, which Disney originally allowed to go out with a PG-13 rating through Touchstone. A mismatched pair of babysitters find themselves in a bit of bother when their cellphones are mistakenly exchanged, causing them to be put in charge of two very different sets of children. Naturally, the kids have agendas of their own to pursue while the parents attend the same fancy party. Eventually, they attract a pair of comical lowlifes who are after a treasure the kids have in their possession. Mayhem, of course, ensues. Even lacking a PG-13 edge, this “Adventures in Babysitting” should please ’tweens and Disney Channel fans in their early teens who’ll buy into the whole kids-take-charge vibe. The DVD adds a short “Adventures in Outtakes” and a magnetic photo frame, whose removable center supplies some babysitting rules and ideas.


Viewed from this side of the pond, Prince Philip has always been something of an enigma. Condemned to forever walk two steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, the former heir to the abandoned Greek crown must enjoy the benefits of his regal station. Like his son, Prince Charles, however, he probably thought he’d be doing something else to earn his keep, by now. There was a time when Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh, a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and the royal families of Greece and Denmark, was far more than the emotionally challenged cypher he would become. The excellent PBS bio-doc, “Prince Philip: The Plot to Make a King,” describes how the once-dashing naval officer stole/won the heart of the woman who would be queen and, in doing so, scared the crap of Winston Churchill and other British politicians who feared he might be a Nazi sympathizer or pawn of his ever-scheming uncle, Lord “Dickie” Mountbatten, a British statesman and naval officer killed in an IRA bombing in 1979. Nothing came of all the rumors, behind-the-scenes machinations and political paranoia, and little was ever revealed to the public. With a few minor plot twists and storyline that included Princess Diana, “The Plot to Make a King” would make a terrific novel.


Among the many ways our tax dollars could be better spent than financing two increasingly ludicrous wars in the Middle East would be a frontal attack on Alzheimers disease, which ravages the minds of more than 40 million victims worldwide and, as such, poses a greater threat than Al Qaeda and ISIS put together. While the cause of Alzheimers remains a mystery and a cure seems almost impossibly elusive, advanced medical technology has given researchers some reasons to feel cautiously optimistic. The “NOVA” presentation “Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?” allows viewers to join investigators as they gather clues and attempt to reconstruct the molecular chain of events that ultimately leads to dementia. Along the way, we meet individuals from all walks of life who reveal what it’s like to struggle with Alzheimer’s, as well as members of a unique Colombian family who have learned that their genetic predisposition all but guarantees an early-onset of the disease. These courageous patients are participating in clinical trials and drug tests that may or may not bear fruit in their lifetimes. Genentech Inc. is mentioned more often than other companies, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing.


PBS Kids’ “Odd Squad: The O Games” gets into the spirit of Olympics-year competition with a series of crazy math challenges. The winner gets to be Ms. O for a day and run Odd Squad. Agent Otto is chosen to compete against the villainous Odd Todd, who is Agent Olives’ former partner. If Odd Todd comes out on top, he could shut down Odd Squad forever. The series features young agents who use indirect reasoning and math to solve and investigate strange happenings in their town. Satire and comedic archetypes are used to teach the audience math and math-related topics.


PBS’s “Nature: Jungle Animal Hospital” takes viewers deep into the Guatemalan jungle to observe the work of an organization whose staff works around the clock to care for injured, orphaned and endangered animals brought to its facility from all over the country. The rescue center, known as ARCAS, is at full capacity with over 700 boarders of all shapes and sizes, chiefly victims of the illegal pet trade. Filmmakers spent a year documenting the work being done at the country’s busiest rescue center, including Anna Bryant’s efforts to make sure a troop of spider monkeys would finally be ready to go back to the wild after several years of rehabilitation. The vets also work with authorities at checkpoints on roads leading out of the jungle to locate newly-hatched baby parrots being smuggled out on buses by the hundreds. The program also documents the first time that captive-bred scarlet macaws are released into the wild in Guatemala. Jaguars, armadillos, crocs and gray foxes also make cameo appearances.



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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