MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Edge of 17, Gimme Danger, Cameraperson, Tree Of Wooden Clogs, London Town, Coffin Joe, King Cobra and more

The Edge of Seventeen
When Stevie Nicks wrote the song after which Kelly Fremon Craig’s coming-of-age comedy-drama was named, she was addressing the grief that resulted from the death of her beloved uncle, Jonathan, and the murder of John Lennon, during the same week of December, 1980. It probably didn’t have much to do with the angst, optimism and anxiety that comes with entering the final year of one’s childhood or experiencing the first genuine pangs of love or pain as young adult, as most of us assumed. “And, so, with the slow graceful flow/Of age/I went forth with an age old/Desire to please/On the edge of seventeen …” And, yet, the song applies so well to the many ambiguous and sometimes contradictory emotions on display in Craig’s emotionally testing The Edge of Seventeen. Onetime Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) plays Nadine, the kind of teenage misfit who might have felt right at home in The Breakfast Club. She lost her father to a heart attack, at 11, and still falls back on it as an excuse to blow off homework, at 16. Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is no match for Nadine’s tantrums and taunts. She dresses less to impress than to repel the cool and popular kids who gravitate toward her largely supportive older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). The real dilemma comes when her only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who she met when they both were ugly ducklings, turns into a beautiful swan and begins to date Darian. Nadine treats it as the worst sort of betrayal, but, on the edge of 17, cupid plays by his own rules.

Woody Harrelson co-stars as the archetypal supportive teacher, Mr. Bruner, who understands what it means to be an outsider, while also counseling patience and fortitude. Nadine thinks nothing of disturbing his lunch hour, which he prefers to spend reading and relaxing. Naturally, Mr. Bruner serves as the combination father-figure/sounding board she won’t allow Darian to be. He listens patiently to her complaints, but clearly would prefer if she got on with her life. Another significant part of Nadine’s problem is an inability to decide what kind of boys are worthy of her attention. While there is a fellow student who would be an ideal friend and companion, she’s seems more interested in rolling the dice on dating sites on the Internet. Nadine is alternately funny, confounding and tragic, as is The Edge of Seventeen. Craig’s first solo writing credit, 2009’s Post Grad, starred Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch and Carol Burnett, and received mixed reviews. The Edge of Seventeen exited last year’s Toronto International Film Festival as one of the pictures to watch on the road to awards season. I’m surprised Steinfeld and Craig were shut out of the Academy Awards and Indie Spirits. (Steinfeld earned a nod in the Golden Globes’ genre-divided Best Actress category.) Despite so-so box-office returns, I think that The Edge of Seventeen deserves to be seen by the same people who embraced Easy A, Mean Girls, Pretty in Pink, 16 Candles and Breakfast Club. I was impressed, as well, by Haley Lu Richardson, whose smile says as much about her character as any line of dialogue. The Blu-ray adds an actor/filmmaker roundtable and a gag reel.

Gimme Danger
In his introduction to this nostalgic rock/doc profile of the proto-punk band, the Stooges, Jim Jarmusch declares that the Motor City maniacs comprised “the greatest rock ’n roll band of all time.” It is an honorific typically associated with the Rolling Stones, but could apply as well to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground, Nirvana and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, among several other ensembles, depending on how one defines greatness, rock ’n’ roll and band. It’s as debatable a distinction as being the greatest cheesecake or tattoo artist of all time. It’s as meaningless as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – Donald Trump has one, but not Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino and Robert Redford — or induction into the Rock ’n’ Roll of Fame, absent Captain Beefheart, Love, Mitch  Ryder and the MC5. Gimme Danger makes Jarmusch’s case with an eloquence and overall lack of hyperbole rarely associated with Iggy or the Stooges, alone or together. If the Stooges can now be ranked among the greatest bands of all time, it’s not because it was recognized as such in the late-1960s and early-1970s, when the same was being said of the Beatles and Stones. Back then, Iggy made it difficult for people to love the Stooges. Beyond doing disgusting things on stage in the name of his art, hard drugs took their toll on the musicians, the music and audiences. “We started looking dirtier and skinnier and more and more used,” Iggy recollects, in the film. “Upsetting people because of me wherever we went.”

In their reviews of Gimme Danger, several critics bemoaned the absence of material from Iggy’s solo period, which produced such killer albums as “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life.” The fact is, however, Jarmusch’s specific and stated focus was on the band’s roots, music, evolution, trials, dissolution and resurrection. Dave Alexander (bass), and brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums), would still be unknown if it weren’t for Iggy and Iggy either would be dead or just another burnout if it weren’t for his comrades. They were in the right place at the right time, alongside the MC5, and discovered by the right guy, Danny Fields. Jarmusch’s lengthy interview with Iggy is almost shockingly cogent and informative. He also elicits prime interview material from band members, industry types, relatives, fans and other survivors, supplemented by archival concert footage from their heyday, the 2003 Coachella reunion and belated induction into the Hall of Fame, in 2010. (The band’s absence was so egregiously wrong that board members finally couldn’t ignore vox populi any longer.) Anyone who wants to learn more about Iggy’s solo period can check out Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, in which Ewan McGregor plays a character based on Iggy, as well as the MVD catalogue of vintage concerts.

The Witness
Few crimes have triggered the outrage of the American public as the murder of Kitty Genovese, which occurred early in the morning of March 13, 1964, in the Queens neighborhood of Kew Gardens. The case almost immediately became synonymous with urban apathy and bystanders’ fear of getting involved in a violent crime. According to original reporting in the New York Times, 38 people who heard the victim’s screams or saw her wounded body from their windows elected not to call the police or help their dying neighbor. The story has been adapted for dramatization in movies, television shows, songs, books and plays ever since then. It was taken for granted that the article was solidly reported by elite Times reporters and, in a city fully cognizant of the rise in violent crime, citizens might not have cared to get involved. Kitty Genovese’s name became as familiar to Americans of her generation, and beyond, as those of Sirhan Sirhan and Ethel Kennedy. Years later, reporters would attempt to reconstruct the events that led up to the murder and everything that happened afterwards, with a special interest in separating legend from truth. The Witness director James D. Solomon (“The Bronx Is Burning,” “The Conspirator”) began his inquiry with the intention of creating a screenplay. It wasn’t until Kitty’s brother, William Genovese, agreed to collaborate with Solomon on an investigation that not only would shed new light on the murder, killer and accepted story, but also introduce viewers to a multi-faceted woman, neighbor, sister and daughter. The Witness is as compelling a documentary as you’re likely to find on any subject. The reporting is excellent and cooperation with witnesses and family members exceptional. As an indictment of the press, even at its most respected outlets, The Witness could hardly be more telling. (Left unstated is the fact that the current 24-hour news cycle has made such rushes to judgment commonplace.) This is one case in which a documentary is a more effective way of telling a difficult story than any narrative film. That William is confined to a wheelchair, after losing his legs to a land mine in Vietnam, added an additional degree of difficulty to the investigation. The DVD adds a post-screening Q&A and interview with Genovese.

Cameraperson: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Tree of Wooden Clogs: Special Edition: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
In documentaries, more so than in features, the cinematographer is practically anonymous. Everybody knows Michael Moore, but who can recall the name of the person holding the camera outside the Capitol,on Fahrenheit 9/11, while congressmen scurried to avoid his questions and a soldier explained to him why he’d go AWOL, rather than do another tour of duty? That was Kirsten Johnson, who provided the same service for Academy Award-winner Laura Poitras (Citizenfour, The Oath), Oscar-nominees Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (The Invisible War), Ted Braun (Darfur Now) and Katy Chevigny, her co-director on Deadline. Anytime a camera operator follows a director into a warzone for a documentary, they become as much a target for an errant bullet as the combatants, bystanders and other journalists. Tim Hetherington, who shared a Oscar nomination with Sebastian Junger, for Restrepo, was killed in Misurata, Libya, while filming the conflict there. Johnson’s intimately personal documentary, Cameraperson, is a finalist for an Independent Spirit Award. It was shortlisted for an Academy Award, but didn’t make the cut. Johnson was given permission to repurpose snippets of film she’d shot for other people to craft a cinematic memoir. “These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still,” she says, in a voiceover introduction. If the images didn’t necessarily fit the other directors’ vision for his or her documentary, Johnson was able to use them to create something wholly her own.

The collage/tapestry format reminds me of Godfrey Reggio’s “QATSI” trilogy, with its essays of visual images and sound that chronicle the destructive impact of the modern world on the environment. Here, the emphasis is on the people she’s met and filmed, many of whom found themselves in harm’s way and somehow survived their ordeal, or fell victim to inadequate health care. She also photographed her mother, as she gradually succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, and revisits a Bosnian family that suffered greatly in the war, but whose testimony didn’t make the final cut of Pamela Hogan’s “I Came to Testify,” for PBS. The Criterion Collection edition adds “Editing Cameraperson,” featuring Johnson, producers Marilyn Ness and Danielle Varga, and editors Nels Bangerter and Amanda Laws; “In the Service of the Film,” a roundtable conversation with Johnson, producer Gini Reticker and sound recordists Wellington Bowler and Judy Karp; excerpts from two 2016 festival talks with Johnson, including one between her and filmmaker Michael Moore; “The Above,” Johnson’s 2015 short film about a mysterious U.S. military surveillance balloon that floats on a tether above Kabul, for no known reason expect to make insurgents nervous;  and an essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda and reprinted writings by Johnson.

In his introduction to the Criterion edition of Ermanno Olmi’s The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Mike Leigh makes his case for being “one of the greatest of movies.” Watching the neo-realist epic today, nearly 40 years after won the Palme d’or at Cannes, it’s almost too easy to agree with his observation. Inspired by stories told by his grandmother, Olmi chronicles a year in the lives of four large peasant families, living in a communal farmhouse located in the Bergamo province of far northern Italy at the end of the 19th Century. No detail was too insignificant for Olmi and his handheld camera, including the decision to have the “actors” speak in the native dialect. Throughout the film’s 186-minute length, children are born, crops are sown and reaped, animals are slaughtered, couples are married, stories and prayers are exchanged by the adults and children. At the time of its release, the New York Times’ critic, Vincent Canby, summed up the negative criticism, which no longer seems remotely relevant: “Like Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, Mr. Olmi’s film is almost too beautiful for its own good. In lesser films — and I’ll probably be castigated for including some of Flaherty’s work in this category — such density and clarity of image have a way of obscuring harsh subject matter or rendering it sentimental. Beauty is full of peril for the film maker. It can make reality seem exotic by putting it at a distance.” Others wished that Olmi had delivered more of a political statement, amplifying the arguments of the occasional Marxist agitator and criticizing the role of the Church in the peasants’ lives. Again, irrelevant today.

Although the landlord’s physical presence is infrequently noted, his ability to destroy lives with a single capricious decision is palpable throughout, but, most specifically, the few scenes involving the titular poplar tree. More subtle is the inherited belief held by all of the adults, except the Catholic priest, that the children of peasants belong in the fields, alongside their parents, and not in school. Olmi’s humanistic approach to the everyday drama in his characters’ lives is what continues to make The Tree of Wooden Clogs such an essential viewing experience. It also serves as an inadvertent prequel to Bernardo Bertolucci’s five-hour-plus 1900, which surveyed the class struggle in 20th Century Italy. The Criterion edition features a sublime 4K restoration, created in collaboration with the Film Foundation at L’Immagine Ritrovata and supervised by Olmi, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack; an alternate Italian-language soundtrack; Leigh’s introduction; the featurette, “Ermanno Olmi: The Roots of the Tree,” an hour-long 1981 episode of “The South Bank Show,” featuring an interview with Olmi on the film and a visit to the farm where it was shot; a new program, featuring cast and crew discussing the film at the Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna, Italy, in 2016; interviews with Olmi from 1978 and 2008; and an essay by film critic Deborah Young.

The Crooked Man
Stake Land 2: The Stakelander: Blu-ray
The production wing of Syfy has been so busy cranking out original series and movies with such tantalizing titles as Sharknado 5 … Earth O, Terror Birds and 2 Lava 2 Lantula, it’s easy to forget that it’s capable of mining the occasional nugget of something resembling gold. Because I didn’t check out the fine print first, I didn’t know that The Crooked Man was a made-for-Syfy movie. In fact, it wasn’t until I performed my usual post-screening research that it hit me. To describe it as being surprisingly good would sound as if I’m damning it with faint praise. In fact, The Crooked Man’s as good a Syfy movie as I’ve seen in a long time, not counting the so-bad-it’s-good qualifications of the original Sharknado. Director Jesse Holland and co-writer Peter Sullivan’s The Crooked Man allegedly is based on an urban legend involving the English nursery rhyme, “There Was a Crooked Man.” It stipulates that anyone who stumbles upon a certain website and completes singing the four-line song as written there will summon the Crooked Man and become his next victim. Here, a group of pre-teen girls calls up the site when their sleepover needs a jump-start and, sure enough, the demon shows up with the intention of killing a little girl and setting up another one to take the fall.

As punishment, Olivia (Angelique Rivera) is committed to a mental institution until she turns 18. Upon her return home, the town experiences a series of look-alike suicides. Viewers already know the deaths are anything but self-inflicted and they all can be traced back to the sleepover. Even though most of the town’s residents still think Olivia is dangerously crazy, there comes a point when the coincidental deaths add up to something more sinister. The surviving girls, now young adults, put their heads together with that of a cop, who also has a connection to the sleepover, to figure out how to stop the Crooked Man forever. The solution isn’t as predictable as one might think, given previous Syfy movies, but what really makes the movie work is a serial killer who not only is crooked, but shakes when he walks, like Jello in an earthquake. He also bears a passing resemblance to Freddy Krueger. I don’t know too many adults who would be spooked by The Crooked Man, but younger teens are likely to re-consider attending any sleepover that involves conjuring evil spirits.

Stake Land II: The Stakelander wasn’t made specifically for Syfy, but it debuted there, anyway. If the vampire-apocalypse thriller is a bit more realistically violent than other pictures the channel runs, anyone familiar with the original Stake Land will already know if it’s appropriate viewing for the kiddies who haven’t already been desensitized by “The Walking Dead.”  The sequel reunites Martin (Connor Paolo) and his mentor, Mister (Nick Damici), after the younger survivor’s home and family are destroyed by a revitalized Brotherhood and the albino vamp queen, Mother (Kristina Hughes). Martin finds himself alone in the badlands, searching for Mister and battling various undead enemies along the way. When they finally get together, it’s as opponents in cage fight. Naturally, the future of what’s left of humanity hangs in the balance.

Judy Collins: A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim
Originally slated for one of those pledge-month orgies on PBS, “Judy Collins: A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim” is now available on DVD. Collins and Sondheim first were mentioned in the same breath when she recorded “Send in the Clowns,” which he wrote for the 1973 musical “A Little Night Music.” It became a hit for Collins at a time when she was emerging from the folksinger pigeonhole and broadening her audience base. Sondheim would later thank her – with a wink and smile — for making the song his first top-10 hit. The show, which already had toured several cities, was recorded last May at Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall, with the Greeley Symphony Orchestra. Collins, who was in top form, took the audience through Sondheim’s remarkable treasure-trove of music, interweaving Broadway memories with personal anecdotes and a few non-Sondheim favorites, including a John Denver medley … hey, it’s Colorado.

Somewhere in the Middle
Sometimes, young and overly creative directors make the mistake of assuming viewers will recognize their ambitions as the various conceits roll out before them on the screen. Lanre Olabsi’s sophomore feature, Somewhere in the Middle, which arrives a decade after his family-reunion drama, August the First, is something of a three-ring circus, in that the narrative is non-linear, told from three separate perspectives (maybe four) and is the product of a yearlong improvisational process. If the story that informs the urban rom/dram/com actually were able to bear that much weight, Olabsi might have been able to pull off the hat trick. Alas … In it, four young lovers become involved in each other’s lives, as one marriage disintegrates into several intertwined affairs, all of which are likely to end poorly. Billie (Cassandra Freeman) and Kofi (Charles Miller), we are led to believe, are a typical Buppie couple living large in New York City. They are experiencing some kind of problem in their marriage, but we aren’t made absolutely clear as to what it might be. From his perspective, her unhappiness appears to derive from Billie being a successful businesswoman, whose circle of friends no longer includes him. From her perspective, however, her love for Kofi is no match for her sexual attraction to a pretty subordinate, Alex (Louisa Ward), who, after a few drinks, responds to her advances. After a loud argument in their apartment, Alex agrees to allow Billie to move into her small apartment.

Meanwhile, Kofi tentatively hooks up with Sofia (Marisol Miranda), a woman who’s portrayed as being either a nymphomaniac or desperately seeking meaningful companionship. Improbably, Sofia bumps into Kofi at the home/office of his brother, a psychiatrist. A few days later, before Kofi and Billie had separated, they run into each other again at a book store. After re-introducing herself, she unsuccessfully attempts to hook up with the fellow she knows only as a lawyer. Sofia hands Kofi her number, which he promptly throws away. Not one to give up easily, she stakes out the bookstore on the off-chance he might show up there, again, which, of course, he does. It doesn’t take long before they wind up in the sack, twice, causing Kofi to panic and run off both times. Ultimately, we’ll learn a bit more about Billie and Alex, whose relationship doesn’t make any sense at all. One or two more coincidences later and Somewhere in the Middle concludes on a bittersweet note. Just because I was unimpressed by the narrative devices doesn’t mean Olabasi wasn’t on the right track in attempting to make a statement or two about love and obsession. And, there’s nothing wrong with the acting or production values, either.

King Cobra: Blu-ray
It would be difficult to exaggerate the bad craziness that’s characterized the porn industry, ever since Deep Throat became a cause célèbre and Harry Reems’ conviction on obscenity charges was overturned, way back in 1976. Such behind-the-scenes entertainments as Inserts, Boogie Nights, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Rated X, Lovelace, The Canyons, About Cherry, This Girl’s Life and The Look of Love attracted A-list actors, writers and directors to tell stories that championed free speech, humanized the participants and toyed with Shakespearian tragedy. Justin Kelly’s true-crime drama, King Cobra, is one of only a few movies to explore the gay-porn industry, using mainstream actors and distribution routes. Casper Andreas’ Going Down in LA-LA Land and Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s The Fluffer might have crossed over a bit further if their budgets were even half those devoted to the other titles. Christian Slater and James Franco are quite convincing as rival producers of gay Internet porn in the mid-2000s. They work from studios in their own homes and stream their products directly to customers anxious to break away from the VHS/DVD cartels. King Cobra head, Stephen (Slater), has found his meal ticket in Brent Corrigan (Garrett Clayton), a fresh-faced “twink,” barely out of high school, who’s ready to graduate from posing in masturbatory photos to starring in sex scenes.

Meanwhile, a few miles away, Viper Boyz’ less-prominent boss, Joe (Franco), is, like Stephen, living with his star, Harlow (Keegan Allen), who survived an abusive childhood, before washing out of the military. The older men use their stars as sexual playthings, as well as prime sources of income. Stephen lies to prevent Brent from learning exactly how much money he’s worth to King Cobra, while Joe keeps Harlow in the dark as to how much in debt the company is. (He gets the hint when the DodgeViper Joe bought for him is repossessed.) Finally, when Brent finally does learn how badly he’s being screwed, he decides to make it on his own. Unfortunately, the contract Brent signed with King Cobra demands several more appearances of the lad, while preventing him from working under his nom de plume with another company. Joe would love to pair Brent with Harlow, but Steven refuses to budge. Bad idea. King Cobra features plenty of sex, but nothing that feels gratuitous or particularly graphic. It may be far from perfect, but, considering the obstacles facing such films, King Cobra is good enough. Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald appear briefly in supporting roles.

London Town
It seems as if I’ve seen a dozen coming-of-age movies from England, whose story can best be described as, “my life was saved by the Clash.” The so-called “Only Band That Matters” represented different things to different people, here and in the band’s home country, which, at the time, was torn by anti-immigrant violence, racist skinheads, high unemployment, an anti-Labor government and disaffected youths. The Clash’s high-energy mix of punk, reggae and rockabilly countered the hate-filled pronouncements of the National Front and Tory politicians, with calls for anti-capitalist activism and multiculturalism. Just as the Sex Pistols had effectively put an end to the glam-rock movement, the Clash demanded of punk loyalists that they stop pogoing long enough to get involved politically. Derrick Borte and screenwriter Matt Brown’s rock-’n’-roll fantasy, London Town, introduces us to 15-year-old Shay (Daniel Huttlestone), whose family is coming apart at the seams. His dad (Dougray Scott) is in the hospital, unable to pay the rent and bills associated with his meager business interests. His mom (Natascha McElhone) is living in a squatters’ flat with several other unemployed artists. And, Shay is left at home to take care of his younger sister. One day, on a train into the city, he finds a kindred soul in Vivian (Nell Williams), a punk princess who opens doors for him in the music scene. In a fairly tricky plot twist, Shay makes the acquaintance of the Clash’s electrifying frontman, Joe Strummer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). They will meet again, this time in a jail cell, after a “white riot,” to solidify their unusual friendship. As far-fetched as this scenario gets, it’s all done in good fun and with the backing of a terrific period soundtrack. The DVD adds an interview with Rhys Meyers.

The Coffin Joe Trilogy Collection
For more than a half-century, Coffin Joe has been one of the singular characters on the international horror scene. Portrayed by prolific Brazilian director José Mojica Marins, now 80, Coffin Joe’s trademark top hat, black cape and long talon-like fingernails – finally cut after 30 years of growth — have been immortalized in films, TV programs, comic books and popular songs. It’s a bit difficult to pin down precisely how to describe what kind of monster he is. If Elvira, Svengoolie and Count Floyd had a bastard godfather, he might look very much like Coffin Joe as he delivers commentary on his films and those by other genre specialists. On screen, he’s portrayed as being an unholy undertaker, gravedigger, body snatcher and denizen of his victim’s dreams and hallucinations. He appears out of nowhere, knows everybody’s cards before they play them and is wholly misogynistic. Synapse Films has just released At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1963), This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967) and Embodiment of Evil (2008), all of which focus on Coffin Joe’s bloody and determined quest to find his perfect bride and father a son. His plans are undone at the end of each film, when, while pursued by authorities and haunted by his victims, he is seemingly killed. If the first two titles look as if they were made in the 1930s, it’s because “At Midnight” is considered to be Brazil’s first horror film and the industry was ill-prepared for the nuances and demands of the genre. At one point, on location, Marins’ crew reportedly refused to shoot a scene, because there wasn’t enough sunlight. Legend has it that the director forced his cinematographer to shoot the scene at gunpoint. (He later said the gun was a prop.) The Synapse editions of the first two titles look as well as they’re ever going to look, after fresh 35mm negative scans, supervised by Marins. Each package comes with a making-of featurette; an introduction and interviews; and pieces on the character’s place in Brazilian pop culture.

PBS: Mercy Street: Season 2: Blu-ray
MTV: Beavis & Butt-Head: The Complete Collection
Nickelodeon: Blaze and the Monster Machines: Race Into Velocityville
The success of Season One of the PBS original drama, “Mercy Street,” probably surprised a few observers of small-screen trends. The network has focused most of its attention on documentaries and other non-fiction projects over the last decade, so being able to launch a mini-series with the same potential for success as those imported from England must have been a real pleasure. Going into it, I wasn’t so sure. For one, hospital-set dramas and soap operas have provided the bread-and-butter for the broadcast networks for decades and are perfectly suited to conveniently timed commercial breaks. Second, I wasn’t at all sure that Josh Radnor (“How I Met Your Mother”) could convince viewers – and, by that, I mean me – that he would make a credible male protagonist and love interest, especially with a full beard. As the story evolved and other characters helped carry the load, however, Radnor’s Dr. Jedediah Foster grew on me. “Mercy Street” was inspired by memoirs and letters of actual doctors and female nurse volunteers at Mansion House Hospital, created during the Union occupation of Alexandria, Virginia. After the posh Mansion House hotel was confiscated from the Green Family, in November 1861, it became the largest of the city’s military hospitals, with 500 beds. Characters based on members of the actual Green family, including Emma’s Confederate spy fiancé, Frank Stringfellow, add intrigue to the serious business of healing and dying in the hospital, next-door to the Green mansion. The second season picks up after the aborted assassination attempt on President Abraham Lincoln. Among the newly introduced characters are detective Allan Pinkerton (Brían F. O’Byrne), sent to Alexandria by Lincoln to root out Stringfellow and other rebel plotters; Major Clayton McBurney III (Bryce Pinkham), an almost comically by-the-book hospital administrator, assigned to replace tipsy Dr. Alfred Summers; medical illustrator Lisette Beaufort (Lyne Renee), Foster’s old flame and competition for poor nurse Mary Phinney, who’s lying at death’s door; and Charlotte Jenkins (Patina Miller), a runaway slave and abolitionist, who, while helping “contrabands” adjust to freedom comforts typhoid victims in the camp and serves as a teacher to the children. The various storylines informing “Mercy Street” grow in complexity and strength as Season Two evolves. The Blu-ray adds several deleted and extended scenes.

I have no way of knowing if President Trump spent much, if any time with his three oldest children watching television in the 1990s. It can be argued that he devotes far too much time, now, watching Fox News, “Saturday Night Life” and Arnold Schwarzenegger hosting “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Back then, a decade before launching “The Apprentice,” he probably had plenty of time away from work to share with Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric, watching shows about big-game hunting and investing their fortunes, and watching MTV. If so, it’s possible the President was subliminally influenced by an episode of “Beavis & Butt-Head,” titled “Right On,” in which the little rascals are invited to appear alongside conservative talk-show host Don Baker – Rush Limbaugh, as channeled by Gilbert Gottfried – to weigh in on the music-video craze. “They suck,” the boys agree, in their trademark chortle. “Yeah, they suck.” Baker had already lauded B&B, after they called in to agree with his stand on unfettered gun ownership, reinstitution of the death penalty and rock-’n’-depravity. In doing so, he observed, “Talking to you boys, I can tell our young people still have the moral strength and character to make this country great, again.” Substitute “America” for “this country” and the future commander-in-chief had a ready-made campaign slogan in his memory bank. If nothing else, he owes episode creator Mike Judge a cut of the money he made on the trucker caps purchased by his supporters, who, one imagines, cut their teeth on “Beavis & Butthead.” It was one of things I learned from watching the imperfectly packaged and haphazardly abridged, “Beavis & Butt-Head: The Complete Collection,” from Paramount. Longtime fans probably are already aware that it’s comprised of all nine discs of three previous Mike Judge DVD compilations, plus two discs of Volume Four, containing the revival episodes from 2011, and “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” (1996). Music videos edited from their placement in weekly episodes appear on discs containing other bonus features. Sadly, the contents aren’t in any particular order and the set doesn’t include an index.

In the latest compilation of themed episodes from Nickelodeon’s “Blaze and the Monster Machines,” the orange-red monster truck, Blaze, and its driver, AJ, head to the racing town of VelocityVille to compete with his new race-car pals in the Hundred Mile Race. In the six episodes from Seasons Two and Three, guest voicing appearances include those by professional drivers Danica Patrick, Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne. The stories feature all areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teaching method.

The Babymoon
This is the second movie in a month that uses the “babymoon” phenomenon – we’re told – as a hook for a comedy/drama/whatever featuring couples trying to enjoy some R&R before the stork arrives and their lives, as they know them, are forever changed. The Babymooners was less about a vacation planned by expectant parents than an outpouring of neuroses. Newly released, The Babymoon, is set on a tropical isle, where rebels have infiltrated the staff of a resort hotel and a reality-show has-been, Trace (Shaun Sipos), ignores his radiantly pregnant wife, Hanna (Julie McNiven), to hit on other female guests and housekeepers. He also tries gain another 15 minutes of fame, by sucking up to a show-biz weasel in their midst (Mark DeCarlo). When Trace is kidnapped by a cabal of Che Guevara wannabes, it should have prompted Hanna to hop on a plane home and take her phone off the hook. Instead, she coaxes some locals into helping her rescue the cad. The only thing that rings remotely true here is McNiven’s pleasing screen presence and her character’s frustration with Trace. Even that fades, however, when, in an effort to confront the rebels, she risks a miscarriage by jumping aboard a zipline and soaring over the forest canopy. I could go on, but why beat a dead horse? And, yes, another Babymoon is expected to arrive later this year, starring Kelly McGillis, Kate Mansi, Brooke Burfitt, so, I guess, it’s officially a trend.

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Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More

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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