MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Salesman, Gold, Red Turtle, Rings, Tunnel, Age of Shadows, Saving Banksy, Saturday Night Fever and more

The Salesman
It can be argued, I suppose, that Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of Iran and six other predominately Muslim countries gave Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman an edge in the voting for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. After nominations were announced, Farhadi revealed that he wouldn’t test the executive order, preferring, instead, to demonstrate how short-sided and regressive a policy it was to treat all members of a religion as if they were terrorists. Toni Erdmann probably was the early favorite for the prize — after academy nominators snubbed Golden Globe-winner, Elle — but the President’s inadvertent interference steered sympathies elsewhere. Between those three very different titles, however, it would be difficult for me to pick a favorite. They’re all superb entertainments and could have been included in the Best Picture category, which, once again, fell short of the allowed 10 candidates, without stirring much debate. Certainly, Sandra Huller and Taraneh Alidoosti deserved being counted among the top five Best Actress finalists, alongside Globe-winner Isabelle Huppert. Working under the strictest of conditions, Farhadi has produced some of the most absorbing and humanistic dramas of the last decade with Fireworks Wednesday, About Elly, Oscar-winner A Separation and The Past. The emotions on display in A Salesman are far more universal than specific to life in Iran, as was the case in his previous films.

First, though, the title refers to the Arthur Miller play for which the male and female characters are rehearsing when the central act of violence occurs. A construction mishap forces Emad and Rana Etesami (Shahab Hosseini, Alidoosti) to pick up and move to a new apartment in a city, Tehran, where suitable housing is at a premium. A friend allows them to take over an apartment recently vacated by a woman whose many male guests caused a stir among her neighbors. He only allows that she was a woman who had many acquaintances, not a prostitute. One night, when Emad is away, one of those acquaintances — presumably — mistakes an unlocked door for an open invitation to walk in and pay for her services. Unable to wait, the man attacks her in the shower and causes her to be severely injured. He not only leaves her for dead, but the intruder also left behind the truck in which he arrived. The complicating factor in all this is the personal property left behind by the previous tenant, who promises to remove it, but never says when. Emad asks one of his students to help him track down the owner of the truck, so he can exact his own form of punishment, rather than involve the police, who, conceivably would blame Rana for inciting the rape by not locking the door. By not going to police, however, everything that can go wrong with Emad’s investigation does go wrong, mostly because he can’t control his temper while attempting to extricate the truth from a man who can’t afford to be exposed as either a rapist or patron of a prostitute. The same scenario could play out in an episode of “Law & Order,” without the grace notes Farhadi would add to it. The Blu-ray adds, “Conversation With Writer-Director Asghar Farhadi.”

Gold: Blu-ray
Although expectations have been lowered considerably since the days of the 49ers, prospectors continue to pan for gold in the rivers of California, some no more than an hour away from Los Angeles. During the drought years, access to the sandy riverbottoms increased as the waters shrank and ferocity decreased. Now that the rains have returned, erosion of the rocks in the High Sierra and, even, the San Gabriel range bordering much of L.A.’s urban sprawl, has revealed more traces of the ridiculously overvalued mineral. Nonetheless, for some, it remains the stuff that dreams are made of. In Stephen Gaghan’s whopping yarn, Gold, Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez play two such people: Nevada mining executive Kenny Wells and compositely drawn geologist Michael Acosta. Both men fulfill each other’s dreams, if not in the usual ways. Gold is based on the 1993 Bre-X mining scandal, in which a small Calgary-based firm supposedly discovered the mother lode — or a close approximation, thereof — in the jungles of Borneo, and the sparkle convinced key players on the Toronto Stock Exchange to invest billions of Canadian dollars into the company. Among them were three major pension funds. If the story sounded too good to be true — and, it was — the resulting scandal didn’t reverberate much further south than the 49th Parallel. It took almost 20 years for Hollywood prospectors to take notice of the scandal and realize that it could be adapted to a corporate retelling of The Treasure of Sierra Madre. First, though, screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman were required to make it as American as possible, shifting locations to suit audience prejudices, and changing names to avoid lawsuits. For my money, they did a pretty good job of it. They also changed some of the motivations driving Wells and Acosta, allowing for some back-home romance (Bryce Dallas Howard), family tradition (Craig T. Nelson) and Wall Street shenanigans (Bruce Greenwood), as well as the ever-popular pull of a David-vs.-Goliath matchup and old-fashioned hubris thrown into the mix. A side scandal involving the family of then-president Suharto, of Indonesia, is reasonably accurate, too. That’s only part of what happens in Gold, but, therein, spoilers lie. Thailand doubles well as a facsimile of the Indonesian jungle, and the lead actors are, typically, excellent. Special features include commentary with director Stephen Gaghan, a deleted sequence, “The Origins of Gold,” “The Locations of Gold“ and “Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells.”

The Red Turtle: Blu-ray
It’s easy to sit through the entirety of Studio Ghibli’s Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle and not realize that it’s the first non-native film to be produced by the legendary Japanese animation studio. Never mind that the dialogue is limited to exclamations or the sounds of personal exertion. As the story goes, Ghibli and Wild Bunch executives sent Dutch animation artist Michael Dudok de Wit an email with two questions: could they could distribute his Academy Award-winning short film “Father and Daughter’ in Japan, where it took top honors at the 2002 Hiroshima International Animation Festival, and would he make a feature film for them? (Dudok de Wit’s 1994 animated short, “The Monk and the Fish,” also was nominated for an Oscar.) It turned out to be a natural fit. Dudok de Wit’s films are known for his trademark brushstrokes and familiarity with the ink and watercolors of Chinese and Japanese art. In 2014, following the retirement of co-founder and director Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli announced it was temporarily halting production. Two months ago, it was revealed Miyazaki has come out of hibernation to direct a new feature film. Combined with The Red Turtle‘s success, the company appears to be back on solid footing. In the tradition of Robinson Crusoe and Cast Away, The Red Turtle is the story of a shipwrecked sailor — this time, with no backstory — who’s washed ashore a deserted island, mostly covered with bamboo trees, but with mountain views and fresh-water adjacent property. When he tires of those amenities, however, the castaway begins tying bamboo stalks together and plotting his getaway. It doesn’t take long before a mysterious force rises from beneath the surface of the ocean to knock the raft apart and send the sailor gasping for air. And, yet, he persists, constructing ever more sturdy rafts, but never making it very far from the island. Once its determined that the force destroying his vessels is a large red sea turtle, he decides to take desperate action. Soon thereafter, a woman castaway appears in the crashing waves, providing him with companionship and a reason to stay put. In the course of raising a family, Father, Mother and Son will experience many of the same things that happen to other families, but in far more extreme circumstances. The Blu-ray adds Dudok de Wit’s commentary; a feature-length making-of featurette; “The Secrets of The Red Turtle,” in which the director draws elements from the film; and a Q&A from AFI Fest.

Rings: Blu-ray
It’s said that collectors are willing to pay good money for VHS tapes in primo condition, especially those of the Disney persuasion. In Rings, a professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), isn’t looking for buried treasure when he picks up a nostalgia-inducing VCR at a second-hand store. In fact, there doesn’t appear to have been any good reason for him to buy the antique, except to resuscitate a franchise that, after 12 years, should have been left to rest in peace. Naturally, Gabriel finds within the VCR a cassette containing the cursed footage introduced two decades ago in Hideo Nakata, Hiroshi Takahashi and Koji Suzuki’s Ringu and Ringu 2, and, a few years later, in Gore Verbinski’s English-language remake, The Ring. (Nakata would be recruited to helm The Ring Two.) The idea behind F. Javier Gutierrez’ update is that the curse — watch the tape and you have seven days to show it to someone else, or prepare for your funeral — now can be passed along digitally, in virally transmitted memes, instead of through outdated analog hardware. The first evidence we’re shown is on a plane heading for Seattle. A doomed passenger shows the tape to his seatmate, who’s only heard of the phenomenon, and, then, virally passes it along to other passengers, before the plane crashes.

Skip ahead a couple of years and Gabriel is teaching a course investigating the curse and recruiting students sufficiently nimble to pass it along to a subsequent generation of guinea pigs. They include incoming freshman Holt (Alex), who has promised his high-school girlfriend, Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), that they’ll stay in Skype communication each week until her Graduation Day. It isn’t until a Skype call is interrupted by what appears to be frat brothers, and Julia receives a weird message from a frantic woman on the same channel, that she begins to smell a rat. In less time than it takes to register for classes at most schools, Julia makes contact with Gabriel and becomes part of his experiment. Julia and Holt then are able to trace the origins of the curse, not to Japan, but a cemetery managed by a blind groundskeeper (Vincent D’Onofrio). Contortionist and stunt actor Bonnie Morgan returns from The Ring Two, this time, though, with a credit as Samara. Rings isn’t likely to impress anyone already familiar with the franchise. The critics hated it and it might only have made some money in the worldwide marketplace. The Blu-ray adds the featurettes, “Terror Comes Full Circle”; “Resurrecting the Dead: Bringing Samara Back”; “Scary Scenes,” in which cast members discuss reactions to horror movies and this film’s scariest scenes; and deleted/extended/alternate scenes.

The Age of Shadows: Blu-ray
Set in the 1920s, more than a decade after Japan’s brutal annexation of Korea, Kim Jee-woonâ’s action-thriller The Age of Shadows is a historically accurate account of the country’s resistance movement, largely led by students, and the dangers it faced when asserting a desire for independence. The death of the “pretend” Emperor Sunjong, in 1926, then would further galvanize resistance movements against an increasingly larger Japanese occupation force. On the day of SunJongâ’s funeral, some 240,000 students gathered in Seoul, filling the streets and scattering independence proclamations. The expansion of Japan’s war in China and Manchuria prompted the conscription of more than 5 million Korean men, to provide manual and military labor, while an estimated 200,000 women and girls, mostly from China and Korea, were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military. Seventy years later, it seems as if we might be only a few short steps away from all-out war on the peninsula. Tellingly, the repressive post-war government of South Korea attempted to suppress student activists, but eventually failed, opening the county to a more democratic society and economic stature. North Korean leaders knew better than to give students the opportunity to rebel, choosing instead to promote a false sense of unity and prosperity. The young men and women we meet in The Age of Shadows don’t seem to be burdened by the sense of hopelessness that accompanies totalitarian rule. They have the support of the Chinese, Soviet Union (temporary, though it is) and emissaries of central European states willing to trade explosives and guns for valuable antiques.

Korean police captain Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) has been ordered by his Japanese overlords to pay special attention to members of his country’s resistance movement and, so far, he seems perfectly willing to sell out his own people in exchange for a favorable position within the department. When he’s unable to save a former classmate from being killed in a raid against radicals, however, Lee begins to reassess his priorities. Sensing an opening, the leader of the resistance, Jiang Che-san (Lee Byung-hun), begins the slow dance that could lead to having an ally in the police department. It could, just as easily, lead to disaster for both parties, especially when Lee is introduced a key resistance figure, Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), whose antique shop is a front for a scheme to smuggle European-made explosives from Shanghai into Seoul. The Age of Shadows may have been inspired by events surrounding the 1923 bombing of Japanese police headquarters, in Seoul, but, by leaving out certain details, Kim was able to craft an air-tight cloak-and-dagger thriller. Even at 140 minutes, it never lags or feels bloated. The Blu-ray adds an interview with cast interviews and director Kim Jee-woon, whose credits include I Saw the Devil, The Good the Bad the Weird and the contemporary American Western, The Last Stand.

In Kim Seong-hun’s inventive disaster movie, Tunnel, a commuter survives the collapse of a miles-long tunnel under construction in the mountains outside Seoul. If part of the good news is that Kim Jung-soo is still alive and in cellphone contact with his wife and rescue workers, the bad news is that reporters will have the same access to him and probably drain the battery of his phone before he can reach them. The man’s only sustenance is two bottles of water and the birthday cake he was carrying home for his daughter. Soon, he will have to share them with a young woman who’s pinned in her crushed car and her sneaky Pug. Tunnel will remind some viewers of Billy Wilder’s prescient 1951 drama Ace in the Hole, in which a reporter played by Kirk Douglas turns the rescue of a man trapped in a cave into a media circus. (Perhaps, even, coining the term.) I don’t know if that was an intentional reference on Kim’s part or all such disasters have begun to resemble media circuses. At 126 minutes, Tunnel is about 20 minutes too long to sustain the conceit. Even so, Kim does a nice job keeping us from checking out watches.

Saving Banksy
Although graffiti is hardly a new phenomenon, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the defacement of subway trains in New York begged questions that weren’t asked of the soldiers who scribbled “Kilroy was here” on fences from Okinawa to Omaha Beach, or Simon & Garfunkel’s prophets, whose words were written on the subway walls and tenement halls, or the ancient brothel keepers whose advertisements can still be found in Ephesus and Pompei. When photographs of heavily decorated subway cars, overpasses and billboards began to be collected by publishers of coffee-table books and galleries, it became of matter of dollars and sense. While city officials searched for ways to prosecute the taggers and erase their graffiti, or prevent it from sticking to shiny surfaces, artists found advocates to protest the eradication of their work. Taggers were attacked by property owners and, in some cases, forced to reimburse the city for costs associated with its removal. God forbid, they should make the mistake of spray-painting over a local gang’s demarcations of territory. Meanwhile, the best of it was quietly being monetized by gallery owners, curators and investors who saw what happened to the value of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s graffiti art, when it made the transition from concrete to canvas. Colin Day’s provocative documentary, Saving Banksy, adds yet another wrinkle to the vandalism-vs.-art debate. The satirical creations of the British graffiti artist and political activist, known simply as Banksy, have become so celebrated that even the walls on which they appear have become valuable. When one of Banksy’s most visible specimens, “Haight Street Rat,” became something of a tourist attraction in San Francisco, authorities demanded that the owner of the bed-and-breakfast to remove, cover it or face a stiff fine. No matter that Banksy hadn’t sought the owner’s permission — presumably, anyway — or that it enhanced the neighborhood with its very presence, or that no one objected to the image of the stenciled rat, wearing a Che Guevara-style cap and clutching a Magic Marker. It had to go.

Brian Greif, former general manager of KRON-TV, came up with a compromise solution even the great King Solomon might have admired. In 2010, he persuaded the owner of the Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast to let him remove the 10 redwood-siding planks on which the rat was painted. Greif took the painting to art-restoration specialists, who mounted the slats on corrugated aluminum. He raised $10,000 to offset costs through a Kickstarter campaign, promising never to sell the work, even though other Banksy creations have sold at auction for more than $1 million and he was offered $700,000 for it. Instead, Greif attempted to donate “Haight Street Rat” to various museums. Without a letter of authentication from the artist, however, the institutions said they would not accept the work. Besides the possibility that giant rat might not have been a Banksy — not likely — curators were concerned that they could be accused of promoting vandalism. Day then introduces us to a dealer with fewer scruples than Greif. He’s profited handsomely from collecting street art that was worthless, until someone removed the portion of the wall or concrete slab on which it appeared, and delivered it to him. Many of Banksy’s pieces represent site-specific commentaries on current events, including a series rendered on surfaces in the West Bank, while others are intended to be ironic or satirical. Some pieces he’s acknowledged, so that groups could benefit from their value in the marketplace. The mystery behind their provenance suggests that Banksy isn’t a single person. Another paradox comes in knowing that street art, no matter its value, is considered fair game by rival taggers, vandals and building owners who prefer white wash to spray paint. Greif allows the rat to be displayed in galleries, but, “Our condition is that it has to be free and open to the public, and that there have to be programs to support street art.” Saving Banksy features interviews with artists Ben Eine, Risk, Revok, Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman, Blek Le Rat, Doze Green, Hera Glen E. Friedman and Anthony Lister.

Counting for Thunder
Phillip Irwin Cooper’s surprisingly compelling adaptation of his one-man-show, Counting for Thunder, recounts the return home, to rural Alabama, of a struggling character actor, Phillip Stalworth (Cooper), tired of dealing with casting directors who think he’s too old to play characters his age and being rejected for parts that require a “Steve Carell type” because he looks too much like Carell. It’s Hollywood logic, to the Nth degree. When he isn’t working, Philip is at the beck and call of a diva who’s forgotten how to think for herself or perform everyday chores, like picking up the dry cleaning or collecting the mail. We’re told he has a girlfriend, as well, but their relationship has reached a dead end. When news reaches him of his mother’s cancer, Phillip has to convince his employer that she’ll probably be able survive his absence for a few days. Not surprisingly, a few days turn into a few weeks. That’s because Tina Stalworth (Mariette Hartley) takes her son’s advice and adopts a holistic approach to her treatment and, sure enough, the cancer goes into remission. Meanwhile, Phillip is required to deal with his father’s (John Heard) aversion to his “California ways“ pot brownies to relieve his mother’s pain, among them — and general crankiness over his choice of friends. Also hanging around are a thrice-divorced sister, who ignores Tina’s illness by insisting on chain-smoking around her, and a former high school jock who’s showing him an inordinate amount of attention. It won’t take long for the solitary home restorer, Joe (Peter Stebbings), to make Phillip recall the homosexual yearnings he felt as boy, but tabled when he moved to Hollywood. The only real question to be worked out here is when, exactly, Tina’s decision to quit chemo will backfire and the family can disintegrate naturally or come together as a stronger unit. That Phillip and Joe will hook up is handled as matter-of-factly as these things get. If that makes Counting for Thunder sound like a dozen other tear-jerking, coming-of-age and coming-out flicks we’ve all seen, I’m here to tell you that it’s anything but cliche. In addition to being the least condescending portrayal of life in a Southern family that I’ve seen in a long time, the various liaisons and hang-ups ring unusually true, as well. Cooper’s familiarity with the narrative allows for a natural unraveling of events and sensitive portrayals of the characters, all of whom he played in the one-man show.

Saturday Night Fever: Director’s Cut: Blu-ray
Arriving on the heels of Paramount’s 30th anniversary edition of Dirty Dancing, the 40th anniversary “director’s cut” edition of Saturday Night Fever begs certain comparisons to the Catskills-summer classic, as well as the 33-year-old Footloose and Flashdance. All of these gotta-dance entertainments were driven as much by compelling class-conscious stories as the dynamism of the performers. Not only did they change the way teens and young adults interact in nightclubs and high school gyms, but they also impacted the fashion scene and cadence of the hit parade. Every five or ten years, new anniversary editions are released, with newly discovered features, so the films must have some resonance with contemporary viewers, beyond the lure of undiluted nostalgia. Not being 17, or having kids that age, anymore, it’s impossible to know how any of them relate to teens whose musical tastes are more digital than analog and, for whom, dancing and choreography are two very different things. Judging from the amount of money invested in clubs and cocktails on any given weekend, in Las Vegas, alone, disco didn’t die with the infamous Disco Demolition Night promotion at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, on July 12, 1979, or the critical drubbing accorded Tony Manero’s return, six years later, in Staying Alive … co-written and directed by, lest we forget, Sylvester Stallone. From a distance of 40 years, however, I’d have to say that Saturday Night Fever‘s story holds up less well than the Bee Gees’ irrepressible songs, which retain a life of their own. Travolta’s no less electrifying as the kid with a dream as big as New York City, but that was only half the story, all along.

The interviews included in the bonus package remind us that “SNF” was as much about a place in time — Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in the mid-1970s — as it was about dancing or disco. Tony’s dream of crossing the bridge into Manhattan — not the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which would only take him to Staten Island — gave him a decided edge over the mopes with whom he hung out. The same thing held true for his muse, Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), whose unmelodious accent could only emanate from one or two zip codes in the U.S. It’s unlikely that any of the other characters left the borough for fame or fortune. Last year, director John Badham collaborated with Paramount to restore the film in 4K, using the original negative and update the surround sound mix to further enhance the musical track. He also added scenes to the theatrical R-rated version that round out characters and plot, although they’re barely noticeable. I’d forgotten the scenes in the nightclub’s bar, with a pathetic stripper grinding away for bored patrons. In any case, the “R” was fairly earned for rough language and rougher sex. It also includes the original theatrical version, with Badham’s commentary and â “’70s Discopedia”; deleted scenes; and some vintage featurettes, “Catching the Fever,” “Back to Bay Ridge,” “Dance Like Travolta, With John Cassese┝ and “Fever Challenge”

3:10 to Yuma: 4K UHD/Blu-ray
The Expendables/The Expendables 2: 4K UHD: Blu-ray
Early adapters to the 4K Ultra High Definition format have only recently begun to be rewarded for their foresight and willingness to give another new technology a shot. It may not be as expensive an investment as 3DTV, but it isn’t cheap, either. Some companies are more invested in the process than others, so the inventory of UHD titles is far from reaching the point of critical mass. Nevertheless, the ability to play 4K discs on existing Blu-ray platforms is a real plus. If anything is going to sell UHD, it’s action/adventures in grand settings or comic-book fantasies with colorfully rendered special effects.

This week’s selections include 3:10 to Yuma, whose spectacular New Mexico and Arizona settings are worth the price of a rental, alone. It is James Mangold’s 2007 remake of Delmer Daves’ classic 1957 Western about an impoverished small-time rancher, Dan Evans (Van Heflin/ Christian Bale), who is persuaded to escort a vicious gunslinger, Ben Wade (Glenn Ford/Russell Crowe), from the nearly defenseless jail in tiny Bisbee, Arizona, to the nearest railhead. From there, the killer would be locked in a cage in the mail car and taken by train to Yuma for his trial and inevitable hanging. Getting Wade to Yuma will be no easy trick. Not only will his gang attempt to hijack Evans’ prisoner, but the threat of Apaches also hangs heavy in the air. Dan’s son, William (Barry Curtis/Logan Lerman), who tags along for the ride, initially is more impressed by the crook’s bravado than his father’s willingness to risk everything for an honorable payday. When it becomes clear that Ben’s gang — led by the sociopathic Charlie Prince (Richard Jaeckel/Ben Foster) — is hot on their heels, the killer’s taunts begin to wear heavy on Dan’s mind. No one in Bisbee is particularly anxious to risk their neck for a foregone conclusion. They’d prefer to settle the matter there and then. This Dan refuses to consider. Until the vastly different ending, Mangold hues closely to Halsted Welles’ original screenplay, which was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. The primary and most obvious differences between the two recorded versions, though, is the addition of Phedon Papamichael’s stunning color cinematography and Marco Beltrami’s atmospheric score.  Despite the investment of creative energy and critical applause, 3:10 to Yuma did only so/so business at the box office. It gave studios another excuse to turn down proposals for Westerns, except for such dreadful hybrids as Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens and Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West. The 4K edition ports over featurettes included in the previous Blu-ray version: Mangold’s commentary, “Destination: Yuma,” “Outlaws, Gangs, & Posses,” “An Epic Explored,” “3:10 to Score,” “From Sea to Shining Sea” and “A Conversation With Elmore Leonard.” All are well worth checking out.

On the cover of The Expendables (2010), photoshopped photos of nine bad-ass mercenaries stretch from one side of the box to the other. On The Expendables 2, 11 armed and ready-to-boogey soldiers-of-fortune stand on a blanket of flames, left behind from some kind of an attack. On The Expendables 3, the number of glaring faces grows to 17. Some of the actors have come and gone, while others are new additions. Of the 37 faces, only one belongs to a woman — then-UFC champ Ronda Rousey — even though Chinese action star Nan Yu plays a prominent role in the first sequel. I’d love to see the budget breakdown on salaries for these prominent tough guys and such ringers as Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas and Lauren Jones, whose claim to fame is being one of “Barker’s Beauties” on “The Price Is Right.” If none of the estimated budgets topped $100,000, it’s easy to see how the monetary flex point probably was on script development. With this many recognizable actors, all the screenwriters — Sylvester Stallone included — were required to do was string together as many of their catch phrases and references to previous films as would fit in a 120-page script, already crammed with enough fire fights to satisfy any weekend warrior. Significantly, perhaps, the body counts in the trilogy went from 188, in the original, to 482 and 480 in the sequels. Because Expendables 3: A Man’s Job was released in 4K UHD last year, ahead of this week’s upgrading of the first two episodes, it’s likely that enough units were moved to prompt optimism at Lionsgate. I thought that the reunion gag worked pretty well in No. 1, but less so in the sequels. I don’t get my rocks off on exotic weaponry and skull jewelry, however.  The vintage bonus material can be found on the Blu-ray editions, also included in the packages.

PBS: Nature: Yosemite: Blu-ray
PBS: Wild Weather
PBS: Secrets of the Dead: Leonardo, The Man Who Saved Science
Nickelodeon: Rugrats: Season One/Season Two
The PBS “Nature” presentation “Yosemite“ probably was shot at the height of California’s recent drought, which ended sometime in mid-February, so, even a few months later, it feels like a distant memory. That doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant — or, easy on the eyes — just slightly out of date. The producers follow a year’s activities in the park, from season to season, and through the eyes of daredevil climbers and paragliders, rangers, environmentalists, campers, scientists and animals, large and small. It would be extremely difficult to make a film about Yosemite that’s less than spellbinding and “Yosemite” is far from mundane. At 60 minutes, however, it only scratches the surface of the park’s majesty and importance to the state’s eco-system. As a primer, perfectly suited for family viewing, it’s informative and entertaining.

The old saying, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” is probably as applicable today as it was when it was minted, in the late 1800s. While it’s become easier to track and predict meteorological phenomena and other extreme conditions, precision and prevention remain just beyond our reach. In PBS’ “Wild Weather,” scientists from around the globe deconstruct the processes through which such simple ingredients as wind, water, heat and cold interact to trigger such spectacular events as tornados, sandstorms, fiery whirlwinds and avalanches. They do this in the lab and in the field, literally out of dust, water and thin air. Dr. Nigel Tapper of Monash University, Australia, creates a massive dust storm so he can examine the microscopic moments when dust particles begin to bounce high enough into the stratosphere to interact with clouds. Engineers Jim Stratton and Craig Zehrung from Purdue University, use a high-powered “vacuum cannon” to fire homemade hailstones at over 500 mph. One thing leads to another and, voila, disasters happen.

Leonardo da Vinci was born a 500 years before the Internet, but the methods he used to formulate his theories, create great works of art and invent machines and gadgets that wouldn’t be practical for several centuries recall the way we browse the Web for own education and amusement. The “Secrets of the Dead“ chapter, “Leonardo, The Man Who Saved Science,” explains how Leonardo found the inspiration for some of his most important discoveries in manuscripts and drawings compiled as many as 1,700 years before his time and thousands of miles away from home. He knew that Italy wasn’t the center of the universe, when it came to scientific research and great ideas, at least, and searched tirelessly for ideas shared by the ancient Greeks, Islamic thinkers and his contemporaries. Once again, it would take countless more hours to develop a complete portrait of the man and his work — even leaving out the more prurient aspects highlighted in Starz’ “Da Vinci’s Demons” – but “Leonardo, The Man Who Saved Science” is as good an entry point as any.

It’s been almost 26 years since Klasky-Csupo animation studios combined resources with Nickelodeon Productions on “Rugrats,” a show as much for young parents as their children. For the better part of 14 years, the animated series chronicled the misadventures of four babies and their snotty older cousin, as they face things in life they don’t yet understand. In 2017, of course, children who grew up watching the award-winning show are old enough to turn their own youngsters on to “Rugrats.” The first two complete-season packages, once strictly available through Amazon and MOD purveyor CreateSpace, have been newly released through Paramount Home Entertainment.

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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