MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: The Assignment, Beauty/Bambi, Land of Mine, Sense of an Ending, The Ticket, Gene Kelly, Heath Ledger and more

The Assignment: Blu-ray
Kill ‘Em All: Blu-ray

While you can’t say the story told in Walter Hill’s latest, The Assignment, was ripped from today’s headlines – Denis Hamill’s original screenplay is nearly forty years old, after all – the fact that a protagonist undergoes gender reassignment, however involuntary, is reasonably topical at least. It might have garnered more positive media exposure, however, if, instead of choosing Michelle Rodriguez to play the butchered assassin, Frank Kitchen/Tomboy, Hill cast an actual member of the LGBTQ community: Laverne Cox, Candis Cayne or even the late Alexis Arquette. Transgender activists weren’t thrilled with the decision or the fact that Kitchen is so pissed off over not being consulted on the transformation that he seeks revenge on the surgeon (Sigourney Weaver), whose brother he killed. The latter complaint devalues the character’s legitimate source of rage at the discovery of his missing appendage. (Yes, he might have learned to live with it eventually, but certainly not in 90 minutes of screen time.) As it is, the distributors of The Assignment avoided an unnecessary stink by releasing it through video-on-demand outlets on in early March prior to a limited release a month later. Before that, though, someone leaked footage of the discovery scene to Mr. Skin, who dutifully posted the image of Kitchen with very acceptable new breasts and a jungle of pubic hair where his penis once hung. (We’re told it’s all a prosthetic hoax, but on Mr. Skin, image is everything.)  The rest of the movie concerns itself with getting even with the surgeon – who described it as an experiment – and those who helped her. At 75, Hill still knows how to orchestrate violence and, at 38, Rodriguez (Girlfight) remains in fighting trim. The Blu-ray adds “Filmmaking Portraits,” a photo montage.

There are more assassins stirring up trouble in Kill ‘Em All than you can count on the fingers of two hands and not all of them are of the male persuasion here, either. In veteran stunt coordinator Peter Malota’s directorial debut, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Philip, a mysterious stranger who’s been transported to a local hospital on the brink of death. All we know about him is that he’s less interested in getting patched up than in getting out of the mostly empty facility as quickly as possible. Before he can escape, however, a gang of well-dressed Serb thugs invade the hospital, killing everyone who gets in the way of their search for a fallen comrade. How he got there almost certainly has something to do with Philip being in a room only a few floors above the morgue. Flashing forward a bit, the nurse (Autumn Reeser) who tended to Philip’s wounds and survived the onslaught is brought before FBI agents played by Peter Stormare and Maria Conchita Alonso. Malota uses the occasion to explain what happened to Philip before and after he was dropped off at the hospital and how it fits into the larger scheme of things. Confined almost exclusively to a single location, the fight scenes begin to repeat themselves after a while. Even so, the surprise payoff saves Kill ‘Em All from collapsing in on itself.

Beauty and the Beast: Blu-ray
Bambi: Signature Collection: Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
In American pop culture, almost every marketing trend can be traced back to Elvis Presley. When it comes to the matter at hand, Disney’s live-action remakes of classic animated features, it worth recalling the King’s second compilation of hit singles, commonly known as “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.” The bold proclamation may have dwarfed the album’s actual title, “Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 2,” but it was the 16 cloned images of Elvis in his trademark gold lamé suit, drooping forelock and a cooler-than-you’ll-ever-be stance that made the cover so iconic. Presley was nearing the completion of his tour of duty in Europe and RCA Victory was running out of ways to exploit the music he recorded before having his hair shorn in the service of his country. Even though the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, it only reached No. 31 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart. That left plenty of room for squares in the media and recording industry to repeat the question raised three years earlier by Down Beat writer Les Brown, “Can Fifty Million Americans Be Wrong?” Older readers might have recognized the reference to the jazzy 1927 hit, “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong,” popularized by, among others, Sophie Tucker, Ted Shapiro and Miff Mole’s Molers. If the Elvis phenomenon had lost some steam during his absence, his transformation into a Hollywood leading man ensured that his fan base would grow exponentially, worldwide, and sales of his soundtrack albums would ensure more gold and platinum records for his trophy room at Graceland. But, once again, I digress. The release on DVD/Blu-ray of Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast requires that I try to offer a fresh take, not only on Bill Condon’s adaptation – which is an unqualified success – but also the studio’s recent practice of repurposing everything in its catalogue of hits, even against charges of redundancy and exploitation. The problem is, of course, that Disney’s live-action transformations are extremely entertaining and hugely popular with kids and adults, prompting the rhetorical question, “Can $1.18 billion in worldwide revenues be wrong … or, perhaps, a tad misleading?” Probably not. We can only hope is that the success of Disney’s life-action adaptations won’t impact the creation of original animated features that aren’t followed by Roman numerals. For Disney, Beauty and the Beast is the gift that keeps on giving.

Based on the venerable French fairytale, alternately credited (or, here, uncredited) to Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the 1991 blockbuster spawned a lavish Broadway musical; a colorful “Disney on Ice” presentation; a dozen, or so, reissues on cassette, DVD and Blu-ray; a pair of direct-to-video follow-ups; records and soundtrack albums; a syndicated TV series; a comic book; video games; and merchandise that ranges from plush toys and costumes, to trading cards and singing tea sets. What’s not to like? Already this year, I’ve watched or re-watched the “Beauty and the Beast: 25th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray”; Christophe Gans’ live-action Beauty and the Beast, starring Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux; and Criterion Collection’s superb Blu-ray edition of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 Beauty and the Beast. On my large-screen high-def monitor, at least, Condon’s hyper-realistic adaptation feels very much like a musical that, with a few allowances for CGI gimmickry, could be have been shot live on a Broadway or Las Vegas stage. Having human actors makes a difference, of course, and the $160-million budget afforded a cast that easily qualifies as “all-star.” As the title characters, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are both charming and credible as singers, dancers and unlikely lovers. They’re supported by Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and several dozen lesser-known human and computer-generated players. The physical sets merge seamlessly with the CG backgrounds. The Blu-ray offers three separate ways to experience the movie, including a no-frills version; the same version, with an overture; and sing-along edition. Bonus features include coverage of the first, elaborately staged table read, complete with singing and dancing to live music; the comprehensive featurettes, “A Beauty of a Tale,” which explores the process of transforming a beloved animated film into an instant live-action classic, “The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast,” “From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences,” “Making a Moment With Celine Dion,” a music video and making-of-the-music-video piece, an extended song, “Days In The Sun,” deleted scenes and song selection.

I wonder if anyone at Disney has considered doing a live-action version of Bambi or, even, “Bambi on Ice.” Julie Taymor, who directed musicals of “The Lion King” and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” on Broadway, probably would have some thoughts on the subject, but how could anyone get past the tragic death of Bambi’s mother without losing half of the audience? Let’s hope it never comes to that. In the meantime, there’s “Bambi: Signature Collection: Anniversary Edition,” which likely will have to suffice until Disney commits to 4K UHD, and that could take a while. It joins Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast in the elite grouping of Disney classics on Blu-ray. For the most part, the video and audio presentations haven’t changed much since their release in Diamond Edition packages. Fans and collectors should know that the latest iteration of Bambi adds several new bonus features, while losing a couple in the transition. They include “Studio Stories: Bambi,” in which archival sound clips and footage are interspersed with scenes from the film to showcase how different sequences were animated and how the filmmakers sought to make more realistic animal characters as compared to those featured in previous films; deleted and uncompleted scenes, “Bambi’s Ice and Snow” and “The Grasshopper,” with introductions by animator Floyd Norman; “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: Africa Before Dark,” a vintage black-and-white cartoon; “The Bambi Effect,” a brief informational piece covering how the realistic character animations and more whimsical background art impacted future films; “Bambi Fawn Facts,” trivia about the real animals on which Bambi’s characters are based, including deer, skunks and rabbits; and a collectible Tyrus Wong artwork on the digital-only version. Vintage material adds deleted scenes, “Two Leaves,” “Bambi Stuck on a Reed” and “Winter Grass”; a deleted song, “Twitterpated”; “The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born”; “Tricks of the Trade”; “Inside the Disney Archives”; “The Old Mill”; an original theatrical trailer; and, new to Blu-ray, “The Golden Age.”

Land of Mine
One of the ways Allied troops punished extermination-camp guards and German citizens, after the atrocities of the Holocaust were revealed, was to force them to dispose of the corpses of prisoners. It ensured that future generations couldn’t deny knowledge of what went on inside the walls of nearby camps. Other civilians were paraded before the emaciated prisoners left behind in the camps to die. By and large, the faces revealed in footage recorded after the liberation were those of adults. By 1945, tens of thousands of German boys, aged 12-16, were drafted and sent to the front lines to serve in various capacities, including combat. In Denmark, at least, more than 2,000 captured German men and boys were ordered to stay behind and sweep the beaches where an estimated 2 million land mines were planted. Shot at historically authentic locations, including in Oksbøllejren and areas in Varde, writer-director Martin Zandvliet’s Land of Mine is a gripping depiction of how one of those missions might have looked. Because of the ages of the boys and passion for revenge on the parts of British and Dane soldiers, it is one of the few movies in which Allied officers are almost as reprehensible as their German counterparts. Indeed, it was explicitly forbidden in the Geneva Conventions that any prisoner-of-war be forced to perform dangerous and/or unhealthy labor. (German adults with knowledge of the detection of mines further inland and at sea served under more official auspices.)

On top of the obvious dangers inherent in locating and defusing antitank and antipersonnel mines by hand – half of the POWs died in the process – the teenagers we meet here were denied food and medical treatment. Understandably, few tears were shed by Danes, who suffered greatly during the occupation. The 14 boys put under the command of Danish sergeant Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller) are made to understand from the get-go that he isn’t likely to cut them any slack or treat them as anything but defeated soldiers, no matter their ages. If the emotional arc of the drama is never in question, Zandvliet keeps us riveted by personalizing all the characters and letting us know that none is immune to the possibility of being blown to smithereens before our eyes. Because none of the actors is recognizable outside central Europe, it isn’t likely that the highest paid or most photogenic among them would be spared ahead of anyone else. Zandvliet also acknowledges, in the bonus interview, that some of decisions were based more on audience concerns than historical accuracy. I think his instincts were correct.


The Sense of an Ending
Based on a Man Booker Prize-winner by Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending is the kind of highbrow entertainment one expects to find on PBS’ “Masterpiece,” where the smaller screen – not to be confused with cellphones — provides a sense of intimacy frequently missing from adaptations to film. In this case, at least, it also helps to know a bit about the kinds of students who attend universities like Cambridge and Bristol and assume that they’ve got the world by the short hairs, until, of course, shit happens. Even the title requires a scholarly explanation. It’s borrowed from Frank Kermode’s book of literary criticism of the same name, published in 1967, subtitled “Studies in the Theory of Fiction.” Its stated intention was to “make sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives.” As such, both Barnes’ novel and Ritesh Batra’s movie turn out to be meditations on memory and aging. Here, the memory and aging pretty much begin and end with Jim Broadbent’s Tony Webster, a small businessman in London who sells the occasionally Leica camera to people willing to pay the price for quality. His marriage to a wonderful woman, Margaret (Harriet Walter), finally collapsed under the weight of his sense of self-importance, while his single daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery), is nine months into a difficult pregnancy. Tony isn’t much help to either of the women in his life, until Margaret breaks a leg and he’s enlisted to fill in for her at Susie’s Lamaze classes.

What shakes him to the core, however, is the arrival of a letter from a lawyer informing him that Sara (Emily Mortimer), the mother of a college girlfriend, has bequeathed him £500 and a diary. He’s frustrated by the fact that his former girlfriend, Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), has commandeered the diary and refuses to turn it over to him. The movie then flashes back 40-some years, to the period in his life when everything made sense … until it didn’t. It began when teenage Veronica (Freya Mavor) invited teenage Tony (Billy Howle) to her family’s country home, and he was mysteriously encouraged by Sara not to let her daughter to take advantage of him. A while later, he receives a “Dear John” letter from Veronica, who’s disappeared with his best friend. He responds with a letter seething with toxic vitriol, cursing them and their childen’s children ad infinitum. For the next four decades, it’s filed away with all of the other bad memories of his youth. Obsessed with what the diary might say about his role in Veronica’s adult life, if anything, he asks to meet with her and bring the diary. Viewers who’ve stuck with Nick Payne’s overly patient narrative this far are rewarded with a swiftly evolving series of events that not only amplify everything’s that’s gone before, but also what’s about to happen to Tony. And, it’s pretty compelling stuff. Anyone who caught Ritesh Batra’s Mumbai-set first feature, The Lunch Box, may be surprised by the choices he makes in The Sense of an Ending, which could hardly be any different in tone and setting. Fans of Brit-lit should enjoy it for the joys that derive from watching great actors working at the top of their game in material worthy of their talent. The DVD adds interviews and background material.

The Ticket: Blu-ray
The lesson to be learned in Ido Fluk’s sophomore feature can be summed up in a moralistic parable repeated several times in The Ticket. It’s the one in which a luckless man beseeches God for his help in winning the Lottery so often that his guardian angel intercedes with the deity to cut the poor sap a break. God replies, “I might let him win, but he would have to buy a ticket, first.” Point taken. Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) is quite convincing as James, a blind man, who, one morning, inexplicably regains the ability to see, lost as a child due to a pituitary tumor. James has been employed as a drone in a real-estate business that relies on cold-calls to produce leads for its sales reps to pursue. It’s mind-numbing work, but James has few options available to him and he’s good at it. Using the riddle as a starting point, James asks his boss to consider a series of motivational sessions to raise the performance level of the staff. He’ll also begin meeting with groups of perspective buyers, whose reluctance to believe the company’s pitches is completely understandable, if based on an unwillingness to pull the trigger on what could be a good deal for them.

Meanwhile, his new-found sense of sight opens the doors to a closet full of bourgeois pleasures denied him as someone whose job only required phone solicitations. Naturally, his upwardly mobile behavior impacts his relationships with a close friend, also blind, Bob (Oliver Platt), and his solicitous wife. The marketing material would like us to think that his wife, Sam, is drab and unenticing, but that’s not a description Malin Akerman could easily match. As Sam begins to withdraw from her no-longer-needy husband, drifting toward their resentful friend, Bob, James has already become enamored of a friendly blond co-worker, Jessica (Kerry Bishé). With her encouragement, James’ stock within the company rises with every new sales seminar and purchase of expensive toys. You may be able to guess what happens next. No matter, because Fluk introduces the surprise climax almost as naturally as he had when James’ sight returned. That might be enough to fill a “Twilight Zone” episode, but, at 97 minutes, is probably too obvious a trajectory for viewers conditioned to expect something closer to fireworks.

If Maura Anderson’s debut feature, Heartland, had arrived on my doorstep in a plain brown sleeve, instead of a street-ready jacket, with a photo of two attractive women nuzzling up to each other and laurels from the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, I might have been able to experience the movie without certain expectations. Knowing that it was being released by LGBTQ-friendly Wolfe Video seemingly left no more room for surprise, which is OK, because most of the DVDs I receive telegraph their intentions well in advance in trailers or photos on the covers. The real surprises come when a lightly reviewed DVD-original defies those expectations by redirecting the narrative flow and resisting the temptation to deliver only what’s expected of it by the target demographic. Superior performances on the part of little-known actors are a big plus, as well. While it’s likely that Anderson and screenwriters Velinda Godfrey and Todd Waring were acutely aware of how familiar their story might sound to targeted audiences, and worked diligently to avoid clichés, they understood, as well, that solid casting decisions would distract viewers from the stereotypes inherent in such movies set in the Bible Belt. Co-writer Godfrey pulls double-duty as Lauren, an Oklahoma City graphic artist, who, almost simultaneously, loses her girlfriend to disease and her home and job to the amount of time she spent tending to her in the hospital. She knows it won’t be easy to return home to her well-meaning, if devoutly Christian mother (Beth Grant) and the inevitabilities of small-town life, even if the town isn’t completely devoid of gays and lesbians. In the short run, a little boredom might do her some good. A ray of hope shines on Lauren when she learns that her brother, Kenny (Cooper Row) and his intended will soon arrive, specifically to raise money for a winery they’re backing in the Oklahoma hill country. In fact, that might be the most unlikely narrative conceit in Heartland.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone when circumstances lead Lauren and her future sister-in-law, Carrie (Laura Spencer), to become booger buddies, if only to sneak away together for the occasional smoke and forbidden belt of vodka. At first glance, the sneaky-sexy redhead looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Under the influence of inebriants and a sympathetic ear, Carrie lets her hair down so quickly that you wonder if Kenny really knows very much about his fiancé. His disappearance on a last-minute business trip leaves Lauren and Carrie plenty of time to get to know each other better. That, and a hurricane that forces them to take shelter together under the house. When Kenny gets back, the firmament of their relationship has permanently shifted. So much for the obvious, though. The rest of the movie, during which the real shit happens, plays out in a way that can’t be easily predicted or dismissed for its improbability. Although fans of romantic dramas probably aren’t thrilled by ambiguity, the ending to Heartland leaves plenty of room for conjecture.

Enter the Warriors Gate: Blu-ray
With a plot that can be traced as far back as Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” Matthias Hoene’s action/fantasy, Enter the Warriors Gate, is one of several contemporary time-travel adventures that advance the technology beyond DeLoreans and hot-wired telephone booths. In doing so, it combines elements of The Last Starfighter (1984) and The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) in the service of a story that should appeal most to teenage gamers. A French/Chinese/Cambodian production, co-written and co-produced by Luc Besson, Enter the Warriors Gate features an American protagonist (Uriah Shelton) and a Chinese princess (Ni Ni), being hunted through time by a marauding army of barbarians. Jack is a fairly typically American kid, who, if it weren’t for his underdeveloped stature, probably would be eligible to hang with the cool kids. As it is, though, Jack is an easy target for bullies. To compensate, he and a geek buddy create a world of their own within the framework of a martial-arts video game. One morning, after being given an antique urn from a friendly Chinese shopkeeper, Jack is surprised to find an ancient Chinese warrior standing over him in his bedroom. Zhoo (Mark Chao) has traveled forward in time to ask the Black Knight – the boy’s video persona – to protect Princess Su Lin (Ni Ni), whose image is found on the heirloom. After trading Su Lin’s royal rags for jeans and a comfortable top, she’s able to blend in with the crowd … temporarily, anyway. When she’s captured by the Barbarians on her tail, Jack is tasked with following her back to ancient China and, with Zhoo, take on all manner of magical and mystical adversaries. Derivative? Sure. Still, Enter the Warriors Gate is as well-made as any of Besson’s other projects — Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element – and as good a way as any for a gamer to kill a rainy afternoon. Special features include a deleted scene; the featurettes, “Beyond the Gate: Making Enter the Warriors Gate” and “The Journey East: Bridging the Cultural Divide”; and commentary with Hoene (Cockneys vs Zombies).

Sky on Fire: Blu-ray
Hong Kong action specialist Ringo Lam churned out 20 comedies between his debut, in 1983, and seeming retirement, two decades later. Then, for the next dozen years, zilch. Sky on Fire, his second film in the last two years, provides ample evidence that Lam still knows how to blow stuff up real good and destroy late-model vehicles in tunnels and freeways. It is the fifth in an informal series of crime films that share the words, “on fire,” in their titles: City on Fire (1987), Prison on Fire (1987), School on Fire (1988) and Prison on Fire II (1991). The first of those releases is said to have inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Lam also directed Jean-Claude Van Damme in three films — Maximum Risk (1996), Replicant (2001) and In Hell (2003) – largely shot in Vancouver, Toronto and Bulgaria … the Canada of Eastern European. Perhaps, this explains why so much anticipation was built in to his return to action – literally — back home, in Hong Kong. The bad news is that Sky on Fire gets bogged down in a nearly incomprehensible storyline, so quickly out of the gate, that I was never sure on which side of the law the dozen or so key main characters stood at any given time. It opens with a chemical fire that rips through a laboratory dedicated to research on a potential cancer breakthrough, based on “ex-stem cells,” whatever the hell they are. One group of ethically challenged scientists wants to reap huge profits from the new treatment; another researcher only wants to vindicate his late father’s work and nail his killers; and Hong Kong’s finest simply want to protect the cure from falling into the wrong hands and prevent an all-out war from bringing the city to its knees. The good news is that viewers’ patience will be rewarded by an even more explosive climax, inspired, perhaps, by The Towering Inferno and collapse of the World Trade Center, on 9/11. The immensity of the set piece argues for the possibility that everything that preceded it was a MacGuffin. (I don’t mention it to be a spoiler-sport, but to provide a reason to stick with the movie through the less eventful moments.) Popular Asian stars Daniel Wu, Joseph Chang, Zhang Jingchu, Leon Lai, Lam Ka Tung and Amber Kuo spend most of their time dodging bullets or discharging firearms of their own, sometimes for no apparent reason.

He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly: University Press of Kentucky
In the Steps of Trisha Brown
It would be impossible for today’s generation of educators, students and journalists to appreciate the amount of work that once went into the creation of scholarly essays, dissertations, biographies and, yes, even obituaries … once, at least, one of the closely read sections of a newspaper. The contents of libraries, museums and “morgues” now are accessible via the Internet, almost instantaneously, and transportable with the flick of a few fingers. Even 25 years ago, the ready availability of such a wealth of data, information and imagery seemed like a distant possibility. The creation of such dedicated databases as Wikipedia and would come as less a boon to academics than students and reporters who couldn’t afford the time even to make sure that the information they would pass along was accurate. It produced some embarrassing moments for those who were caught borrowing passages – sometimes footnotes and quotes – from entries later deemed unreliable or biased. While things have gotten significantly better on the encyclopedic websites, in terms of accuracy and protecting the integrity of their pages, the caveat, “Garbage in, garbage out,” still applies. I was inadvertently reminded of how much things have changed in this regard, over the past 25 years, by Cynthia and Sara Brideson’s comprehensive biography, “He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly,” which expands on periods in the multihyphenate performer’s career not already covered in other biographies, retrospectives and introductions to films shown on TCM. Simply being able to review his films, at a moment’s notice, would have been impossible in the years before streaming took hold. In a show-business career that spanned a half-century, Kelly wore so many different hats that any scholarly biography less than 200 pages, not including an index and filmography, would practically be meaningless. Even though “He’s Got Rhythm” logs in at 560, some critics have argued that more room could have been devoted to how such an admirable fellow – likeable in every outward way — could also be such a demanding and punishing taskmaster, away from the limelight.

Kelly’s mother steered the Pittsburgh native and his brother, James, to an early interest in dance. The neighborhood bullies put the kibosh on that idea, by picking fights and calling them sissies. Gene switched his allegiance to baseball, before taking up journalism, economics and law in college. In 1937, after keeping afloat in the lean years, teaching dance and choregraphing shows locally, Kelly took up dance full-time … and, how! His first Hollywood credit was Busby Berkeley’s For Me and My Gal, co-starring Judy Garland and George Murphy. By then, Fred Astaire was the town’s top hoofer. Even so, Kelly’s combination of athleticism, masculinity and balletic training would complement, rather than overshadow, Astaire’s more sophisticated and graceful approach to the art of dance on screen. There was plenty of room in Hollywood for two great male dancers and choreographers, as well as occasional visits from Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Gower Champion, beginning in the 1950. Both men’s work is more readily available to lovers of dance and movies than ever before, thanks to DVD/Blu-ray, TCM and YouTube. Beyond the great musicals themselves, there’s the That’s Entertainment series, which he co-hosted; “Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer,” from PBS’ “American Masters”; and “Dancing, a Man’s Game: Gene Kelly,” which aired in 1958, as part of NBC’s “Omnibus.” Released last July, the latter reveals more about Kelly and his work than a dozen wiki entries possibly could. Written, choreographed, co-directed and starring the onetime wannabe shortstop, “Dancing, a Man’s Game” enlisted some of the top names in sports to illustrate Kelly’s belief that the same seemingly effortless movements employed by great athletes in game situations, paralleled the graceful movements of fine dancers, in performance. It featured appearances by Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, Bob Cousy, Sugar Ray Robinson, Dick Button and fellow dancers Edward Villella and Patrick Adiarte. If Astaire’s work was savored best with champagne and caviar, “Dancing, a Man’s Game” could be enjoyed with a bag of peanuts and six-pack of beer. Even the bullies back in Pittsburgh might have been impressed. “He’s Got Rhythm” is part of the University Press of Kentucky’s “Screen Classics” series of books intended for scholars and general readers, alike.

If you’re enough of a dance aficionado to recognize such names as Merce Cunningham, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Martha Graham, and be able to use them in the same sentence as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, you may want to take a shot at Marie-Hélène Rebois’ In the Steps of Trisha Brown. If not, start your exploration of post-modern and experimental dance somewhere else. In the 79-minute documentary, dancers from the Trisha Brown Dance Company, teach the ballerinas from the Ballet de l’Opéra, in Paris, one of Brown’s most representative works, “Glacial Decoy.” For the rest of us, the documentary can serve as a master class on a form of dance that combines movement and physics with the cerebral and sensuous sides of the artistic discipline. In their introduction of the piece to the Paris cast, dancer Lisa Kraus and associate artistic director Carolyn Lucas advise them, “Do exactly the opposite of what your training told you to do,” which, in the world of ballet, is easier said than done. In a preview to the piece in the New Yorker, Joan Acocella was more specific, “French ballet students are instructed to hold their backs straight, their buttocks in, and their arms and legs and shoulders and heads in carefully modelled positions that have been elaborated by dancing masters, and recorded in rule books, for more than two centuries. By contrast, Trisha Brown’s dancers were taught by her to walk down walls, twirl down poles, semaphore to one another across rooftops, and, quite often, fling their limbs around like bags of wet laundry.” The rehearsal footage is interspersed with archival footage from original productions of “Glacial Decoy” and Brown’s own preparation for it. “In the Steps” also features archival dance footage, directed by Jonathan Demme, who died in April, at 73. After being treated for vascular dementia since 2011, the choreographer died last February, at 80.

Dredd: 4K Ultra HD: Blu-ray
Ex Machina: Ultra HD: Blu-ray
Last month, Severin Films released “Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD,” a documentary that traced the comic-book roots of such New Age superheroes as Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper and Halo Jones. Created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, Dredd has been a fixture of the “2000 AD” universe for 30 years. In the 1995 film adaptation of the dystopian crime-fighting series, Judge Dredd, Sylvester Stallone played the one-man judge/jury/executioner. Seventeen years later, Reliance Entertainment decided to resurrect the character in 3D, forsaking the star-driven approach to the story and reimagining his look. Dredd underperformed at the box office, as well, but longtime fans and critics liked it better than the Stallone version. It must have done some business in its Blu-ray 2D/3D incarnations, because Lionsgate has decided to give it a shot in 4K Ultra HD. Moreover, last month, independent entertainment studio IM Global and Rebellion announced plans to develop a live-action TV show, “Judge Dredd: Mega City One,” an ensemble drama about a team of Judges “as they deal with the challenges of the future-shocked 22nd Century.” Maybe they know something the rest of the world doesn’t. Here, judges Dredd (Karl Urban) and Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), his significantly less menacing intern, are dispatched by the central authority to wipe out Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a ruthless crime boss bent on expanding her empire through sales of Slo-Mo, a dangerous reality-altering drug. Dredd wasn’t shot in 4K, so the payoff isn’t what it could be. The most noticeable uptick comes in scene shots from the perspective of Slo-Mo junkies. All of the bonus features are carryovers from previous Blu-ray releases.

The only real connection between Dredd and Ex-Machina, apart from the 4K UHD and Lionsgate, are the contributions of Alex Garland, who wrote the former and was writer/director of the latter. His writing credits also include The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go. One of the smartest, sexiest and most original sci-fi dramas in memory, Garland’s directorial debut managed to make some money, despite an undernourished marketing campaign. Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant) plays Caleb Smith, a 26-year-old programmer at the world’s largest internet company. Oscar Isaac portrays the reclusive CEO of the company, Nathan Bateman, who owns a piece of idyllic property, roughly the size of Rhode Island. Caleb is helicoptered onto the property after winning a contest promising an opportunity to commune with nature and Nathan. In fact, Nathan fixed the contest so that Caleb’s trip wouldn’t raise the eyebrows of co-workers unaware of its true purpose. Nathan wants Caleb to put his star robot through the paces of the Turning test, used to judge a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. As portrayed by Alicia Vikander, Ava has a robotic body and human-looking face … one that can be camouflaged by fashionable clothing and the other removed and traded for another visage. Although the depth of her artificial intelligence has yet to be plumbed, she plays Caleb like a fiddle, even while confined to glass cage. The only other person at the compound is a drop-dead gorgeous Asian servant, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who, silent and obedient, represents every yuppie tycoon’s idea of an ideal second wife. Ava not only is smart enough to know that her model robot likely was designed to operate outside the compound, independent of Nathan’s oversight, but that she’ll also need some help getting there. What makes this edition of Ex-Machina such a treat in UHD is its overall visual presentation, thanks to sets designed to be shot in digital at 4K resolution. The gleaming surfaces, breathtaking scenery and large slabs of glass enhance a set design specifically lit and color-coordinated to look ultra-modern, yet compatible with the natural background. The vintage bonus package, included on the Blu-ray 2D disc, is worth a long look by newcomers to the story.

Evil Ed: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
The Climber: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Spotlight on a Murderer: Special Edition: Blu-ray
The latest release of special editions from Arrow Video/Academy could hardly be more eclectic. None of the titles has been accorded much of an American release, despite the presence of a couple of recognizable stars and a place in the history of subgenres near and dear to the hearts of geeks everywhere. They’ve been impeccably restored and surrounded by bonus material unimaginable to anyone who worked on them.

By far, the most depraved movie in the bunch is Evil Ed, Anders Jacobsson’s blood-soaked homage to the splatter films of the 1980s and rebuke of then-current European censorship of video nasties and flicks that combined sex and violence. The fun begins with the title, a none-too-subtle reference to The Evil Dead (1981), and naming of Olaf Rhodin’s character, Sam Campbell, after director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell. Images from Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and The Shining are scattered throughout Evil Ed, as well. Also pay close attention to one-sheet posters nailed to the walls and such overly descriptive names as, Edward “Eddie” Tor Swenson. He’s the mousy technician at a company that puts the finishing touches on high-end arthouse films and low-end genre titles. One day, Ed’s sleazy boss transfers him from the Bergman-esque pictures to the company’s Splatter and Gore Department, where he’s assigned the task of editing “Loose Limbs,” a movie whose content won’t pass muster in the censorship office. The boss does, however, want to maintain a scene in which a girl is raped by a beaver and shot in the head with a bazooka. As if to demonstrate how the censors might actually be on to something, Ed soon begins to experience bizarre hallucinations, terrible nightmares and overwhelming urges to commit violent acts on people he mistakes for devils and gremlins. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the gag pretty much runs out of gas after about 30 minutes, or so, leaving an hour’s worth of padding and very decent special effects. (Göran Lundström would later work in the makeup department of such films as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and X-Men: First Class.) The 2015 “Special EDition” adds another six or seven minutes of goofy material. And, as if 99 minutes of this silliness weren’t enough, there’s a bonus package that would be excessive, even if Easy Ed had somehow managed to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. So, besides the 93- and 99-minute versions of the feature, there are deleted scenes, bloopers, a three-hour-long and separate 50-minute making-of featurette, a reversible sleeve with newly commissioned artwork and a collector s booklet with new writing on the film by critic James Oliver. Even at three hours, the deadpan recollections of the cast and filmmakers in the making-of featurettes, “Keep ’Em Heads Rollin” and “Lost in Brainland,” are pretty funny.

A couple of weeks ago, we learned how Warhol favorite Joe Dallesandro found his way into Jacques Rivette’s tortured arthouse mystery, Merry-Go-Round, after disappearing from American films for nearly a decade. As if by Hollywood magic, he returns this week in Pasquale Squitieri’s pulpy Italian crime thriller, The Climber (1975). In the early 1970s, he followed Paul Morrissey to Italy for Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula. The Italians considered Dallesandro to be a marketable American star on both sides of the Atlantic and saved the money it would have taken to fly him back to Rome. He stuck around Europe long enough to co-star in several Italian genre flicks and work with Serge Gainsbourg, Walerian Borowczyk and Louis Malle, all the while staying as drunk and high as possible, before returning home to play Lucky Luciano in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club. The Climber may be small change, compared to that extravagant production, at least, but there are several things to recommend it. Influenced thematically by The Public Enemy and Scarface, it charts the rise and inevitable fall of a small-time Naples smuggler, Aldo (Dallesandro), who makes the mistake of trying to skim profits from his boss. After he survives a savage beating, Aldo hooks up with lonely young woman, Luciana (Stefania Casini), who provides him with a ride to Rome and temporary shelter. His cousin refers Aldo to a mob fence, who sends him on a suicide mission, which he narrowly survives. After exacting his revenge on the fat “poofster,” Aldo organizes a gang of thugs on motorbikes to rip off deliveries of contraband and extort money from nightclub owners. Eventually, he makes his way back to Naples and a reunion with his old boss. The really terrific thing about The Climber is Squitieri’s ability to convey the ugliness of life for poor working-class Italians, whose only way to make ends meet is to pull the occasional heist. Moreover, I couldn’t tell the difference between actors impersonating thugs and amateurs who might have been brought in to provide color. Neither is there anything glamorous about the urban settings. The highlights of the bonus package are an alternative English-language soundtrack; “Little Joe’s Adventures in Europe,” a new interview on the actor’s film appearances during the 1970s and early 1980s; a reversible sleeve, with original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon; and new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, author of “Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980.”

Today, Jean-Louis Trintignant is the most recognizable member of the ensemble cast of Georges Franju’s Spotlight on a Murderer (1961). While the Agatha Christie-like mystery also featured such high-profile stars as Pierre Brasseur, Dany Saval, Marianne Koch and Pascale Audret, I was most impressed with the Breton chateaux that provided the setting for the old-fashioned game of cat-and-mouse. Bordered on two sides by a lake, the multi-towered structure also featured a courtyard large enough to accommodate audiences for son et lumiere productions. The chateaux is owned by Count Herve de Kerloquen (Brasseur), who, knowing he’s about to die, decides to play a trick on his greedy heirs. Before expiring, he locks himself into a small closet, alongside the formal dining room, whose two-way mirror allows him to observe his relatives when they arrive to divvy up the spoils. He knows that no one will be allowed to inherit as much as a chair or ashtray, until his body is discovered or five years have passed since his disappearance. In the meantime, they’ll have to invest their own money to maintain and preserve the property. They decide to finance the upkeep through a series of son et lumiere shows recounting its history. Even as those productions are occurring, however, fate is narrowing the field of individual heirs. Who, if anyone, will survive what appears to be a curse? Stay tuned. “Spotlight” isn’t nearly as gripping or memorable as Franju’s previous thriller, Eyes Without a Face, but, at 95 minutes, even the black-and-white visuals are easy to absorb. Thanks for that, in large part, goes the writing team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who, as screenwriters and novelists, have given us Diabolique, Vertigo, Eyes Without a Face and, yes, even Body Parts. The nicely restored edition adds a vintage production featurette from 1960, shot on location and including interviews with Franju, Audret, Brasseur, Koch, Saval and Trintignant; “Spotlight on a Filmmaker,” a look at Franju’s career presented by Michael Brooke, author of the “Midnight Movie Monograph” on Eyes Without a Face; newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain; and new writing on the film by Chris Fujiwara

Where the Buffalo Roam: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
It’s tempting to imagination how Hunter S. Thompson might have covered last year’s presidential campaign. His reporting for Rolling Stone in “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” popularized the “gonzo journalism” concept, which only a handful of writers could pull off on their best days. As targets go, however, Donald, Hillary and the rest of the clowns – he might have embraced Bernie, as he had Jimmy Carter – likely would have proved too easy for him to skewer. And, even if he hadn’t committed suicide in 2005, at 67, his scalpel had grown dull years earlier. Still, when Thompson was on his game, no political observer was more observant and entertaining. By 1980, more young people were willing to buy tickets to his lectures, than to go back and read the books and columns that made him famous. They expected him to amuse them with his booze- and cocaine-fueled rants, instead of enlightening them on the current issues. And, he complied. The release of Art Linson’s Where the Buffalo Roam didn’t do him any favors, either. It’s possible that Bill Murray’s impersonation of Thompson was on the nose, but, it seemed too far-fetched to be true. Neither was there much of a focus to the movie, especially compared to Terry Gilliam’s frequently brilliant Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). John Kaye’s screenplay merges key elements from Thompson’s earlier political writing, events described in “Las Vegas” and “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat,” his 1977 eulogy to Chicano attorney and activist Oscar Zeta Acosta (a.k.a., Raoul Duke’s 300-pound Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, in “Las Vegas,” and, as portrayed here by Peter Boyle, Carl Lazlo, Esquire). Together, they provide a cockeyed look back at the 1960-70s, when he could get away with being drunk, stoned and tripping most of his waking life. The Shout!Factory reissue is noteworthy for the restoration of Neil Young’s original musical score – missing from earlier versions – and an entertaining interview with Kaye, “Inventing The Buffalo.”

Juice: 25th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
The most obvious selling point for “Juice: 25th Anniversary Edition” is the prominence of Tupac Shakur on its cover. Known best as a rap artist martyred for a cause that most of us can’t begin to fathom, Tupac proved in his first featured role that he might have a better shot at stardom as an actor than a member of Digital Underground. He was good enough to mix acting and music, though, as a solo rapper. The thing to remember here, though, is that he was one several young black actors whose careers would be enhanced by their appearance in Ernest R. Dickerson’s debut as a co-writer/director. Today, it stands up alongside Menace II Society, Boyz n the Hood and New Jack City as movies for a generation of African-American viewers – by African-American artists — once removed from the blaxploitation era. They’re informed as much by Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing as the kind of hip-hop and gangsta rap blasting from Radio Raheem’s speakers. Consider, however, who else was introduced in Juice: Omar Epps (Love & Basketball), Jermaine ‘Huggy’ Hopkins (How to Be a Player), Khalil Kain (Girlfriends), En Vogue’s Cindy Herron; Vincent Laresca (“24”); Queen Latifah (Chicago); George Gore II (“My Wife and Kids”); and, in a wee part, Donald Faison (“Scrubs”). Juice follows four inseparable Harlem teens, who waste their days skipping school, getting in fights and shoplifting. The only member of the group who has concrete plans for the future is Q (Epps), who has legitimate dreams of becoming a deejay. One day, Bishop (Shakur) happens to see James Cagney in White Heat and the film inspires him to buy a gun and rob a corner store, with his pals. It falls on the same night as Q’s first big shot at success. Needless to say, Bishop’s fate is destined to match that of Cagney’s Cody Jarrett. The bonus material includes Dickerson’s commentary; “You’ve Got the Juice Now,” featuring new interviews with Dickerson, producer David Heyman and actors Epps, Kain and Hopkins; “The Wrecking Crew,” on the bonds the actors immediately formed with each other; “Sip the Juice: The Music,” explores the essential role that music plays in the film; “Stay in the Scene: The Interview,” a vintage on-set interview with the four lead cast members, including Tupac; and a photo gallery.

Danger Close
From the vantage point of the Pentagon, the press corps in Vietnam was given too much access to the front lines and ugly truths of war. Reporters and photographers found their own way to hot spots, frequently sending back unfiltered dispatches that ran counter to the official version of events described by military spokesmen. By the end of the conflict, the media were accorded almost as much of the blame for the fall of Saigon as Ho Chi Minh. Things would be different during the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. The Pentagon decided to keep reporters away from the front lines for as long as possible. One of the first things journalists were able to describe with any amount of accuracy was the carnage discovered on the Highway of Death, leading from Kuwait City to major cities in Iraq, the retreating civilians and military personnel attempted to escape Kuwait with pillaged treasures … and their necks. The media repeated descriptions of the assault, recorded from cockpits of jet fighters, as a “turkey shoot.” Ghastly images of charred bodies and destroyed luxury cars were said to have influenced President George H. W. Bush to end Persian Gulf War hostilities the next day. The invasion of Afghanistan was covered from arms’ length, as well. To appease media concern in advance of Operation Iraqi Freedom, two years later, the Pentagon decided to allow the “embedding” of reporters among military units, under certain conditions. Although the reporters weren’t likely to whitewash what they saw during the invasion, neither were they likely to be exposed to anything potentially controversial, either. By the time they reached Baghdad, friendships had been established and limits set. After our troops raced into the capital, against a backdrop of cheering Iraqi citizens and toppled statuary, President George W. Bush famously took advantage of the positive images to declare victory on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Those cheers wouldn’t last very long, however, as some of the same people who welcomed the Americans to Baghdad, decided it made more sense to devote their energies to settling religious scores, looting the national museums and stealing as much money and gold as they could carry from the banks. It took a while for journalists to figure out why so many Iraqis turned their backs on us, but, by then, the revolt was in full swing and IEDs and RPGs replaced conventional armaments as the insurgents’ weapons of choice.

After a while, most American media outlets decided that maintaining a presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was too costly and dangerous to maintain. If they were going to cover the wars at all, it would be through freelance sources. Alex Quade is among the rare breed of journalists willing to risk everything tell the stories that no longer were being relayed to American viewers and readers. She sold pieces to CNN, Fox News and other outlets, documenting both the day-to-day and extreme fighting conditions experienced by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Referring to her as an “embedded” reporter and videographer doesn’t do justice to the kind of work she produced and risks she took in the Middle East and aftermath of natural disasters. She is the primary civilian focus of Danger Close, the third chapter in Christian Tureaud and David Salzberg’s series of wartime documentaries, preceded by their highly regarded The Hornet’s Nest and Citizen Soldier. The overriding story, however, concerns the mission of Special Forces Operational Detachment A-Teams in Diyala Province, Iraq, as they went after high-value terrorist targets and called in airstrikes with A-10s and F-16s. The most poignant moments come after describing how Green Beret Staff Sergeant Rob Pirelli was able to coordinate the construction of a defensible compound in the middle of territory controlled by Taliban and Al Qaede insurgents, and the aftermath of his death to enemy fire. After being sent home to repair broken bones suffered from a fall from an armored vehicle, Quade followed up with Pirelli’s family, showing them video of the facility and pictures of the men who were shaken by his death. Quade also decided to return to the compound as a follow-up to her original report, but found many of the doors previously open to her now closed. She was required to “hitch” rides from various Green Beret units, recording their missions as she went along on raids. It’s thrilling stuff, not unlike the helmet-cam video sent back in the early stages of the war. Danger Close also includes several reports Quade filed from the forward positions and during flights taken in fighter jets and attack helicopters. (A Chinook in which she was supposed to ride was shot down after she traded places with combat soldiers. She interviews the pilot of a rescue helicopter who risked his own life, believing she was on board and might have survived the catastrophe.) Her credentials include two Edward R. Murrow Awards; the Congressional Medal Of Honor Society’s Excellence in Journalism Award for her “honest & courageous” war reportage; a joint Peabody award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina, in 2005; (a CNN group award); a joint Emmy award for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; and a Du-Pont Columbia Award for the in-depth reporting she did for CNN on the Asian Tsunami.

Spike: I Am Heath Ledger
PBS: American Masters: Jacques Pepin: The Art of Craft
PBS: Rocktopia: A Classical Revolution: Live from Budapest
After turning his attention away from hockey and other things inarguably Canadian – Anne Murray, the CFL – Derik Murray shifted his focus to hit-and-run bio-docs of celebrities, ready for distribution on cable television and in DVD. The ones I’ve seen are interesting, but limited by what Murray could afford to show, in the way of archival clips, and the time it takes to get beneath the skin of a subject worthy of a feature-length doc. Asif Kapadia’s award-winning Senna and Amy are good examples of celebrity bio-docs that leave very little to imagination after watching them. I Am Heath Ledger is the seventh entry in Murray’s “I Am …” series, after profiles of Evel Knievel, Chris Farley, Bruce Lee, JFK Jr., Steve McQueen and Dale Earnhardt. His parallel series, “Facing,” has profiled Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vladimir Putin, Suge Knight, Saddam Hussein, Pablo Escobar and Muhammad Ali. Frequent collaborator Adrian Buitenhuis served as co-director on I Am Heath Ledger, which is enhanced by material shot by the Perth native for the enjoyment of friends and family, mostly, and the testimony of people like Naomi Watts, Ang Lee, Ben Harper, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Catherine Hardwicke and Mel Gibson, as well as close family members and boyhood friends. Although comparisons to James Dean are inevitable, the doc doesn’t push them on anyone. Ledger was a young man blessed with an unusual bounty of talents and capacity for close, personal relationships with many people simultaneously. His homes could be mistaken for youth hostels, what with the transient friends and vagabond Aussie musicians he attracted. Anyone looking for dirt probably would be better served by sticking to TMZ and other gossip sites. Conspicuously, if not expectedly missing is Michelle Williams, the mother of Ledger’s daughter, Matilda, and much in-depth reporting on his death, ascribed to an accidental overdose of pharmaceuticals.

It seems odd that PBS would devote an entire edition of its “American Masters” to an ex-patriot French chef, albeit one who wrote best-selling cookbooks – or, to be precise, an appreciation for the way great food is prepared — and advancing the revolution Julia Child launched on public television two decades earlier. Jacques Pepin arrived in the United States in 1959, when great French dining only was available at the New York restaurant Le Pavillon, his first employer, and, two years later, in the White House, under the watchful eye of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The First Lady asked Pepin, twice, to become commander-in-chief of the president’s kitchen. Instead, he accepted an invitation from regular Le Pavillon customer Howard Johnson — yes, that one — to work alongside fellow Frenchman Pierre Franey to develop food lines for his nationwide chain of restaurants. And, yes, one of his greatest successes at Howard Johnson’s came in his decision to change the ingredients used in the fried clams’ recipe, making it a guilty pleasure of American motorists for years to come … myself, included. Accepting the White House gig might have seemed like a lateral move, despite the Kennedy imprimatur. While living in Paris, Pépin avoided being sent to Algeria as a conscripted soldier by being assigned duties as personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. Having already prepared meals for many of the same world leaders who would be invited to dine with the Kennedys, he decided that a drastic change might do him some good. Years later, after a near-fatal automobile accident, Pepin used his convalescence to translate his knowledge of preparation into English. In 1999, Pepin co-starred in the PBS series, “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home,” which, in 2001, was awarded a Daytime Emmy. The rest is culinary history. “Jacques Pepin: The Art of Craft” is informed by interviews with friends, family members, journalists and celebrity chefs, including Anthony Bourdain, José Andrés, Tom Colicchio and Rachel Ray. You’ll never look at an omelet the same way, again. The DVD includes extended interviews, demonstrations, an 80th-birthday tribute and flashback to the first episode of “Today’s Gourmet.”

In the 1970s, one of the ways record labels extended the lives of top-selling albums was to have rock artists perform the same songs while accompanied by a symphony orchestra. Procol Harum and the Moody Blues were among the first to initiate symphonic rock, which would evolve into progressive rock of the 1970s. A 1972 collaboration, “Tommy (London Symphony Orchestra album),” featured the Who, the 104-piece orchestra and an all-star supporting cast of rock artists. It pre-figured the 1975 soundtrack for the movie, Tommy, which anticipated the 1991 Broadway musical, “The Who’s Tommy.” Today, pops orchestras routinely slate programs for their Boomer patrons. As entertaining as these performances were, they added little to the music that wasn’t already there. Neither was the collective personality of the orchestra discernible. Distributed by PBS, “Rocktopia: A Classical Revolution: Live from Budapest” represents the latest effort to fuse classical music, classic rock and opera, and it isn’t bad. The music is performed from original arrangements, drawing from Elton John, Mozart, Journey, Strauss, Aerosmith, Heart, Beethoven, Pink Floyd, Copland, Bruce Springsteen and the Who, as well as vocalists who recall the intensity and range of the original artists. The songs were chosen, we’re told, because they tell “the universal story of the human condition,” ways that transcend time, trends and commercialism. As such, the classical music and rock vocals form a song cycle accessible to audiences that range in age from ’tweens to geezers. Singing along to the individual numbers appears to have been encouraged. A making-of featurette is included.

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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