MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Guardians II, Never Let Go, La Poison, Love of a Woman, Kiki, Whale Rider and more

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: 4K UHD/Blu-ray
Last May, a couple of weeks before Hollywood’s lineup of big-budget bombs began to roll into megaplexes around the planet, Disney-Marvel gave everyone reason for optimism with a boffo launch for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Not only did the sequel outperform the 2014 original on its opening weekend, but it also confirmed that such a motley crew of comic-book superheroes – the Guardians first appeared in 2008, in the sixth edition of Marvel’s “Annihilation: Conquest” – could hang with such established superheroes as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man. No fluke, it’s become the 10th franchise in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 also demonstrated that Hollywood’s “Rotten Tomatoes is evil” theory doesn’t hold water, by doing extremely well there and in Metacritic, with scores only a hair or two below those recorded by the original. Not that the plot would matter much to opening-weekend audiences, but, for the record, the story begins with the Guardians on the run from Rocket’s botched theft of batteries from the Sovereign, who attacks their ship with a fleet of drones. After the drones are destroyed by a mysterious figure, the Guardians crash-land on a nearby planet, where the figure reveals himself to be Quill’s father, an ancient Celestial named Ego (Kurt Russell). He invites Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) to his home planet, while Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) remain behind to repair the ship and guard Nebula (Karen Gillan). Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) hires Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and his crew, who have been exiled from the greater Ravager community for child trafficking, to recapture the Guardians. They capture Rocket, but when Yondu hesitates to turn over Quill, whom he raised, his lieutenant Taserface (Chris Sullivan) leads a mutiny with help from Nebula. Beyond all that, “Volume 2” is a brilliantly conceived free-for-all, accompanied by classic-rock selections and entertaining as hell.

It isn’t necessary for newcomers to be conversant with Marvel mythology to enjoy “Volume 2,” but a second view of “Volume 1,” at least, is advised. For diehard fans of superhero movies, the spectacular visual presentation might even trigger the same psychedelic revelations as those experienced by their parents and grandparents during the “Star Child” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even the opening credits, featuring Baby Groot, are worth the price of a rental. The bonus package includes, “The Making of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a four-part, behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, done in the style of classic-rock album liner notes; “Visionary Intro,” in which Gunn provides context on how he expands the storylines of the beloved “GotG2” characters; “Guardians Inferno Music Video,” with David Hasselhoff and special guests at retro dance party; a gag reel; four deleted and expanded scenes; and commentary, with Gunn guiding fans through an inside look at the making of the movie. Home-theater aficionados will be thrilled to learn that Disney has finally joined the rest of the Big Six studios in agreeing to release select titles in 4K UHD, as well as Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats. Apparently, writer/director James Gunn’s pleading found the right ears at the Mouse House, which, for its own reasons, was dragging its heels. It really makes a difference. Last week, Disney announced that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will also be released in 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital.

Never Let Go
I don’t know if anyone asked high-kickin’ Brit actress Angela Dixon to audition for Wonder Woman, but, as she proves in the child-abduction thriller, Never Let Go, she might have given Gal Gadot a run for her money. What she lacks in name recognition here, Dixon more than makes up for in high-octane fighting skills in this surprise direct-to-DVD/VOD success. The cover blurbs compare Howard J. Ford’s actioner to Taken, but, to my mind, it bears as close a resemblance to Not Without My Daughter (1991), in which Sally Field plays an American woman, trapped in Iran by her brutish husband, and her determination to escape the country with her daughter in tow. The difference between Never Let Go and those two Hollywood features is a budget that’s short on details and long on non-stop action. As things turned out, the financial pinch might have worked in the movie’s favor, by forcing it to be mean and lean. The movie opens with the kidnapping of a baby from its crib, while mom and dad are in the living room looking at brochures. Flash forward a couple of years and Dixon’s Lisa Brennan arrives in a Middle Eastern country (a.k.a., Morocco) with a child in her arms and no apparent reason for being there. She smells a rat when her nosy cab driver takes a detour into the Casbah, before dropping her off at her hotel. A stroll to the beach turns into a nightmare when Lisa’s attention is diverted for a few seconds and Baby Sophie is grabbed by a couple of swarthy mooks. She chases them through the narrow streets, eventually catching up with one of the men, who’s carrying an athletic bag.

In an instant, Never Let Go goes from woman-in-jeopardy picture to one in which the criminals ultimately will become the underdogs. Not only does Lisa kick the crap out of the suspect, but she also throws the poor schmuck in front of a van that can’t help but run over his still writhing body. When she looks inside the bag, it contains a melon. Undaunted, Lisa picks up the scent of the dead guy’s partners, who’ve absconded with Sophie in a different van. Running at full speed, she manages to catch up to it. Once again, Lisa takes one of the kidnappers out, before his partner splits the scene. The next thing she knows, she’s surrounded by police and, after knocking one of them out, another chase ensues … through the city’s streets, over rooftops, in and out of shops, and into the desert. The plot thickens when Lisa contacts a friend in the CIA, who’s able to trace the cellphone she tossed in the back of the vehicle carrying the baby. And, no, I’m not spoiling anything, because most of the aforementioned action takes place in the movie’s first half-hour. By now, we suspect that Lisa’s a former spook – like Liam Neeson, in Taken – and quite capable of taking matters into her own lethal hands. But, wait, there’s more. What happened to Lisa and Sophie in the Casbah is related to something happening in Washington. Like I said, the details are murky, but not completely out of the realm of plausibility. I hope Dixon is able to use her work here as a catapult to bigger and better things.

La Poison: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Love of a Woman: Special Edition: Blu-ray
One of the limitations of a liberal-arts education is not being given the opportunity delve deeply into any one discipline, until, perhaps, graduate school. An early exposure to film history – in my day, anyway – would have included such texts as Arthur Knight’s “The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of Movies” and the collected criticism of James Agee or Stanley Kauffmann, as well as screenings of the acknowledged classics, using ancient 16mm projectors from the school’s AV department. The methodology may have been far from perfect, but even a single showing of Citizen Kane or Casablanca could spark a lifelong passion for film. Maybe, even, a career. When the subject of French cinema was broached, there was barely enough time left in the semester to get past The Rules of the Game, La Grande Illusion, Zero for Conduct or Beauty and the Beast, before skipping ahead to La Nouvelle Vague. Today, of course, anyone sufficiently interested in the international cinema to own a subscription to Netflix or FilmStruck, a decent video monitor and Blu-ray player, can give themselves the equivalent of a Master’s degree in film history, without leaving home. This week’s release schedule offers glimpses of the French cinema from the years not generally covered in overview classes. If the “release info” provided on is to be believed, La Poison and The Love of a Woman weren’t accorded distribution in the U.S. Now, thanks to Criterion and Arrow, there’s no excuse for skipping over them and other unacknowledged classics.

Sacha Guitry’s inky black comedy, La poison (1951), marked the first collaboration between the celebrated writer/actor/director and the incomparably expressive actor Michel Simon, who, two decades earlier, had starred in Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante and Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning. In Guitry’s sinister profile of a marriage grown sour, Simon plays a village gardener, Paul Louis Victor Braconnier, who, one day, decides to murder his wife of 30 years (Germaine Reuver), before the wino kills him. (She’s already purchased enough rat poison to pull it off.) Although the disheveled geezer doesn’t look fit enough to tie his own shoes, he’s able to pull himself together for a visit to the region’s most acclaimed defense attorney, who’d just been interviewed on radio for scoring another tough acquittal. By playing to the lawyer’s vanity, Braconnier tricks him into describing how he might escape conviction for a crime he admits to already committing. He hasn’t, but the advice allows Braconnier to strike first when his wife decides to spike his drink with the la poison. Is it a case of premeditated murder or self-defense? After admitting his culpability at trial, the old sot sidesteps his attorney long enough to plead his own case. La poison was inspired by Guitry’s own post-World War II tangle with the law — a wrongful charge of collaborationism – turning near tragedy into a blithely caustic broadside against the French legal system and a society all too eager to capitalize on others’ misfortunes. Even after more than 60 years, the comedy feels fresh and relevant. The supplemental features include Dominique Maillet’s 2010 documentary “On Life On-Screen: Miseries and Splendor of a Monarch,” on the Guidry/Simon collaboration; a new interview with director Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep), on the filmmaker’s influence on French cinema; an episode of “Cineaste de notre temps”; and illustrated booklet featuring professor Ginette Vincendeau’s essay, “La poison — or, How to Kill Your Wife,” Francois Truffaut’s 1957 appreciation, “The Mischievous Sacha Guitry.”

The Love of a Woman was the final feature of the highly regarded French filmmaker Jean Grémillon, concluding a string of classics that included Remorques, Lumiere d’ete and Pattes blanches. The Sirkian melodrama follows a young doctor, Marie (Micheline Presle), who arrives on the island of Ushant to replace its retiring physician. While attempting to overcome suspicion and sexism in the cloistered Breton fishing village, Marie finds love in the form of Italian engineer André Lorenzi (Massimo Girotti). As long as Andre’s job keeps him on the island, their life together is wonderfully romantic. Marie agrees to join him in marriage, even if it means leaving the island, where she’s become something of a hero. It isn’t until Andre reveals his true feelings about a woman’s place in such a partnership that Marie begins to reconsider her commitment to him. He insists that she stay at home and play happy little homeworker, forsaking her medical degree and vocation. Although she refuses to agree to such an ultimatum, Marie remains deeply in love with Andre. Gremillon gives her one further opportunity to back out and, ostensibly, break the hearts of women who would have killed to spend the rest of their lives with Girotti. In 1953, there was no guarantee a pre-feminist instinct would be allowed to triumph over tradition in a commercial film. The Love of a Woman benefits greatly from the Île d’Ouessant, Finistère, locations, as well as the terrific performances. The restored disc adds “In Search of Jean Gremillon,” a feature-length documentary on the filmmaker from 1969, containing interviews with, among others, director Rene Clair, archivist Henri Langlois, actors Micheline Presle and Pierre Brasseur. The reversible sleeve features original and newly commissioned artwork by Jennifer Dionisio and, on the first pressing, an illustrated collector’s booklet, with new writing on the film by critic Ginette Vincendeau.

It’s been 25 years since Paris Is Burning introduced the art of voguing to the world outside Harlem’s drag and ballroom scene, and Madonna glommed onto it for a concert tour and music video — directed by David Fincher – targeted at a generation of white suburbanites unlikely to ever set foot on 125th Street. If anything, New York’s contemporary “kiki” culture is even less recognized outside New York’s underground dance community than voguing was in 1990. Sara Jordenö’s documentary, Kiki, revisits the city’s still-thriving underground scene, this time for Swedish television audiences similarly unlikely to risk a Harlem sojourn. In doing so, she also was able to chronicle something that speaks as much to the tumult of our times as the evolution of a unique dance craze. Where voguing involved striking a series of poses, inspired by models in Vogue magazine, kiki choreography allows for hyperkinetic motion, broadly expressive gestures, flamboyant costumes and free-style interpretations of dynamic hip-hop songs. A quarter-century ago, when voguing rose from the then-LGT subculture – the initialism has since grown to LGBTTQQIAAP, in some quarters – the best posers competed at balls for money and trophies. Outwardly, at least, the Roaring ’80s and ’90s were more accommodating to drag and transsexual artists, as exemplified by the rise of RuPaul, than the Oughts and 2010s have been for youths of color, whose gender identification is less fixed. The kiki community is subdivided into “houses,” not unlike the krewes of Mardi Gras, that provide safe havens for at-risk teens in desperate need of acceptance, support, friendship and structure. Among the houses here are Juicy Couture, Unbothered Cartier and Pink Lady, which are run by “house mothers” and “fathers,” such as co-writer Twiggy Pucci Garcon. They also strive to refine their sons’ and daughters’ creative expression, through dance, fashion and cosmetics. Jordenö goes beyond the glamour of the balls to highlight the serious personal challenges facing queer black and Latino young people, some of whom are homeless, jobless and targets of physical abuse from bullies, police and tricks. She also finds a few genuine success stories among the people we meet.

Whale Rider: 15th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
It feels as if more than 15 years have passed since Whale Rider, Niki Caro’s wonderful story of female empowerment, was released. Even at second glance, in Blu-ray, it remains every bit as entertaining and endearing as ever. In 2002, New Zealand seemed to be an extremely remote country, whose many physical attributes would only become known to folks north of the equator in the public-relations campaign that accompanied Peter Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings chapter. Lee Tamahori’s unforgiving drama, Once Were Warriors (1994), exposed arthouse audiences to Maori customs and the societal problems faced by those living in Auckland. If American viewers took one thing away from from Tamahori’s film it probably was the the head-to-toe tā moko – not tattoos, exactly, but close enough – that adorned the young men. For all we knew, the designs were nothing more than exaggerated facsimiles of the tattoos acquired by American and Russian convicts in prison. In fact, they represented a resurgence in cultural pride on the part of Maori youth. Equally fascinating was the haka dance performed by one gang member, while incarcerated in a detention center. We’d see the tradition repeated and expanded upon in Whale Rider, which is set entirely on Maori land and only briefly introduces a gangsta’ element. The haka is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge directed at an enemy, as a way of intimidating them. It features grotesque facial gestures, vigorous movements and stamping of the feet, with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. The dramatic body and facial inkings completed the ferocious package. Since then, the haka has been adopted by athletes, including by the All-Blacks rugby squad and football teams representing the universities of Hawaii and Arizona. It’s found its way to presentations before visiting royalty and high school heritage programs.

In Whale Rider, which is based on Witi Ihimaera’s 1987 novel, one of the ways a precocious 12-year-old girl demonstrates her independence from hidebound tradition is by leading the boys in her community in a haka. Her grandfather, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), the leader of the village, takes her presumption as a personal insult to him, his ancestors and the Maori gods. He tries to keep Paikea in her place, but she’s far too stubborn to remain there. In her debut performance, Oscar-nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes plays the rebellious girl, whose twin brother was supposed to have inherited their grandfather’s mantel as village leader, but died, along with their mother, in childbirth. Koro blames Paikea and her father, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), for the boy’s death and failure to produce a future village elder in his line. With remarkable grace and courage, Pai spends the next 12 years of her life summoning the strength to both challenge and embrace a thousand years of tradition, which, she believes, entitles her to a leadership position in the tribe. (Koro is said to be descended from the first Maori arrival, Paikea, who, after falling from a large ocean-going waka canoe, was carried from Hawaiki, in eastern Polynesia, to Aotearoa, on the back of a whale. Only the first-born grandson of a direct descendant of Paikea can ascend to chief, in what’s now New Zealand.)

Even though she’s a quick study and Koro eventually warms to her, he refuses to consider her credentials. Instead, the girl decides that her fate rests in fins of the native whale population, themselves descended from the Tohora that delivered the original settler to the village, on its back. It’s only after Pai decides she’ll risk further alienating Koro, by not joining her artist father in self-imposed German exile, that things take a turn toward the supernatural. Because so much of Maori tradition is based on myths and legends, the twist doesn’t feel at all forced or gratuitous. Neither does the subtle interplay between Pai and the tightknit group of women in the village – it was shot on location in Whangara, in the northeast of New Zealand’s North Island — whose primary responsibility appears to be feeding the males, but clearly use their apron strings to keep a tight hold on them. If you haven’t already guessed, Whale Rider is an ideal movie for family viewing. Disney’s animated feature, Moana, articulates similar themes, and would make a dandy double-feature. For this Blu-ray anniversary edition, Shout!Factory has ported over six supplements from the Columbia Tristar/Sony “Special Edition” DVD of Whale Rider and also included the Keisha Castle-Hughes screen tests that appeared on the European editions. A still gallery varies from the pictures displayed previously, as well. It also includes “Riding the Wave: The Whale Rider Story,” Caro’s commentary and deleted scenes.

Kill Switch: Blu-ray
One of the gimmicks currently in vogue with creators of indie sci-fi features is to deliver the action from the perspective of a shooter’s point-of-view in a video game. Hardcore Henry was exhilarating and ridiculous in equal measure, while the CG-animated Resident Evil: Vendetta only occasionally deployed the first-person perspective. The conceit first was used in director/star Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947), when the camera stood in for P.I. Philip Marlowe as our guide through the mystery. It was only when Marlowe briefly glanced at a mirror, twice, that Montgomery was revealed in the reflection. Thanks to Raymond Chandler’s plot twists and hard-boiled dialogue, Lady in the Lake did OK at the box office for MGM. In Kill Switch, the novelty wears off rather quickly. Video games have become so sophisticated, the creative boundaries that once separated movies and games have largely disappeared. A gamer can stay riveted to a screen for hours at a time, thanks to imaginatively drawn characters and ever-changing scenarios. Imagine looking over the shoulder of a gamer for more than 10 or 15 minutes and you’ll get an idea of Kill Switch’s dilemma. Even so, if all a sci-fi buff is looking for is 91 minutes of diverting, hands-free entertainment, it might do the trick. The dystopian throughline isn’t strong enough to carry the load on its own merits. VFX specialist Tim Smit’s feature debut was adapted from his YouTube short, “What’s in the Box?,” and that probably was its ideal length.

It could have benefitted, as well, from remaining in first-person mode through the film, instead of slipping into the more traditional third-person narrative stance in flashbacks. The transitions could be jarring. As for the story: sometime in the future, when the energy crisis has reached a critical juncture, a company’s bold experiment to harness unlimited quantum energy from an unlikely source goes terribly wrong. Alterplex’s idea involved create a mirror image of Earth – the Echo world — that could serve as a surrogate host for the planet’s energy requirements. Power would be transmitted through huge towers that suck energy from the Echo world and send it to generators below. No, I didn’t get it, either. When it becomes clear that something’s going haywire, and Alterplex’s strategy is in jeopardy, it recruits physicist/pilot Will Porter (Dan Stevens) to retrieve a box that could prevent disaster. Meanwhile, the world is imploding and Will becomes concerned that his family needs to be saved, first. Before he can get to them, however, he has to contend with killer drones and other distractions. Charity Wakefield (“Wolf Hall”) and Bérénice Marlohe (Skyfall) add some welcome eye candy to the mix. The Blu-ray includes “The Visual Effect: Inside the Director’s Process” and Smit’s commentary.

A Blast
Although Greeks have been making feature-length films for the better part of the last 100 years, the flow of their output has been interrupted for several long periods of time by civil wars, occupying forces, fascist governments and economic turmoil. Until a recent spurt of activity, the list of internationally prominent filmmakers has pretty much been limited to Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek), Melina Mercouri/Jules Dassin (Never on Sunday), Theo Angelopoulos (Ulysses’ Gaze), George Tzavellas (Antigone), Costa-Gavras (Z) and Vasilis Georgiadis (Blood on the Land). The New Wave, also referred to as the Greek Weird Wave, is represented by such adventurous practitioners as, among others, Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), Athina Rachel Tsangar (Attenberg), Tassos Boulmetis (A Touch of Spice), Argyris Papadimitropoulos (Suntan), Alexandros Avranas (Miss Violence), Panos H. Koutras’s (Strella), Yannis Economides’s (Knifer) and Christopher Papakaliatis (Worlds Apart). The common denominator among the newer titles is the giant shadow cast by Greece’s well-publicized financial woes, which have threatened the country with bankruptcy and more belt-tightening than anyone could have possibly anticipated. As if that weren’t enough of a cross to bear, Greece has also been on the front lines of the refugee crisis and a revival of radical nationalism. For a country that’s always valued its ability to maintain a distinctly Greek culture, apart from its European neighbors, the shock of the new has been devastating. Syllas Tzoumerkas’ A Blast describes how the foundations of one woman’s life shifted over the course of a decade, leaving her off-balance and without hope that things will improve anytime soon. Her personal descent into madness reminded me of Thelma & Louise and A Woman Under the Influence, in equal measure.

Angeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth) delivers an emotionally charged performance as Maria, a middle-class Athenian who was well on her way to law school when she fell in lust with a handsome Greek sailor, Yannis (Vassilis Doganis), and promptly became the mother of three small children. Her sister, Gogo, helps with the kids, but only when she’s able to pry herself away from her lazy, neo-Fascist husband, Costas, who Maria suspects of being a pedophile. Her wheelchair-bound mother hasn’t paid the taxes on her family-run convenience store for a decade – in Greece, withholding taxes is almost as popular a pastime as soccer – and her father is largely unresponsive to the storm swirling around him. Yannis, now a pilot of oil tankers, is rarely home. When he is, however, there’s no way he can satisfy her mad sexual cravings, perhaps because of the time he’s spent with his male lover and various bargain-basement prostitutes. Forced to scramble to meet a tax deadline, Maria races around Athens collecting her parents’ pension benefits, concocting far-out schemes and gradually reaching her boiling point. If there were any doubt, Tzoumerkas adds a couple of bizarre set pieces that confirm her decline. They involve a none-too-private search for pornography in a public library and a therapy session in which Maria tells the other participants that she has lived a “ridiculous life.” Everything leads to an abandonment of her family, a wild car chase with police and a finale that reeks of desperation and madness. Tzoumerkas is able to maintain a frantic pace – flashbacks and all – throughout all 83 minutes of A Blast.

Effects: Blu-ray
If nothing else, the re-release of Effects on Blu-ray proves that you can’t keep a good exploitation film down. Made in the late 1970s, by friends and associates of the late, great George A. Romero, it was only shown at a few festivals before being put on the shelf for 25 years. Synapse Films resurrected Effects in 2005, on DVD, adding a couple of supplements that have been ported over to this AGFA Blu-ray. While far from perfect, Dusty Nelson’s DIY thriller should please genre fans in search of a true artifact from the dawn of the slasher era. Not surprisingly, given the Romero link, Effects was shot on location in the hills and forests outside Pittsburgh. A film crew has gathered in remote cabin to make a slasher film that appears to be morphing into a grindhouse quickie, “Duped: The Snuff Movie.” That’s because accidents that aren’t really accidents begin to occur, nearly as soon as the first line of cocaine is cut. The laid-back director (Nelson) appears to be unfazed by the seemingly unrelated blunders, however, for reasons that will become apparent when he screens footage of a woman in lingerie getting hacked apart in a truly lifelike setting. When the FX specialist smells something fishy, he becomes the bait in a lethal game of cat-and-mouse. If it’s possible for viewers to discount the cheesy production values, the 84-minute Effects can be as entertaining as any of the low-budget genre flicks sent out on DVD/VOD platforms today. Cast members Tom Savini, Joe Pilato and John Harrison might be recognizable from such pictures as Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Tales From the Crypt and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie. Despite the movie’s obscurity, it carries a surprising number of bonus material, including “After Effects,” an hourlong retrospective by Michael Felsher and his Red Shirt Productions team; Felsher’s commentary; “Ubu,” a short film by Harrison; “Beastie,” a short film by Nelson; and an archival commentary track featuring Harrison, Nelson and Pasquale Buba. Lots of nice things are said about Romero in Felsher documentary.

Dead Story
Despite a couple of well-executed twists, Suneel Tripuraneni’s first feature, Dead Story, resembles too many other debut films to be considered fresh or terribly compelling in a crowded genre. It reportedly found some traction on YouTube before hitting the DVD marketplace, and that’s as it should be. A young couple, Ann and Harold (Kelsey Deanne, Chase Austin), decide that it’s time for them to commit to a home outside the city limits that’s large enough to raise a family. Too bad, they didn’t wait to inquire about local legends, including the one concerning the murder that took place there, years earlier. It’s revealed during a housewarming meal with friends, who probably should have held back on the chilling information. Sure enough, even before the mailman can make his first delivery, the ghostly spirit of the killer appears, wielding a knife and long-held grudge. Of course, the phantom only makes herself known to Ann, causing Harold to doubt his wife’s sanity, which only makes her act that much nuttier. It’s even causing trouble at work, which is an hour’s drive from home. He thinks he’s doing Ann a favor by inviting his mother to babysit her while he’s away. Despite appearances, Mommy Dearest hates her daughter-in-law and uses her fear of the none-to-welcoming ghost to torment her. In Dead Story’s single surprisingly development, Ann finally comes to her senses long enough to turn the table on the specter by taking the offensive. Much of the spooking takes place outside the rural Texas house, which is another plus.

We the Parents
Even if solutions are elusive, most Americans agree that public schools in this country are a mess. Unfortunately, the vast majority of parents and guardians aren’t able to afford the small fortunes needed to send the kiddies to private or parochial schools. In 2010, Parent Revolution, a new nonprofit lobbying organization headed by executive director Ben Austin and funded by such high-profile organizations as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched a campaign in the California legislature for a law allowing parents to transform troubled schools. The proposed parent-trigger bill specified that such reforms might include replacing principals and staff, turning the institution into a charter school, or shuttering it entirely. If passed, it would require a majority of parents sign a petition to get things moving, and that’s never easy to pull off. James and Jennifer Welsh Takata’s We the Parents is a feature-length documentary that follows a courageous group of parents in impoverished, gang-ridden Compton, California, who lead the first-ever attempt to take over their failing public elementary school. It’s only a small part of a much larger problem in the politically corrupt suburb of Los Angeles. The film also demonstrates how such a movement might take root in other districts. (Similar laws have been adopted subsequently by Louisiana, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, Indiana and Ohio.) We the Parents attempts to provide an honest and balanced depiction of events through a combination of verité footage and interviews, while using animation to explain complex concepts in an entertaining way. Educators, parents, organizers, journalists, administrators and politicians provide key insights and lessons learned from the first implementation of the law.

PBS: The Great British Baking Show, Season 4
Nickelodeon: Shimmer and Shine: Magical Pets of Zahramay Falls
Unlike certain members of my family, who will remain anonymous for the purposes of this item, I have yet to become to become addicted to the show known here as “The Great British Baking Show,” but elsewhere as “The Great British Bake Off.” Apparently, Pillsbury owns the rights to the “bake off” concept in the U.S. and doesn’t want others appropriating it for their own use. By either name, it’s become a not-so-guilty pleasure for folks on both sides of the pond, who prefer their reality shows to be as realistic, clever and personable as possible. The great recipes are, well, gravy. British audiences have enjoyed seven seasons of the BBC show, as compared to the four which have aired here, on PBS, in a reversed broadcast order. Last September, midway through Season Seven, its producers announced that the series would move to rival broadcaster Channel 4. The day after the announcement, co-presenters and comedy partners Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins said they would not follow suit, as did judge Mary Berry a bit later. Professional baker and co-judge Paul Hollywood decided to stick with “Bake Off,” newly accompanied by presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, and judge Prue Leith. Early reviews suggest that the transition appears to have gone smoothly, even if viewers will have to get used to commercial intervals. Three seasons of “Baking Show” are available on Netflix, which will acquire the Channel 4 episodes. After seven seasons, the show has become a significant part of British culture – and a hit on PBS — and is credited with reinvigorating interest in baking throughout the United Kingdom. Many of its participants, including winners, have gone on to start a career based on baking. Unlike most other such competition shows, there’s plenty of room left here for trademark British humor and attitude, as well as the occasional mistake or accident.

The first season of Nickelodeon’s “Simmer and Shine” took place in the human world and focused on a young girl named Leah, who is friends with a pair of twin genies-in-training named Shimmer and Shine. Leah’s genies grant her three wishes every day, but they often don’t work out as planned. In Season Two, the many different characters are transported to Zahramay Falls, Shimmer and Shine’s magical homeland. Leah reveals her genies’ existence to her neighbor and best friend, Zac, who is given a genie of his own, Kaz. The season adds the sovereign of the land, Princess Samira; Samira’s pet peacock, Roya; Zeta, a villainous sorceress; and Zeta’s dragon, Nazboo. The eight episodes included in “Shimmer and Shine: Magical Pets of Zahramay Falls” are “Untamed Talent,” “Pet Bedroom,” “Zany Zaffilon,” “Now You See Her,” “Dragon Pox,” “Bungle in the Jungle,” “Potion Control” and “Boom Zahra-mom.”

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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