MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Kung Fu Yoga, Breaking Point, Wolves, In Shadow of Women, Stand, Taisho Trilogy, Re-Animator and more

Kung Fu Yoga: Blu-ray
At a time when saber rattlers in China and India have begun squabbling over a road along their shared border, it’s easy to forgive this Sino-Indian co-production for underachieving as the action-adventure it might have been, if only box-office returns weren’t an object (which they always are). Make movies, not war. Kung Fu Yoga is a sequel to Stanley Tong’s big-budget epic The Myth (2004), in which Jackie Chan played a tomb-raiding archeologist, Jack, whose reoccurring dreams of a past life are realized when he’s transformed into the great Qin Era General Meng Yi. The general is sworn to protect Ok-soo, a Korean concubine he’s charged with protecting. Meanwhile, back to the future, Jack is raiding Indian tombs, in search of a gravity-defying artifact. It’s here that Jack runs across an old portrait of Ok-soo, convincing him that the dreams he’s been having of Meng-Yi are in fact flashbacks to a previous incarnation. Flashing ahead a dozen more years, Tong’s Kung Fu Yoga finds the reformed tomb raider in academia, preaching ethics to a class full of star-struck students. A ravishing Indian professor, Ashmita (Disha Patani) approaches Jack after class with an ancient map, showing the possible location of a Magadhan treasure lost while being transported from the subcontinent to China, maybe along the same disputed road. After compiling a team of attractive young teaching assistants and another talented archeologist —  Jones (Aarif Rahman), a tomb raider, sorely in need of reform — Jack and Ashmita magically discover the treasure in a Tibetan ice cave, protected by an army of skeletons.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the academics are followed to the cave by a collection of mercenary thugs. While Jack neutralizes the bad guys, Jones gets away with a diamond centerpiece. The next time it’s seen is at an auction in Dubai, where the fabulously wealthy descendent of a rebel army leader, decides that the jewel is his birthright and will do anything to own it. The next stop is an underground Indian temple, where the multi-faceted gemstone holds the key to an unimaginably greater treasure. Along the way, Chan and company are involved in a series of exciting car chases and fantastical set pieces that pushed the movie’s budget into the $65-million range. Although the fast-paced adventure barely made a dent at the U.S. box office in its limited release – the many lame Indiana Jones references didn’t help — Kung Fu Yoga returned $253 million in worldwide sales.  (The title refers to the marriage of physical disciplines favored by Chan and the extremely limber Indian actresses.) The final scene features an elaborately conceived and, no doubt, crowd-pleasing Bollywood song-and-dance number. While entertaining, it argues for Chan to stick to what he does best. The Blu-ray adds “Best of Both Worlds,” on the film’s cross-cultural influences; “The Dynamic Duo,” a brief dual profile of Stanley Tong and Jackie Chan; the 22-minute “The Making of Kung Fu Yoga”; a featurette dedicated to the Bollywood dance number; bloopers; and another brief piece on Chan.

The Breaking Point: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
In one of those only-in-Hollywood scenarios, who could have imagined that Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel, “To Have and Have Not” would prove sufficiently flexible to be adapted three times in 15 years – twice, by the same studio, on the same backlot — and set in three different locations? As the story goes, Howard Hawks bet Papa that he could make a good film out of Hemingway’s worst novel, which he considered to be the Depression Era “To Have and Have Not.” Among other changes, Hawks changed the settings from Key West and Cuba, to Martinique, during the Vichy regime. Five years later, Michael Curtiz’ far more faithful, The Breaking Point, would move the smuggling operation from Mexico to southern California. In 1958, Don Siegel’s The Gun Runners presaged the Cuban revolution by restaging the story in Hemingway’s original locations and reshaping the book’s political overtones. Then, in 1987, Iranian filmmaker Naser Taghvai re-located the story to southern Iran and the Persian Gulf and called it Captain Khorshid. It would be interesting to see if Taghavi retained Lauren Bacall’s scintillating entrance – “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow” – which overshadowed everything else to come. (The famous double-entendre wasn’t in Hemingway’s novel.) Criterion Collection has done us all a big favor with its 2K digital restoration of The Breaking Point, which nicely recaptures the look of Curtiz and cinematographer Ted McCord’s “daytime noir.” This time, John Garfield plays the honest, if financially destitute charter-boat captain, Harry Morgan, who, after being stiffed by a client in Mexico, is hired by a shady lawyer, Duncan (Wallace Ford), to smuggle Chinese immigrants into the U.S. No sooner does he pack the boat with the illegal cargo than the immigrants’ handler attempts to short change Harry out of his agreed-upon fee. It causes the former PT-boat captain to abort the mission, but not before he gets into a physical altercation he’ll soon regret.

It opens him up to being blackmailed by Duncan, who’s been newly commissioned to supply an escape route for the robbers of a Los Angeles race track. Naturally, he turns to his pal, Harry, whose boat has been confiscated by the Coast Guard, while the incident is being investigated. Lacking the money to make the payments on the boat while it’s unavailable for fishing junkets, Morgan reluctantly accepts Duncan’s offer. If nothing else, the fixer’s connections in the Coast Guard will put the kibosh on the investigation. In doing so, Harry once again tests the patience of his increasingly frustrated wife, Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter), who wants him to sell the boat and move someplace where he won’t be tempted to break the law. Too proud to admit defeat, Harry begins to hang out at a local watering hole, where a femme fatale only one or two degrees less hot than Bacall is singing. The flirtatious blond beauty, Leona Charles (Patricia Neal), had hitched a ride back to Newport with Harry after she, too, was left high and dry in Mexico, and by the same cad. In 1950, the Production Code prevented Curtiz from revealing the details of Leona’s chosen profession, even if Neal’s come-ons make it clear that she gets by on the comfort of strangers. She’s terrific, as is Garfield, who somehow manages to keep things platonic. The Blu-ray package adds an interview with Curtiz biographer and film historian Alan K. Rode; a new piece, featuring actor and acting instructor Julie Garfield speaking about her father; a video essay by filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, analyzing Curtiz’ directorial techniques; excerpts from a 1962 episode of the “Today” show, showing contents of the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, including items related to “To Have and Have Not”; and an essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek.

The presence of Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino in any movie, even one that debuts on VOD platforms, would be reason enough to recommend it to fans of independent films. Shannon can be counted on for delivering the kinds of performances whose intensity can be measured on a Richter scale. At 45, Gugino defines what it means to be a MILF. Moreover, she’s the rare actress who’s as comfortable on television (“Roadies,” “Entourage”) as she is in movies that run the gamut from G and PG (The Mighty MacsSpy Kids), to R and unrated (Sin City, The Center of the World), playing everything from moms and nuns, to hookers and killers. She literally defies being typecast. In Wolves, writer/director Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints) has created an ideal vehicle for both fine actors, as well as relative newcomer, Taylor John Smith (You Get Me). He plays a talented high school basketball player, Anthony, whose dream of attending Cornell on a full scholarship is well within his reach. (Yes, he’s white, but stay with me.)  He’s a sharpshooter at the three-point line, team captain and generous, to a fault. At one point, he insists that the coach insert a bench-warmer into the game, then, instead of shooting the game-winner himself, passes to the unproven player. It’s the kind of decision that not only loses games, but turns off recruiters only interested in closers, to borrow a Mametism.

Ultimately, though, Anthony’s greatest opponent turns out to be his father, Lee (Shannon), a novelist and professor at a Manhattan college. He’s also a degenerate gambler and ex-jock, who pushes the boy to be more physically aggressive. Anthony’s most avid allies are his mother, Jenny (Gugino), and African-American girlfriend, Victoria (Zazie Beetz), who’s been cautioned against having sex in the week before a big game. You know how that works. Without spoiling the story’s trajectory, all I will say is that Freundlich succumbs to the temptation of throwing the kitchen sink at Anthony’s chances for success. In addition to the inherent drama of a championship campaign, the writer/director lards the storyline with Lee’s addiction to sports betting, ruthless bookies, a needless sexual dalliance and pregnancy, the possible loss of a scholarship, the introduction of an unlikely, if entirely welcome mentor, and an all-too-convenient injury. By comparison, Wolves makes Hoop Dreams and Hoosiers look like magic-carpet rides. Jenny’s also unfairly penalized by her husband’s bad decisions. A final twist puts everything up for grabs. If one can forgive Freundlich his excesses, Wolves is an extremely compelling entertainment. The basketball action is credible and the gritty New York milieu is a big plus.

In the Shadow of Women
Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman
If the French auteur Philippe Garrel is known for anything in the U.S., it’s probably for his 10-year professional and personal relationship with Nico … yes, that one. Among the things he shared with the onetime member of the Velvet Underground is an addiction to heroin. It factored into his films of the 1970s, several of which featured the tall, blond German. He kicked the habit – Nico, too – in 1979. Even in Europe, Garrel’s deeply personal and consciously artistic films play better at festivals than in general release. Although he was born too late to be a member of the French New Wave, his work reflected a willingness to experiment with the same methods of expression, existential themes and realistic settings as those favored by its standard-bearers. It can be seen, as well, in In the Shadow of Women, which, while released in 2015, sometimes looks as if it were made in 1968. The atmospheric black-and-white cinematography and natural interaction between the male and female characters recalls Truffaut and Godard. At 73 minutes, it feels more like a short story or modern fable than a full-blown romantic drama. The title is a bit misleading, too, in that the self-centered male character, Pierre (Stanislas Merhar), appears to be in control of the narrative flow throughout most of In the Shadow of Women … until, all of a sudden, he isn’t. Pierre is married to Manon (Clotilde Courau), who contributes to his documentaries, but makes money doing odd jobs. His latest project is a portrait of an elderly resistance fighter (Jean Pommier), who tells stories while his wife dutifully serves the tea. Because of his seeming indifference to Manon, we’re not terribly surprised to learn that he’s involved romantically with a trainee, Elisabeth (Lena Paugam), who he treats like a sex toy. Unbeknownst to Pierre, Manon is enjoying a dalliance of her own … really enjoying it. When Elisabeth stumbles upon the affair, she hesitates to tell Pierre, knowing his male ego might not be able to handle the deception. She decides to use the disclosure as a weapon during one of their fights. His reaction helps explain the title, as does the final twist. The Icarus release will reward Francophiles who make the effort to find it.

When asked to nominate a potential candidate for inclusion in the French television series “Cinema, of Our Time” – revived from the original 1960-70s interview series — Chantal Akerman jokingly suggested herself as subject matter. She envisioned a film consisting solely of excerpts from her films, but, when pressed by the producers to include footage of herself, Akerman grudgingly agreed to divide Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman into two parts. The first part opens with Akerman in her apartment, reading from a text directly to the camera, describing the problems she encountered making this film. It’s personal, sometimes funny and occasionally hostile, I think. In the second half, Akerman lets her films – 40 years’ worth of them — speak for themselves and her. In doing so, she creates an entirely new movie, comprised of clips from her extensive filmography that have been linked without specific identification into a separate, equally personal narrative.

The Glamour & the Squalor
Cautionary tales about the rock-’n’-roll lifestyle have been circulating ever since there was a lifestyle that required caution. Despite the many warnings, however, every newly minted rock god has succumbed to the temptations that come with overnight fame and wealth. Who wouldn’t? There are so few opportunities to tempt fate in such exhilarating ways. The title of Marq Evans’ compelling documentary, The Glamour & the Squalor, could apply to any number of cautionary tales … past, present and to come. Legendary West Coast disc jockey Marco Collins came of age at a time when the person spinning the platters was nearly as essential to a teenager’s identity as the musicians on the records being spun. Listeners trusted DJs to introduce them to the songs that not only would provide the soundtrack of their young lives, but sometimes also change them forever. Playlists mixed songs by new acts and established stars, without regard for color, gender or genre. That came to a crushing halt in the 1980s, when consultants and other corporate weasels homogenized the playlists, shortened the rotation of hit songs, discouraged innovation and practically eliminated racial diversity. The same thing happened to MTV. By the time, Collins hit his stride, the freedom to play the kind of music that mattered was reserved for college radio stations and a handful of commercial outlets, such as KYSR 98.7, in Los Angeles; KCR and XTRA-FM (91X), in San Diego; KPIG, in Santa Cruz; KITS (Live 105), in San Francisco; KNDD in Seattle; and KWOD in Sacramento. Their range was limited, but listeners remained loyal. Walkmans opened one door to personal choice and CDs opened another one. MP3 players and iPods allowed anyone with the time, patience and access to music libraries to become their own deejay. Today, the barriers separating artists and listeners have been flattened and access to music videos no longer is dictated by a bunch of cable staffers in Manhattan or Santa Monica.

After Collins broke his cherry on a college radio station in San Diego, he moved across town to 91X and, for a time, worked in radio promotions at Relativity Records. He accepted a challenge at Seattle’s “107.7: The End,” at a time when mainstream radio was actively ignoring the city’s thriving underground music scene and emergence of grunge. Collins is credited with helping break such artists as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Beck and Weezer, and for debuting tracks by Garbage, Death Cab for Cutie, Sunny Day Real Estate and Everclear. He was wooed by bands, labels, struggling stations and cable stations, alike. His integrity and passion were considered unimpeachable. In The Glamour & the Squalor, Evans chronicles Marco’s unexpected rise, spectacular success and inevitable demise. A mad addiction to drugs could have been predicted from the issuance of his first adult paycheck. It came with the territory. Collins’ desire to get clean caused him to leave the business, while at an exalted position in New York. The film also describes how difficult it was to be a gay public figure in the 1990s. It was tough enough to gain the acceptance of his father, a former cop, without also having to deal with the prejudices of musicians, who professed liberality, but harbored the same prejudices and intolerance of their fans. After coming out, Collins actively supported efforts in Washington to legalize same-sex marriage and combat violence against the LGBTQ community. He would return to radio and deejaying. In 2010, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored him with an exhibit, marking his contributions to the rise of Seattle’s grunge scene.

Apostle of Dracula
If movies about vampires are a dime-a-dozen right now, it doesn’t mean anyone is going to stop adding to the glut by exploring new variations on the theme. Apostle of Dracula doesn’t offer much of anything fresh, either, except for the exotic presence of Nathalie Legosles, as Lucy Westenra, the Count’s first victim. But, then, the women selected to play Lucy have always tended to be spectacularly sexy, so that isn’t terribly fresh, either. What makes Emilio Schargorodsky’s film worth a shot by Dracula completists, at least, is a presentation that combines interesting visuals with a mesmerizing score, all delivered on the cheap by some passionate beginners. Here, Lucy engages in a hot and bloody affair with Dracula (Javier Caffarena). Many years later, after nine eclipses, she begins to recover from a strange amnesia. It allows Lucy to realize her true identity as a creature with a desperate thirst for blood. Van Helsing (Paul Lapidus) tries to save her from the clutches of the vampire, but her dark dream of living eternally with Dracula may be too difficult to overcome. Apostle of Dracula (a.k.a., “Dracula 0.9”) not only is based on the Bram Stoker classic, but the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Spanish genre hero, Jess Franco, who, by the way, supplies an interesting interview as a bonus feature. There’s also a featurette on Javier Caffarena’s score and orchestration.

Diamond Cartel
Ever wonder how an action/thriller directed and co-written by Borat Sagdiyev (a.k.a., Sacha Baron Cohen) might look? No, me either. If he had, though, it would probably resemble Salamat Mukhammed-Ali’s Diamond Cartel (a.k.a., “The Whole World at Our Feet”), in that it features an international cast of well-known actors he might have met in his travels, it’s completely over the top and nothing about the movie makes any sense. And, of course, it was made in his Kazakhstan homeland, with $7 million worth of Kazak tenges. Armand Assante plays Mussa, a casino magnate who’s determined to purchase the Star of East diamond from the Hong-Kong triad boss, Mr. Lo. He sends his girlfriend to Hong Kong with $30 million to purchase the gem, but, of course, things don’t work out as planned. Instead, the next 90 minutes, or so, overflow with insane conspiracies, stabbed backs, booby traps, shootouts and schemes so complex they could only be explained in the native tongue, instead of English. The cast includes Armand Assante, Olivier Gruner, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Michael Madsen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Bolo Yeung and Peter O’Toole. Yes, the same Peter O’Toole who passed from this mortal coil more than three years ago. That’s how long Diamond Cartel has been in one stage of production, or another. The only Kazak actor of note is Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova, a skilled assassin whose name is longer than she is tall. There’s a lot of crazy stuff happening here, but it’s hard to say if anyone outside Astana is likely to care.

Movies involving scary dolls tend to fall into three categories: ventriloquist dummies, possessed toys and voodoo. Charlotte isn’t likely to be mistaken for Annabelle, Child’s Play or, even, Dolly Dearest. In Patrick Rea’s horror anthology, a doll with a cracked face draws the attention of a little boy’s babysitter. When his mother calls to check in, the sitter asks her about the curious-looking doll staring at her from the bookshelf. Her answer is, of course, “Doll … what doll? We don’t have a doll.” The sitter then finds herself tied to a bed, in front of a television playing a series of horror shorts, controlled by the doll who isn’t supposed to be there. Like most such anthologies, the ability of the stories to induce nightmares ranges from zero to maybe.

The Hunter’s Prayer: Bluray
Shot in Yorkshire and Hungary, action auteur Jonathan Mostow’s The Hunter’s Prayer is so packed with car chases, shootouts and brawls that it’s easy to forget the reason everyone’s acting as crazy as they are. Not that it matters, really. Sam Worthington plays Lucas, an expert assassin marked for death after his conscience prevents him from killing the daughter of a previously murdered couple. Instead, he decides to protect the coltish teenager, Elle (Odeya Rush), from the killers who are contracted by a corrupt and greedy lawyer, Richard (Allen Leech), and are headed for her Swiss boarding school to kill both of them. Ella doesn’t know Lucas from the man in the moon, so she’s rightfully skeptical when he pulls her and her boyfriend from the dancefloor of a local disco. After Lucas finally wins her trust – not easy after she watches him shoot up — a turncoat FBI agent (Amy Landecker) attempts to lure Ella into a different sort of trap. The chase across Europe isn’t bad, even if the relationship between Elle and Lucas isn’t as well-crafted as the ones in Léon: The Professional, Gloria and Blood Father. The mystery of who killed Elle’s parents remains until the movie’s end. The Blu-ray adds “The Cost of Killing: Making The Hunter’s Prayer”; “The World of the Hunter,” which takes a look at some of the locations, including the gorgeous estate that serves as Addison’s mansion; and “Creating the Driving Force,” which documents one of the car chases and how digital grading affected it.

Cinematic Titanic: The Complete Collection
The recent revival of “MST3K” on Netflix was marketed in some quarters as the second coming of one of television’s most cherished assets. And, in a very real sense, it was. The primary difference between this “MST3K” and previous editions is a cast of newcomers, comprised of Jonah Ray as the new human test subject, along with Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt. In fact, it’s merely the latest incarnation of a franchise too tough to die. Or, maybe, too flexible. Either way, reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated. One such iteration, “Cinematic Titanic,” represents an ambitious side-project launched, in 2007, by five of the original cast members and writers, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl and Frank Conniff. The live show was performed before tens of thousands of “MST’ies” in traditional venues across the country. It wasn’t the only such show extant, either, just the most authentic. Sadly, as any musician or comedian can attest, there’s a huge gap between performing before a television camera and in front of a live audience. Among other things, material that feels fresh or improvised on TV usually has been rehearsed and polished until it gleams. Working without a net puts everything at risk, including an artist’s pride and reputation. The setup is virtually the same here. The cast members sit with their backs to the audience in front of large screen, upon which a typically lousy genre film – unprotected by copyright – is eviscerated by former passengers on the Satellite of Love. While still funny, the ratio of laughs to gags is significantly less impressive on stage. “Cinematic Titanic: The Complete Collection” collects all 12 movies riffed on by the troupe, including their live shows and direct-to-video releases. The titles include: The Oozing Skull, Doomsday Machine, The Wasp Woman, Legacy of Blood, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, Blood of the Vampires, East Meets Watts, The Alien Factor, Danger on Tiki Island, War of the Insects and Rattlers.

Even before the movie opens, Cosmos Kiindarius and co-writer Spence Griffeth make a serious point about the hazards of land mines left behind from wars long in the past. Tens of thousands of civilians are killed or maimed each year by explosive devices intended for soldiers trained to watch their every step when marching through a potential minefield. Set in Vietnam, 40 years after the war’s end, Stand takes the data and uses it as the foundation for a story about estranged brothers and unresolved hostilities. Bob Marcus (Louis Carazo) has arrived in Ho Chi Minh City to reconnect with his brother, Luke (Alexander Marcus III), a physician who disappointed their father by using his medical degree to treat peasants. While traveling through the countryside, they stop to take advantage of some street cuisine. Before they know it, a local boy has snatched a piece of property that causes the Marcuses to chase him into the jungle. In a troubling accident, the boy chased is blown to smithereens by an anti-personnel device left behind either by the Americans, North Vietnamese being, Viet Cong or South Vietnamese Army. It no longer matters what side is responsible, because no one outside the International Campaign to Ban Landmines really cares about dead non-combatants. (Citing the potential for war in Korea, the U.S. has yet to join the 162 other state entities that have ratified the Ottawa Treaty outlawing land mines. Neither have Russia and China.) Stand’s central conceit requires Bob and Luke to step on what they believe to be a landmine at precisely the same time. If they take their weight off the device, it’s possible that, like the boy, they’ll become victims of a long-ago conflict. Because of their location in the forest, it’s unlikely anyone will hear their cries for help. It’s more likely they’ll encounter a tiger, fire ants or a sudden case of the trots. It also gives them plenty of time to argue about who was loved more by their parents and why they came to resent each other’s achievements. Apart from being overwrought, the discussion seems to be an overly cynical use of a serious issue to settle a personal score.

Mount Joy
Any movie whose male protagonist is a boy named Sue should either be based on the hit song by Johnny Cash or have a strong LGBTQ point of view. Mount Joy doesn’t qualify on either count. Instead, Jack Lewars and M. Angelo Mena’s film is a modern melodrama in which Sue’s name could just as easily been Frank. Sue sings and plays guitar in a band from rural Pennsylvania, the Living Daylights, which appears to have been heavily influenced by Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp. On the eve of their first national tour, its manager, Alex (Katie Hyde), splits town without a reason, leaving her boyfriend, Sue, and her two brothers high and dry. After the band cancels its first couple of engagements, it becomes clear that Sue is in no shape to continue. Then, almost as suddenly, Alex returns to town, ostensibly to sell the house she and the boys inherited when their parents died. As befits any house inhabited by musicians, slackers and their girlfriends, it’s a mess. But, that isn’t really the point. As much as we want her to hook back up with Sue, she continues to harbor a deep dark secret. When it’s finally revealed, Mount Joy becomes something quite different. Suffice it to say that, 60 years ago, Susan Hayward would have been the logical actress to play Alex. Mount Joy has all the same problems as most indie features written and directed by freshman filmmakers, who also happen to be broke. The music is pretty good, though, and Katie Hyde’s performance is downright infectious.

Female Fight Squad
By now, finding a movie in which beautiful young women kick the shit out of each other for fun and profit is about as difficult as locating a Western with a bar fight. It may still represent a subset of the larger martial-arts/MMA/boxing genre, but, apparently, there’s a ready audience for such things. I seriously doubt if movies such as Female Fight Squad (a.k.a., Female Fight Club”) would hold the same appeal if the combatants more closely resembled Melissa McCarthy – at her heaviest, anyway – than your average NBA cheerleader. Miguel A. Ferrer and co-writer Anastazja Davis’ debut feature isn’t hampered by stereotypical portrayals of woman fighters, though. Not only are the actresses hot, but they look as if they could hold their own against the gladiators in Netflix’s “GLOW.” Veteran stuntwoman and rising action-film star Amy Johnston plays Rebecca, a former underground fighter who left the game – and town — to avoid being implicated in the killing of the man who raped her sister. Their father, Holt (Dolph Lundgren), takes the fall in the case, and is cooling his heels in prison. When the sister, Kate (Cortney Palm), requires more help, Rebecca reluctantly agrees to return to Las Vegas to prepare her fighting club for an encounter with the team sponsored by a crooked promoter. Eventually, of course, Rebecca will be spurred into getting back into the “pit” to take on the bad gals. There’s enough action here to satisfy the demands of most MMA fans, including a convincing scene in which Lundgren takes on three thugs who don’t know any better than to pick on musclebound Swedes. There’s nothing here, however, that will make anyone forget Fight Club.

The First Great Escape
Heroes of the Somme
It’s safe to say that most Americans share a woefully inadequate appreciation for the price by paid by our European allies in World War I. We got into the fray pretty late in the game, avoiding most of the carnage incurred in the trenches. It means that the American public also missed out on many of the stories of heroism that marked the bitter fighting and political struggles to put an end to it. The made-for-TV documentary “The First Great Escape” – the title refers to John Sturges’ World War II drama, set in a German POW camp – tells the remarkable story of a partly successful escape from one of the Kaiser’s most formidable prisons. Holzminden was declared escape-proof by Camp Commandant Karl Niemeyer, a vindictive and arrogant man who had an appalling reputation for mistreatment of POWs. To prove him wrong, 29 British officers spent 10 months constructing a narrow tunnel under the noses of their German captors. Only 10 would complete the journey to neutral Holland and return home as heroes. The logistics, alone, are fascinating.

Made initially for audiences in Northern Ireland, “Heroes of the Somme” tells the harrowing story of how home-grown troops helped break the months-long stalemate along the trench line in northern France. More than 3 million men fought in this battle — one of the bloodiest in human history — with a third being listed as wounded, missing or dead. Several different national forces joined France and Britain in the 1916 offensive. Original archives from the Western Front are used to uncover the stories of seven of the Irish soldiers whose remarkable bravery in 1916 was rewarded with the Victoria Cross, Britain’s most prized military medal. Not all of them lived to receive it in person. All except one has been accorded hero status in Northern Ireland. The other, who lived just south of the border with the republic, was treated as if he wasn’t there. Interviews with descendants and historians reveal the personal stories of each medal winner, exploring the differing fortunes they experienced and the variety of reasons for which they fought. Both films are enhanced by dramatic re-enactments and archival film footage.

Kept Boy
Based on a 1996 novel by Chicago writer Robert Rodi (“Fag Hag”), Kept Boy is described as a dark comedy about interior designer and reality-show star Fairleigh Knock (Thure Riefenstein), who enjoys collecting and keeping beautiful things. They include a young and attractive boy toy Dennis (Jon Paul Phillips). On the occasion of his 30th birthday, Dennis is given an ultimatum by Fairleigh to clear out or get a job. His TV show has hit a ratings’ doldrums and he’s been advised to contain his spending. To his dismay, Dennis is replaced in all regards by the pool boy, Jasper (Greg Audino), who, we’ll learn, isn’t as dense as he pretends to be. Although Dennis can’t find meaningful work, he does manage to remain within Farleigh’s orbit. A trip to visit Jasper’s relatives in Cartagena adds a bit of mystery to a comedy that isn’t very dark or funny. I suspect many viewers will find Kept Boy to be reasonably sexy, though. Not having read the book, I can’t say if the many contradictory story elements were built into the narrative or simply ended up there to expedite the competition between Dennis and Jasper. The movie’s best scenes come in Colombia, where director George Bamber takes full advantage of the exotic locations.

I Am Battle Comic
In his 2010 documentary, I Am Comic, Jordan Brady collected the wisdom of dozens of standup comedians to share with audiences the art and occupational hazards of their craft. It was, at once, entertaining and illuminating. His follow-up doc, I Am Battle Comic, is, at once, funny and inspirational. It’s informed by interviews and performances by George Lopez, Tammy Pescatelli, Dave Attell, Wayne Federman George Wallace, Murray Valeriano, Jennifer Rawlings, Shawn Halpin, Slade Ham, Bob Kubota, Don Barnhart and Dick Capri, all of whom are veterans of USO tours in the Middle East. The performances are as different from those showcased annually by Bob Hope, on NBC, as night is to day. Among other things, the tours can best be described as no-frills affairs, with most shows taking place in venues no larger than a dining hall and forward operating base within a long mortar’s shot of the enemy. There aren’t any orchestras, Miss America contestants, all-star athletes or movie stars. Sometimes, the camps to which the comics are ferried by helicopter hold fewer than a dozen soldiers. All are treated as if they’re sitting in the audience at “The Tonight Show.” The doc probably could have benefitted from being a bit more far reaching and forthcoming about the limits put on them by government censors, but that’s just me. One of the strongest points made pertains to the ability of comics who are against the war to put aside their political opinions to raise the spirits of soldiers who would prefer being anywhere else but where they’re currently stationed.

The Taisho Trilogy: Three films by Seijun Suzuki: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
If all one knew about Japanese director Seijun Suzuki were the titles of such pulpy fare as Take Aim at the Police Van, Fighting Delinquents, The Man with the Hollow-Tip Bullets, Million Dollar Smash-and-Grab, Branded to Kill, Stories of Bastards: Born Under a Bad Star and Tattooed Life, it would be impossible to imagine the same man being capable of something as hypnotically beautiful and intellectually stimulating as the “The Taisho Trilogy.” It’s as if Sam Fuller had emerged from his decade-long hiatus in 1980 to make Koyaanisqatsi, instead of The Big Red One. After churning out four or five B-movies a year for Nikkatsu, Suzuki was asked at the last minute to rescue a yakuza project. Rather than follow the usual approach to such material, he incorporated several offbeat techniques and non-conventional influences. It also mocked genre conventions and studio values, and contained nudity. The result, Branded to Kill, underperformed at the box office, causing studio head Kyūsaku Hori to set the wheels in motion for Suzuki’s dismissal. When the director challenged the studio’s action in court, he was effectively blacklisted by Nikkatsu and other Japanese studios. Branded to Kill and other Suzuki favorites have since found appreciative audiences in Japan and achieved cult status in the west. “The Taisho Trilogy” is comprised of the multiple Japanese Academy Award-winner, Zigeunerweisen, Kageroza and Yumeji. They bear comparison to other works that confuse reality and dreams, by such masters as Federico Fellini, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jacques Rivette, Alain Resnais, David Lynch and Akira Kurosawa, in Dreams.

All three of the films in the Arrow collection are set between 1912 and 1926, the period coinciding with the reign of the Emperor Taishō. It was considered the time of the liberal movement known as the “Taishō democracy,” when Japan experienced unprecedented prosperity and a gradual acceptance of western cultural values, fashions and technology. As a long-isolated civilization in transition, however, its people maintained a hold on gender and economic divisions, as well as a willingness to be swayed by supernatural forces. Released in 1980, Zigeunerweisen follows former colleagues from the military academy, who reunite years later under very different circumstances, in a rural brothel. One teaches German at the university, while the other has dropped out of polite society to live like a wandering ronin. They will share the affections of the same geisha and engage in risky sexual games with wives. Denied proper distribution, Suzuki elected to exhibit the film inside an inflatable dome on the roof of a department store. It became a surprise hit. A year later came Kagerô-za (a.k.a., “Heat-Haze Theatre”), in which a 1920s playwright meets a mysterious and beautiful woman, Shinako, who may be the ghost of his shotgun-toting patron’s deceased wife. The playwright also finds himself enchanted by his patron’s current wife, a geisha who resembles Shinako, except for her habit of turning blond and blue-eyed with the moonlight. Released in 1991, Yumeji is a ghost story built around real-life painter/poet Takehisa Yumeji’s encounter with a ravishing widow with a dark past. The chronic philanderer and dreamer is played by former rock star Kenji Sawada. All three of the films, which look spectacular on Blu-ray, are expertly introduced by critic Tony Rayns. There’s also a lengthy interview with Suzuki, analysis of the trilogy by Rayns and a shorter making-of piece. The first pressing contains a booklet, featuring writing on the films by critic Jasper Sharp and others.

Re-Animator: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Although Stuart Gordon’s game-changing 1985 gore-fest, Re-Animator, is hardly underrepresented in Blu-ray, any reconsideration by Arrow Video is worthy of our attention. Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s serialized tale of terror, “Herbert West: Reanimator” (1921-22), and featuring a standout performance from Jeffrey Combs as the deranged scientist, it merged familiar sci-fi/horror tropes with darkly comic takeoffs on then-current slasher/splatter fare. Critics also recognized the method in the Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna’s madness. With his actress/wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, he founded the Chicago Organic Theater Company, which became widely known for presenting such adventurous fare as “The Warp Trilogy,” David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” “Bleacher Bums” and “E-R.” Re-Animator was originally devised by Gordon as a stage production and, when the board balked at a horror show, a half-hour television pilot. That script was revised to become a feature film, with an estimated budget of $900,000. It received an X rating, but was edited to gain an “R” for distribution through video-rental stores. (It’s closer to NC-17.) It would return to theaters as a cult classic, perfectly suited for midnight screenings. The difference between Re-Animator and, say, “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” and “Blood for Dracula,” is that Paul Morrissey’s approach was campy, almost mocking the genre, while Gordon’s inky black sensibilities recalled the Grand-Guignol tradition.

In it, Professor Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a scientist who has discovered a formula that brings the dead back to life by reanimating their tissue. After an experiment in Switzerland goes awry, he moves to a college in New England to continue his experiments. There, he’s confronted by Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), about the accuracy of his theory on when death occurs. Soon thereafter, all hell breaks loose in the laboratory, where headless bodies and bodiless heads compete with reanimated zombies to freak everyone out, including viewers. Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of the college dean, gets the shock of her life when she awakens from unconsciousness, strapped to a gurney, naked, being molested by a disembodied colleague. It’s one of the most celebrated sequences on Mr. Skin.

The two-disc limited edition features 4K restorations of the unrated and integral versions of the film, in Digipak packaging, featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson; a collector’s booklet, with new writing by Michael Gingold; and the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety. In addition, there’s commentaries with Gordon, Yuzna, and actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott and Robert Sampson; “Re-Animator Resurrectus,” a documentary on the making of the film; interviews with Gordon and Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composers Richard Band and composer Richard Band, Fangoria editor Tony Timponem, and Barbara Crampton; deleted and extended scenes; and “A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema,” a featurette looking at the many various cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work.

Don’t Look in the Basement/Don’t Look in the Basement 2: Blu-ray
Like nuns and ventriloquists’ dummies, the mentally ill have always have always been considered fair game for exploitation in horror flicks. You would have to be nuts to commit such hideous crimes, right? Even abandoned asylums are haunted by the misdeeds of former patients. Released in 1973, hot on the heels of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, the crudely made Don’t Look in the Basement (a.k.a., “The Forgotten,” “Death Ward #13”) became a favorite of drive-in audiences. (They shared the tagline, “To avoid fainting, keep repeating to yourself: ‘It’s only a movie … it’s only a movie … it’s only a movie.’”) In Texas auteur S.F. Brownrigg’s debut, a young psychiatric nurse goes to work at a lonesome asylum following a murder. There, she experiences varying degrees of torment from the patients, who’ve been encouraged to act out their psychoses, including using an ax to commit murder, necrophilia and, of course, nymphomania. Eventually, the inmates actually do take control of the asylum. Don’t Look in the Basement is a lose reimagining of the Edgar Allan Poe story, “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.” Under any title, it’s a bloody mess, though not without its camp value. As Nurse Charlotte, 1972 Playboy cover girl Rosie Holotik (Horror High) joined a long list of former Bunnies who would became footnotes in genre history as scream queens. Alas, Claudia Jennings she’s wasn’t. Included on the disc is Tony Brownrigg’s 2015 sequel, Don’t Look in the Basement 2, which picks up the story 40 years after the events described in his dad’s opus. This time, the only known survivor returns to the asylum to find the ghosts of the past have not been resting in peace. This time around, a sense of humor relieves the madness. The Brinkvision set includes commentary by Tony Brownrigg; a limited-edition slipcase cover with newly commissioned artwork; a silly featurette; and booklet, featuring articles by writers of Evilspeak Magazine, Legless Corpse Magazine and Ultra Violent Magazine.

Teen Wolf: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Teen Wolf Too: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
In the early- to mid-1980s, werewolves were as prevalent in movies as zombies are, today. Besides Teen Wolf, Teen Wolf Too and an animated adaptation for television, all of which arrived towards the end of the cycle, there were Wolfen (1981), The Howling (1981), Howling II: … Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985), The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987), The Company of Wolves (1984), Silver Bullet (1985) and An American Werewolf in London, which, in 1981, won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup. Like Rod Daniel’s highly successful Teen Wolf, Larry Cohen’s Full Moon High (1981) may not have come to pass if it weren’t for Michael Landon’s unforgettable turn in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). After three years of playing Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties,” Michael J. Fox’s movie career was about to explode. Because Teen Wolf was released only a month after the debut of Back to the Future, a big opening weekend was practically assured. If only a handful of critics embraced the genre comedy, audiences found it to their liking. Fox would disappoint its producers by choosing to appear in sequels to Bob Zemeckis’ budding franchise, rather than endure the arduous makeup process required of him in Teen Wolf Too. Apparently, too, he wasn’t a fan of the original, in which Scott Howard’s newfound powers not only turned him into respected basketball star, but also allowed him to bond with his lycan father.

The sequel, also sent out by Scream Factory as a Collector’s Edition, would provide Jason Bateman with a launching pad for a movie career, which only recently began to peak. He plays Todd Howard, Scott’s similarly hirsute cousin, who wants nothing more from college than to train for a career as a veterinarian. Instead, the school’s boxing coach hopes to take advantage of the family secret by recruiting him for the team. Once again, his superhuman abilities make him a BMOC. Todd seeks guidance from his professor (Kim Darby), who has a secret of her own, and is the perfect position to teach him an important lesson. This time around, audiences agreed with critics, by not showing up in droves. A second sequel, with a female protagonist, was shelved. MTV has found success with a live-action “Teen Wolf” series, starring Tyler Posey, which will be reprised in 2019.

As usual, there’s a bevy of new bonus features on both discs. They include “Never. Say. Die. The Story of Teen Wolf,” a 143-minute documentary about the making and legacy of the film, with interviews with writers Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman; producers Mark Levinson and Scott Rosenfelt; stars Susan Ursitti-Sheinberg, Jerry Levine, Matt Adler, Jim MacKrell and Troy Evans; basketball double Jeff Glosser; casting director Paul Ventura; production designer Chester Kaczenski; special effects make-up artist Jeff Dawn; and editor Lois Freeman-Fox. “Too” adds interviews with director Christopher Leitch, co-stars Kim Darby, Stuart Fratkin and Estee Chandler; and “A Wolf in ’80s Clothing,” with costume designer Heidi Kaczenski.

MHz Choice: The Bridge: Season 3
IFC: Portlandia: Season Seven
Disney Junior: Kate & Mim-Mim: Super Kate
A few weeks ago, I noted the release on DVD of the second season of the French/English co-production of “The Tunnel,” a spinoff of the superlative Danish/Swedish thriller, “The Bridge.” The folks at MHz Networks were kind enough to send me a copy of the third season of series, which was released on DVD in April. It stars Sofia Helin, as the intrepid Swedish detective, Saga. Like her French and American counterparts – played by Clémence Poésy and Diane Kruger – Saga is noticeably awkward in social situations. Series creator Hans Rosenfeld has said that he avoided briefing the show’s cast members on the cause of her “odd behavior,” so as “to prevent the actors from rushing off and learning a textbook approach to Asperger’s syndrome or autism from the same source material. … I hoped that each individual cast and crew member would have a more personal reaction to Saga’s character traits and research accordingly.” In this way, I think, her character resembles Vincent D’Onofrio’s obsessively brilliant Robert Goren, in “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” The third season opens with the truly grisly murder of a prominent gender activist and owner of Copenhagen’s first gender-neutral children’s nursery. Saga is assigned to the case, together with a new Danish colleague, Henrik (Thure Lindhardt). The ritualistic killing is only the first in a series of shocking crimes that may or may not be linked to Saga and Henrik’s own pasts. To call “Season Three” binge-worthy is only to state the obvious.

The good news from Oregon is that IFC’s “Portlandia” will return in 2018 for an eighth season. The bad? It’s likely to be the Peabody-, WGA- and Emmy Award-winning show’s final go-round. It’s difficult to imagine many other American cities sufficiently quirky to sustain eight seasons’ worth of offbeat comedy and spot-on spoofs of their residents’ idiosyncrasies. Season 7 guest stars included Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), Natasha Lyonne (American Pie), Steve Buscemi (Reservior Dogs), Laurie Metclak (“The Big Bang Theory”), Rachel Dratch (“SNL”) and Run the Jewels. After all this time, the show hasn’t lost any of its ability make the city’s pompous hipsters, politically correct activists and anti-Californication nuts look delightfully silly.

Kate & Mim-Mim” focuses on the friendship and adventures of a 5-year-old girl, Kate, and her favorite toy, a plush bunny named Mim-Mim. Here, Kate, Mim-Mim and their friends spend four fun-filled adventures in Mimiloo. In the story “Super Kate,” Tack zaps everyone with his supercharger invention, giving them super powers. Kate gets super jumping power and Mim-Mim super hearing power. Boomer gets into a bouncy predicament because of his super speed.

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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