MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Gift Guide 3: 100 Years Olympics Films, One Day at a Time, Monterey Pop, 4K UHD/HDR Action Editions, Coens, Nutcracker, Stronger, mother!, Leatherface… and more

100 Years of Olympic Films: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Olympics movement has come a long way since the IOC reinstituted the Games in 1896, in Athens, only a hop, skip and very long jump from Olympia, where the ancient Games were held from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The site has been partially reconstructed and, if you’re in the neighborhood, is well worth a visit. Held annually in honor of Zeus and other gods, the Games began with a foot race among young women competing to be anointed priestess for the goddess, Hera, while a second race was run to determine a consort for the priestess at religious ceremonies. During the Games, a truce was enacted so that athletes could travel to Olympia in safety. In 394 AD, the Nicene Christian emperor of Rome, Theodosius I, banned all festivals in the territories that were considered by the church to be pagan. Archeological evidence indicates that some games were still conducted, though. We’ll never know if doping, bribery, misplaced patriotism and fear of nuclear disaster concerned Theodosius, but those are issues confronting IOC officials and fans heading to South Korea in February. It also explains why the Criterion Collection’s epic box set, “100 Years of Olympic Films,” is such an irresistible gift idea, even at prices ranging from around $220 to $395 list price for DVD and Blu-ray editions. Besides being extremely entertaining to watch, the archival films serve as a reminder of what the world could be like if politicians paid more attention to athletics and the arts than building arsenals and putting up fences. If the Olympics could bounce back from two world wars, there’s no reason to think peace isn’t be possible in our time. “100 Years of Olympic Films” spans 41 editions of the Olympic Games, from 1912-2012, in 53 surprisingly comprehensive and impeccably restored movies. They aren’t simply newsreels shown before  features, either. The feature-length films were made under the auspices of the IOC, to be shown to audiences around the world unable to make the trips to venues. The earliest ones feature camerawork of the point-and-shoot variety, with special attention paid to dignitaries, awards ceremonies, galleries and parades, in which winter Olympians carried their skis, skates, brooms and sticks, and participants in equestrian events arrived on horseback. As recording devices became more portable, the individual contests were captured with more fluidity and imagination. In addition to the impressive 10 features contributed by Bud Greenspan, the set includes such documentary landmarks as Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (Berlin 1936), Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad (Tokyo 1964), Claude Lelouch and François Reichenbach’s 13 Days in France (Grenoble 1968), Carlos Saura’s Marathon (Barcelona 1992) and Visions of Eight (Munich 1972), with segments directed by Ichikawa, Lelouch, Miloš Forman, Yuri Ozerov, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger and Mai Zetterling.

In the first chapter, “Stockholm 1912,” Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, smiling broadly after finishing first in a race, and Native American Jim Thorpe, accept laurel wreaths and the medals he would be forced to relinquish for playing two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics. (In 1983, 30 years after his death, the IOC restored the medals.) Other legends shown in action during early chapters are “Flying Finns” Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola, Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire), and Johnny Weissmuller and three-time figure-skating champion Sonja Henie in their pre-Hollywood days. In 1936, Carl Junghans’ Youth of the World (Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936) and Riefenstahl’s brilliant two-part Olympia: Festival of the Nations/Festival of Beauty would mark a turning point in coverage of the Games, both artistically and as a platform for Adolf Hitler to demonstrate the superiority of Aryan athletes and advance his propaganda machine. (African-American sprinters Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Mack Robinson, high-jumper Cornelius Johnson and middle-distance runner John Woodruff spoiled that part of Der Fuhrer’s party.) The 1936 Summer Games were the first to be televised and broadcast live, while radio broadcasts reached 41 countries. While most of us are aware of Owens, Metcalfe and Robinson’s accomplishments, Riefenstahl’s ability to keep us guessing as to the results of other events, held 80 years ago, is truly remarkable. World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, picking up again in 1948 in St. Moritz and London, whose economy was still devastated. Neither Germany nor Japan were invited to participate, and the USSR remained ideologically opposed. (The joined the festivities in 1952, after re-evaluating their propaganda value.) The opening ceremony and over 60 hours of coverage were broadcast live on BBC television and color was added to the cinematographers’ repertoire.

The Olympics popularity catapulted from there and licensing fees turned the IOC into as much a corporate beast as any of the sponsors trying to affix their logos on anything that moved. The films, too, would take on the tenor of the times, evolving into works of art that included original music soundtracks and other conceits. For this set, however, scores for the silent films were composed by Maud Nelissen, Donald Sosin and Frido ter Beek, while Marathon added an evocative score by Alejandro Massó and contributions by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Angelo Badalamenti. As the chapters unwind, some viewers might mourn the disappearance of such old-fashioned challenges as the men’s tug of war, rope climbing, synchronized calisthenics and gymnastics, horse racing on ice, and hockey played with wooden pucks, but no helmets, masks or side boards. Splashes of unintended humor can be found throughout the early films. During a 1912 hockey game between the U.S. and Canadian, an onscreen intertitle advises, “In the audience were several women in masculine garb. They found it more convenient than skirts.” By 1928, Nurmi was refusing to be photographed, while most other athletes enjoyed the exposure, if only to say, “Hi, mom,” which didn’t require a separate text-block. By its very composition, “100 Years of Olympic Films” not only showcases the evolution of athleticism and equipment, but also the development of sports cinematography. By the late 1920s, cameras were able to bring viewers closer to the action and slow-motion was introduced to capture dives in midair and treacherous turns on the bobsled run. The boxed set represents the culmination of a monumental archival project, encompassing dozens of new 4K restorations sponsored by the IOC. The early black-and-white footage could hardly be more pristine. Chapter breaks come between events, so, if you’ve tired of, say, race walking or hand-shaking, they’re easy to skip. The package adds a lavishly illustrated, 216-page hardcover book, featuring notes on the films by cinema historian Peter Cowie. Instructive featurettes also appear on some discs.

One Day at a Time: The Complete Series
When “One Day at a Time” began its midseason run on December 16, 1975, it was the first of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcom that didn’t quite fit the mold. His fingerprints were all over “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons,” even if the shows’ roots could be traced to the British sitcoms, “Till Death Us Do Part” and “Steptoe and Son.” The short-lived “Hot l Baltimore,” adapted from an off-Broadway play by Lanford Wilson, was deemed too hot for ABC’s prime-time audience and only lasted 13 episodes. “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” became a hit in syndication, only after the networks passed on the parody of soap operas and middle-class consumer culture. Although Lear was credited with developing “One Day at a Time,” it was created by Whitney Blake and Allan Manings, a husband-and-wife writing duo, who started as actors in the 1950-60s. Blake based the series on her own life as a single mother, raising her three children — including future actress Meredith Baxter — after her divorce from her first husband. In most sitcoms of the period, unmarried women spent their time serial dating or commiserating with their friends about the losers they met. “One Day at a Time” featured a single, divorced mother, Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin), and her two daughters — the rebellious Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and smart-aleck Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) – who move from Logansport, Indiana, to an Indianapolis apartment complex, in search of a new life. As difficult as it sometimes was, Ann wanted to afford the girls the kind of freedoms her parents denied her, growing up in a dead-end town of less than 19,000 people. At first, CBS suits insisted on Ann having a male friend, at least, but, in the second season, Richard Masur was replaced by a frisky female confidante and comedic foil, played by Mary Louise Wilson. That didn’t last long, either. By then, however, Lear was able to focus on the core cast, which now included the macho-man building superintendent. Schneider (Pat Harrington) rolled his cigarette packs in the sleeve of his T-shirt, wore his tool belt like a holster and fancied himself to be a real catch. Like the characters in “Seinfeld” and other sitcoms set in apartment buildings, he didn’t feel it necessary to knock or buzz before entering their apartment and making himself at home. As popular as he became, in my opinion Schneider served the purpose of being the token white-ethnic-male stereotype. The show would last nine years on CBS, with or without my eyes on it. What I completely misjudged the first time around was the sitcom’s appeal to a generation of married or otherwise single working women who totally identified with Ann, whether her dilemmas related to raising teenage hellions or struggling to sort through the bozos courting her affections. While I had yet to encounter many, if any women in similar straits, Lear was inspired by friends, including his daughter, who provided scenarios for the moral dilemmas that challenged Bonnie each week. The Shout! Factory boxed set includes all 209 episodes of the series – a DVD first, apparently – as well as the 2005 reunion special; “This Is It: The Story of ‘One Day at a Time’”; and a new interview with Phillips and actor Glenn Scarpelli.

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
While the arrival of yet another iteration of the musical documentary, Monterey Pop, would hardly appear to qualify as news, this Criterion Collection releases represents a step up, even from the company’s stellar 2009 Blu-ray edition. Director D.A. Pennebaker personally supervised the new 16-bit 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack, as well as upgraded high-definition digital transfers of Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey, and another separate disc of outtake performances and bonus material, featuring the Association, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Blues Project, Byrds, Country Joe and the Fish, Electric Flag, Jefferson Airplane, Al Kooper, Mamas and the Papas, Laura Nyro, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Simon and Garfunkel, Tiny Tim and the Who. The rock festival concept was generated in the spring of 1967 by musician John Phillips, record producer Lou Adler, festival co-producer Alan Pariser and publicist Derek Taylor. The idea was to establish rock-’n’-roll as a form of art to be taken as seriously as jazz and folk music, both of which were already recognized as such by festivals in Monterey, Big Sur and Newport. Another idea was to introduce bands from southern and northern California to audiences who’d yet to sample them. It grew to include musicians from New York, Chicago and England. It is recalled, as well, for the first major American appearances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Who and Ravi Shankar; the first large-scale public performance of Janis Joplin; and the introduction of Otis Redding to white folks. Instead of having his team of cinematographers merely point their cameras on the musicians, on stage, Pennebaker had them seek out interesting faces in the crowd – including fellow artists — and nascent hippies on the fringes of the facility. In this way, Pennebaker laid the foundation for Michael Wadleigh’s even grander coverage of Woodstock. The three-disc Criteria package also arrives with alternate soundtracks for all three films, featuring 5.1 mixes by recording engineer Eddie Kramer, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio; commentaries by Pennebaker, Adler and music critics and historians Charles Shaar Murray and Peter Guralnick; new interviews with Adler and Pennebaker; “Chiefs” (1968), a short film by cameraman Richard Leacock, which played alongside Monterey Pop during its inaugural theatrical run; archival interviews from 2002 with Adler, Pennebaker and Phil Walden, Otis Redding’s manager; a photo-essay by photographer Elaine Mayes; Monterey International Pop Festival scrapbook; marketing material; an artists’ index; and a 72-page booklet, with essays by critics Michael Chaiken, Armond White, David Fricke, Barney Hoskyns and Michael Lydon.

Transformers: Blu-ray, 4K UHD/HDR
Interstellar: Blu-ray, 4K UHD/HDR
Terminator 2: Judgement Day: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
Paramount has decided to test the 4K UHD/HDR waters with new upgraded editions of its Transformer quintet: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Dark of the Moon (2011), Age of Extinction (2014) and, already available, The Last Knight (2017). The upgraded editions look and sound stunning in UHD/HDR – Ultra High Definition/High Dynamic Range — especially the bright yellow Bumblebee and other computer-generated characters and images. Their depth is impressive, as is the addition of theater-quality Dolby Atmos audio tracks. There aren’t any new bonus features, but commentaries and other material from previous Blu-ray editions have been ported over on separate discs. Critics may have already noted their displeasure with certain of the films, qualitatively, but fans will delight in the noticeably upgraded 4K UHD/HDR audio and visual presentation.

The studio is also trotting out Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi thriller, Interstellar, in the same advanced format. The sci-fi epic looks great, even on my system, which is hardly state-of-the-art. Listen to Nolan sell it, though, “4K Blu-ray with HDR is an incredibly exciting new home-video format that allows a much closer re-creation of viewing the original film print,” he observes. “The deeper color palette comes closer to matching the analogue colors of film and we’ve restored the original theatrical mixes for this release. If you can’t re-watch these films in the theater, this is the best experience you can have in your own home.” Couldn’t have said it better, myself.

Not to be left behind, Lionsgate is releasing its 4K UHD edition of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) on the day after Christmas. Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in this explosive action-adventure spectacle, which James Cameron may have made in anticipation of such high-end technology. In the sequel, Arnold’s out-of-date Terminator is one of the good guys, sent back in time to protect John Connor (Edward Furlong), the boy destined to lead freedom fighters of the future, from T-1000 (Robert Patrick), the most lethal Terminator ever created. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), John’s mother, has been institutionalized for her warning of the nuclear holocaust she knows is inevitable. Together, the threesome must find a way to stop the ultimate enemy and rescue the franchise from premature extinction. Newly added is “T2: Reprogramming the Terminator,” a 55-minute documentary, including interviews with Schwarzenegger, Cameron and Furlong.

The Godfather Trilogy Collection: Limited Omerta Edition: Blu-ray
In celebration of the 45th anniversary of The Godfather, Paramount has re-re-released the beloved trilogy in a new, lightly colored four-disc Blu-ray package. Technically, “The Godfather Trilogy Collection: Limited Omerta Edition” is identical to the highly regarded “Coppola Restoration,” released in 2008. Besides different packaging, it adds a handful of cardboard and magnetic trinkets. Considering that Paramount has been in the forefront of the 4K movement, I wonder how much consideration was given to releasing a UHD package this year. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see one arrive next Christmas, though. So, caveat emptor. Bonus content includes a fold-open collection of five attached cards, each with a color image from a key sequence from The Godfather. On the flip side is text entitled “Anatomy of a Scene,” which recreates the shooting script for the sequence depicted on the front. Another set of collector’s cards feature character portraits and movie stills on the front, with character quotes on the rear. A perforated magnetic sheet holds a number of phrases, whose words can be removed and shuffled on a refrigerator. On a smaller cut-out at the bottom of the box are 10 “Godfather” trivia cards with the question on the front and the answer on the back.

Nutcracker: The Motion Picture: Blu-ray
Upon its release in 1986, critics weren’t terribly impressed by Carroll Ballard’s interpretation of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker, the production of which was designed by Maurice Sendak in collaboration with Kent Stowell, the company’s artistic director. They seemed to be overly disappointed by the fact that Ballard failed to incorporate the wonderful cinematography on display in his first two directorial efforts, Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf. Considering that the holiday staple was shot on a pair of sound stages on Warner Bros.’ Burbank lot – on a reportedly miniscule budget — that would have been a lot to ask of him. It isn’t likely that the producers thought they were sending out the definitive adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Nearly every little girl in the country – and more than a few little boys – has experienced “The Nutcracker,” in one form or another. Ballard probably could have chosen from a dozen other productions, but the Seattle company already was showcasing the Stowell/Sendak collaboration, as part of its standard repertoire, and it fit his notion of how special visual effects could be used to support the story and dancers in a unique way. Sendak had previously adapted “Where the Wild Things Are” for the stage. in 1979, and   designed sets for the Houston Grand Opera’s productions of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and the New York City Opera’s production of Janáček’s “The Cunning Little Vixen,” both in 1981. Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, like the Stowell/Sendak stage production, is presented as Clara’s coming-of-age story. It depicts Clara’s inner conflicts and confusion as she approaches adolescence, as well as the beginning of her sexual awakening. The film emphasizes the darker aspects of Hoffmann’s original story and the significance of dreams and the imagination. That aspect must not have bothered the MPAA panelists, who gave the movie a “G,” even as they pointed out the dark and potentially disturbing subtext. Freudians might have suggested a “PG,” instead. The dancing is very good.

The Coen Brothers: The Iconic Filmmakers and Their Work
British film journalist Ian Nathan’s admittedly “unofficial and unauthorized” evaluation and celebration of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre focuses primarily on their work as directors of such wonderfully eclectic entertainments as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Inside Llewyn Davis, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, True Grit and Hail, Caesar! Packed with stunning images from the Kobal Collection Movie and TV Archive, the book also highlights the brothers’ involvement, as writers, in recent films like Bridge of Spies, Gambit and Unbroken. If I were to guess, I’d say that the ideal recipient for this book would younger readers whose gateway to the Coens’ work has been provided by Fargo and The Big Lebowski, thoroughly offbeat comedies that have only gotten more popular with age. They might, then, want to work their way backwards through the easily accessible Raising Arizona and Blood Simple, before tackling the more obscure and personal projects. “The Coen Brothers” publisher is London-based Aurum Press.

Ella at Zardi’s
Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin
Trane 90
This being the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth, it’s only fitting that the great singer’s career be feted not only with a series of albums re-mastered digitally and on vinyl, but also a collection of 21 songs no one even knew existed until they were discovered 60 years later, gathering dust in the Verve archives. “Ella at Zardi’s” was recorded on February 2, 1956, at Zardi’s Jazzland, in Hollywood. Planned by Norman Granz to be the label’s inaugural release, it was shelved in favor of the now-classic studio album, “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book,” which was put to wax a week later and kicked off a best-selling, signature series of “Song Book” releases. Here, Fitzgerald is backed by a stellar trio, composed of pianist Don Abney, bassist Vernon Alley and drummer Frank Capp. The intimate setting allowed for some lively give-and-take between the artist and audience members, many of whom worked in the recording industry. Ella, who’s in tip-top form, appears to be enjoying the casual nature of the session and easy rapport with the musicians. Among the songs taped that evening are Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone,” Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” the Gershwins’ “S Wonderful” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” and Jerome Kern’s “A Fine Romance.” There isn’t a weak moment in the entire set, even if she does admit to fudging some forgotten lyrics. Released on CD and streaming sites by Verve/UMe it’s the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates jazz and great song stylists, and as a companion to Verve/UMe’s “Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs for a Centennial,” which is studio based.

Aretha Franklin has crossed so many genre borders that each new album should come with a copy of her passport. Previously unreleased on DVD or CD, “Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin,” was recorded at Radio City Music Hall for the inaugural “VH1 Divas” showcase, in 2001, and to support the channel’s Save the Music Foundation. The all-star tribute to the undisputed Queen of Soul — only one of her titles – featured appearances by Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Backstreet Boys and Kid Rock, and spirited renditions of “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “Chain of Fools,” “Natural Woman,” “Think,” “Rock Steady,” “Respect,” “Freeway of Love” and, wait for it, “Nessun Dorma.” It arrives via MVD Visual.

Another can’t-miss gift for jazz lovers, especially those just beginning a collection of essentials, is “Trane 90,” released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s untimely death, in 1967, at 40. Although the selections are limited to material recorded in or before 1962 – the beginning of his historic “free jazz” period — the material here documents his formative years and emergence as a band leader and soloist. It traces Coltrane’s career from his earliest recordings, as a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s early 1950s combo, which pioneered the post-swing bebop style; playing behind Johnny Hodges, a mainstay of Duke Ellington’s band; as a key, if somewhat unreliable member of Miles Davis’ late 1950s groups, famous for introducing “cool jazz”; and as a leader of his own ensembles, in the 1960s. The material collected in the Acrobat import crosses label borders and adds some unpublished material to the mix, as well.

New to DVD/Blu-ray
mother!: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
No movie polarized critics and audiences more than Darren Aronofsky’s truly chilling mother! And, by polarization, I mean that it impressed critics and antagonized audiences in almost equal measure. Even before the film was introduced at this September’s Venice Film Festival, the ever-challenging Aronofsky (Black Swan) felt it necessary to explain his intentions to audiences. In a written statement, the writer/director quotes the author of “Requiem for a Dream,” a harrowing novel he adapted into an amazing film, against great odds: “I imagine people may ask why (mother!) has such a dark vision. Hubert Selby Jr. taught me that through staring into the darkest parts of ourselves is where we find the light.” If the movie opens in the light, its inexorable journey into the heart of darkness will confound, sicken and thrill audiences, sometimes simultaneously. The Venice audience divided its reaction between jeers and cheers, while, according to Aronofsky, British audiences found it to be hilarious. They might have benefitted from the featurettes included in the DVD/Blu-ray/4K UHD that go a long way toward explaining what was on Aronofsky’s mind. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play Mother and Him, a married couple living in a rural mansion that’s being rebuilt after a fire nearly destroyed it, leaving only a crystal heart in the ruins. Mother stays busy putting the finishing touches on the interior, while Him is struggling to crack a writer’s block that has kept him from starting his next book of poetry and killed their sex life. The differences in their age and energy levels is likely adding a extra layer of tension between them, as well. One night, Man (Ed Harris) unexpectedly shows up at their doorstep with a hacking cough and burning desire to connect with Him. It’s an intrusion on their privacy, but Him warms to Man’s adulation and their exchange of ideas. The next day, Man returns to the country home, this time with his wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who exudes unbridled sexuality and forcefully suggests that their hostess follow suit. This unnerves Mother, but things don’t get really and truly weird until the arrival of Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson) and Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson), estranged siblings who somehow knew how to find their parents and whose arguments over Man’s estate turns into a violent confrontation, leaving one of them dead. The body’s barely cold when a dozen or so mourners begin showing up at the door, expecting to be welcomed inside for a wake no one had planned. Mother puts up with their nonsense until the mourners start swarming all over the house, even managing to destroy a sink that was only recently installed. She demands they leave. Somehow the chaos surrounding the unauthorized wake invigorates Him, lifting the dark cloud over his head and allowing him to finish the book. It also did wonders for their sex life, because Mother is pregnant. Once the book is published, another crowd of admirers descends on the house. This time, they occupy every nook and cranny of the multistory dwelling, destroying everything Mother’s been able to accomplish and picking up the pieces for souvenirs.  Once they’ve stolen everything worth stealing, even the infant child becomes fair game. What happens next might seem inevitable – especially to fans of Nathanael West’s great Hollywood novel, “The Day of the Locusts” – but it’s no less unnerving to Mother and viewers. Aronofsky still has a couple of tricks up his sleeves, though.

I probably should have inserted a spoiler alert somewhere in the previous paragraph, but nothing short of a link to the annotated screenplay could ruin the many surprises awaiting viewers in mother! It is a cornucopia of horror, dread and dark humor. From the moment the desperately ill Man is invited into the house by Him, and he ignores Mother’s edict on smoking indoors, viewers should prepare to fasten their seatbelts. Even going into the movie half-blind, I was impressed by Aronofsky’s ability to mold a home-invasion thriller that bears comparison to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games … both of them. We completely empathize with Mother as her house and husband are overwhelmed by his increasingly demanding admirers. Clearly, though, Aronofsky was digging for something deeper than mere horror. His pre-Venice statement cites his growing unhappiness with the general state of the world, hastened by a steady stream of alarming news reports and anecdotal evidence of mass hysteria. At the same time, he condemned those of us who attend to our chores unaffected by such annoyances and the “endless buzzing of notifications on our smartphones.”  (OK, here comes the spoiler alert.) If that weren’t enough, Aronofsky later explained, “Jennifer Lawrence is Gaia, or Mother Earth, while her house represents the world … a living, breathing organism being destroyed by its inhabitants. Him is God. Out of boredom, he creates Adam and Eve (the couple), who proceed to destroy both Gaia’s creation and His study (the Garden of Eden), which holds God’s perfect crystal (the apple). Their quarrelling sons are Cain and Abel. They also bring worshipers to praise God.” The invaders’ carelessness causes the pipes to burst into a Great Flood. “God impregnates mother, who gives birth to the Messiah … (triggering) a chaotic sequence followed by a disquieting communion and Revelations.” (End, spoiler alert,) I only bring that up because some viewers likely would benefit from knowing what to expect, philosophically, before things get too thick and weird for them to stick with the story. While the biblical allegory is valid, it probably scared the crap out of Lawrence’ loyal fan base. (Reportedly, the $7.5 million opening weekend was the weakest in her career.) I was more impressed with the director’s ability to create an original thriller that’s legitimately thrilling and, beyond that, hugely disturbing. Home invasions happen all the time and for reasons far less valid than those presented by Aronofsky. Although critics were largely supportive of mother!, it flunked the CinemaScore test. Only 19 features have ever received an “F” from audiences surveyed post-screening and one of them is mother! Moreover, it only grossed $18 million in total worldwide receipts, a number that should, but doesn’t shock me. The marketing campaign was weak and the buzz non-existent outside the arthouse and festival community. Lawrence deserves consideration for an Oscar nod, but numbers like that don’t often translate into nominations, let alone awards. In another surprising move, Aronofsky delivered the movie without a musical score and shot it in 16mm, as is his wont. Even so, the 4K UHD translation, via DolbyVision and Dolby Atmos, maximizes the chills for home-based viewers. It might as well be The Shining. The Paramount package adds featurettes “Mother! The Downward Spiral,” which goes into depth on the three-month rehearsal process and 2½-month shoot, and “The Makeup FX of Mother!

Stronger: Blu-ray
Judging from the tepid commercial response to Stronger and Patriots Day – despite their topicality and mostly positive reviews – it’s possible that the moviegoing public is suffering from an overdose of Boston-centric movies. That, or an overexposure to Mark Wahlberg or terrorism-survival stories. Wahlberg may not have appeared in Stronger, whose protagonist is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, but the marketing campaigns ahead of Patriots Day’s theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray debuts likely impacted the one originally planned for David Gordon Green’s drama. The Boston Marathon-related movies were filmed at the same time, on several of the same locations and share a character, Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the bombing. In Peter Berg’s picture, Bauman (Dan Whelton) isn’t given the same prominence, but, in Stronger, he’s the protagonist. Indeed, Bauman and Gyllenhaal threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park on the Marathon Monday game of April 18, 2016. The list of movies set in or around Beantown, since Good Will Hunting, anyway, includes, but isn’t limited to Spotlight, Daddy’s Home 2, The Departed, Manchester by the Sea, The Equalizer, The Town, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Black Mass, Ted, The Heat and, of course, The Boomtown Saints. Besides the presence of Wahlberg, the Affleck brothers, Matt Damon and/or Fenway Park, the pictures all share wildly divergent interpretations of Boston accents. The best of the lot, perhaps, Peter Yates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle, got everything right, but was released at a time when most of the cast of Good Will Hunting was still in diapers. It proved to be a tough act to follow. Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman is a working-class Bostonian, who was standing near the finish line of the 2013 marathon, cheering on his girlfriend, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), when the blast occurred. The wounds he suffered caused both of his legs to be amputated above the knee. After regaining consciousness, Jeff was able to help law enforcement officials identify one of the bombers and hasten the pursuit of the killers. Although his own battles had just begun, Bauman came to personify the slogan, “Boston Strong.” John Pollono’s screenplay was based, in large part, on Bauman and Bret Witter’s eponymous book. From the point of view of this non-Bostonian, anyway, the problem with Stronger is that the truly inspirational stuff doesn’t come until two-thirds of the way through the story. Before Bauman accepts his fate and dedicates himself to the hard work it took to walk again on prosthetic limbs, viewers without a personal stake in the Boston Strong fervor must endure ugly depictions of his lumpenproletarian relatives.

Anyone who saw Ben Affleck’s terrific adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel “Gone Baby Gone” already knows how denizens of the Dorchester neighborhood are looked upon by people in more prosperous zipcodes. They barely function without the assistance of alcohol and unemployment checks. They’re quick to fight and distrust outsiders, sometimes for good reason. They’d rather give away their season tickets to the Bruins or Red Sox than cooperate with police. Their dialect requires subtitles and did I mention that they drink, smoke and cuss too much? I don’t know where Bauman lived at the time of the bombing, but his family members fit that description to a T. If they possess more than one redeeming quality – besides loyalty to each other and their sports teams – Green didn’t search too hard to find it. In the hands of Miranda Richardson, Jeff’s loathsome mother, Patty Bauman, is every bit as unsavory as Amy Ryan’s insult to motherhood, Helene McCready, in Gone Baby Gone. Because Erin grew up in a more affluent part of Boston, she’s looked upon as an interloper and potential threat to family unity. When we meet them, Erin is between breakups with Jeff. His passion for the Red Sox causes him to be routinely late for dates and appointments. Nonetheless, Jeff’s obsession with Erin causes him to be at the marathon’s finish line that fateful day. Her feelings of guilt bind her not only to his recovery efforts, but his intolerable family.  Patty’s idea of being supportive is contacting her heroine, Oprah Winfrey, and arranging for an interview with Jeff, which he’s refuses to do. A half-hour less time with the Bauman clan would have been a godsend for viewers. Stronger doesn’t pick up until Jeff reconnects with Carlos (Carlos Sanz), the man who helped save his life after the bombing and wanted to check in on him. Carlos, who lost his sons in the Middle East conflicts, introduces the very good question of what differentiates a true hero from an innocent bystander fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the villain. Even if his relatives have convinced him that he’s Boston Strong, he doesn’t consider himself to be a hero. Neither does he much like enduring his rehab classes or waving a flag at the Bruins’ playoff opener. Carlos turns his head around in a hurry. His ability to put everything in perspective allows Green to prevent a disaster.

And, that’s really the point of Stronger. If the picture had done better business, I suspect that Gyllenhaal and Richardson would have a fighting chance at some nominations. As the enablers, Lenny Clarke, Clancy Brown, Kate Fitzgerald, Patty O’Neil, Richard Lane Jr. and Nate Richman are almost too convincing. The Blu-ray adds “Faith, Hope and Love: Becoming Stronger,” a half-hour featurette documenting both Bauman’s real-life story and the filming process.

Also available from Lionsgate on VOD and streaming outlets, after a brief theatrical run, is Boston. The documentary traces the history of the Boston Marathon from its humble origins, starting, in 1897, with only 15 runners, to the inclusion of women runners, in 1972, through the tragedy in 2013. Beyond that, the focus of director Jon Dunham (Spirit of the Marathon) is the emotional comeback effort that began in the wake of the bombings and the pursuit and investigation that followed them. The event, we’re reminded, has been shaken time and again by world events and social change, but has always evolved to run another year.

Blood Money: Blu-ray
Anybody old enough to recall the legend of D.B. Cooper will have an advantage over viewers who might assume that Blood Money sprang fully blown from the imaginations of freshmen writers Jared Butler and Lars Norberg. Otherwise, the idea of a crook parachuting into a dense forest from a plane, with $3 million tethered to his body in Hefty bags, might sound too preposterous to take seriously. That, however, is what happened in 1971, when a non-descript fellow who identified himself as Dan Cooper hijacked a plane on its way to Seattle, demanded a ransom and parachutes, and after they were delivered to him on the ground, parachuted into the darkness from a rear exit. If he lived to tell his tale – or spend the money – no one’s been able to verify it. In fact, it’s more likely that Cooper died before he had an opportunity to do either one. If the forests of the Pacific Northwest could shelter Bigfoot, why not a man who likely had Special Forces training and a working knowledge of the terrain. Still, the FBI only recently ended its 40-year investigation, with a handful of weak leads and tentative suspects and none of the bills uncovered. An annual “Cooper Day” celebration has been held at the Ariel General Store and Tavern, in Aerial, Washington, one of the possible drop zones, each November since 1974. His face has appeared on T-shirts and other souvenirs items, as well. As directed by Lucky McGee (All Cheerleaders Die), Blood Money is less plausible than the mythology surrounding D.B. Cooper, but close enough for cable television, VOD and straight-to-DVD exhibition. Here, three friends on a wilderness excursion and rafting trip stumble upon several bags full of freshly minted hundred-dollar bills, floating down a river in Tennessee. We know that a black-garbed criminal, Miller (John Cusack) was able to parachute out his lightplane before it crashed into a hillside, losing the bags in his punishing descent and landing, and they apply the losers-weepers/finders-keepers rule to the bounty. It takes a while for Miller to get his bearings and locate their trail, which any Boy Scout could find in the dark. The two male students (Ellar Coltrane, Jacob Artist) make it even easier for him, by bickering over who has dibs on Lynn (Willa Fitzgerald). Although she’s slept with both men, Lynn wants to keep her options wide open, Once Miller catches up to them, all bets are off. As unlikely as everything is in Blood Money, Cusack is fun to watch and Fitzgerald (“Scream: The TV Series”) looks as if she might have a future as a scream queen. Cinematographer Alex Vendler takes full advantage of the beautiful scenery surrounding Tennessee’s Ocoee River. McGee appears to have watched Deliverance, without quite grasping how John Boorman was able to turn James Dickey’s backwoods thriller into a horror show for the ages. The featurette, “Blood Money Uncovered,” offers interviews and footage documenting how the river-rafting scenes were achieved.

Leatherface: Blu-ray
For those keeping score at home, Leatherface is the eighth entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise – unless one counts the 2003 short, “Jason vs. Leatherface,” and 1983 video game – and the second prequel (a.k.a., origin story) to Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s 1974 original. Like the sequels, the prequels aren’t religiously faithful to movies that preceded them, except for similar openings and, of course, chainsaws. Five of the eight installments were shot in Texas, one in Louisiana and the other in California. Leatherface was made in Bulgaria, with the help of an Eastern European crew. I was surprised to find indie mainstays Stephen Dorff and Lili Taylor in lead roles, but no more than when I learned that Dennis Hopper starred in the first sequel; Viggo Mortensen, in the second; Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, in “Next Generation”; R. Lee Ermey and Jessica Biel, in the remake; or Alexandra Daddario, in “3D.” Everybody has to eat and a gig’s a gig. Award-winning French filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Inside) were called in to direct Leatherface. According to Taylor, “When they told me they wanted to do something that was a cross between Terrence Malick, like Badlands, and The Virgin Suicides, I thought ‘I’m there,’ because what I love is this stuff that’s happening with people pushing a genre as far as they could push it.” I’m not sure Sofia Coppola and Malick would be thrilled to hear that their work inspired Leatherface, but, even in Bulgaria, one takes praise no matter the direction it comes. The movie opens in typical fashion, with a pretty young thing being lured to the Sawyer homestead, where she’ll be slaughtered like a pig. This time, though, the victim is the daughter of Sheriff Hal Hartman (Dorff), who has to be restrained from killing Verna (Taylor), who’s just forced her youngest son, Jedidiah to join in the family ritual of using a chainsaw to murder strangers. Despite her protestations, Hartman quickly takes the boy into custody as revenge, sending him to a mental institution. Ten years later, Jed (Sam Strike) will escape the facility with three other psychos and a nurse they take hostage. They’re prevented from reaching the Mexican border by Hartley, who chases Jed and the lovely nurse (Vanessa Grasse) back to the homestead, where the carnage continues. Bustillo and Maury aren’t stingy with the blood, gore and special makeup effects, so I don’t think that fans of the franchise will be disappointed. It’s worth noting, however, that executive producer Hooper passed away on August 26, a few weeks before Leatherface’s premiere on DirecTV. Special features include “Behind the Mask: The Making of Leatherface,” six deleted scenes and an alternate ending.

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis
In the 1970s, many South and Central American countries were controlled by right-wing juntas, not at all reluctant to use torture and the very real threat of death to keep dissenters and leftists in check. They also would kidnap the babies of parents they intended to murder and present them as gifts to supporters anxious to adopt. Thousands of students, educators and intellectuals who leaned to the left of center politically were rounded up, tortured, killed and buried in mass graves. Some were escorted to a troop carrier, from which they’d be thrown into the sea. One method the governments used to keep their presumed enemies on edge was to reward informants – neighbors, waiters, co-workers — some of whom used the betrayal for personal gain. In Andrea Testa and Francisco Márquez’ The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis, you can cut the paranoia with a knife and spread it on a cracker. In a mere 78 minutes, they’re able take a bureaucrat who was just awarded a gift box from his boss, instead of a promotion, and turn him into a man who would risk his family’s livelihood by alerting a pair of strangers to their imminent arrest and likely execution. Diego Velázquez (Wild Tales) plays the title character, who’s practically blackmailed by a long-ago girlfriend into making the choice between helping “the masses” or doing nothing. She reminds him of a poem he wrote 20 years earlier that, if it were to be found and published, could easily be construed as a paean to Che Guevara or Vladimir Lenin. Sanctis only has a few hours to act on the information given him and it will require him to suck up his courage and find the strangers without incriminating himself or anyone else. The way Testa and Marquez stage his movements through Buenos Aires while everyone else in the city appears to be sleeping, Sanctis might as well be Joseph K in Orson Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” They decided against positioning police and soldiers on every street corner, preferring to insinuate the presence of unseen eyes and ears everywhere he goes. It’s extremely effective.

Hidden Kisses
Movies about the difficulties that gay teenagers face at school aren’t particularly rare, anymore, especially in countries where such films aren’t automatically branded “R,” “NC-17” or “M” by a ratings board determined to prevent squeamish of parents from complaining to their representatives in Congress about subjects they deem reprehensible. It’s why the MPAA instituted its ratings system, in the 1960s, and is so reluctant to modify it, today. Hidden Kisses, which was made for European television outlets, concerns the ordeal endured by 16-year-old Nathan, as the new kid in a French high school. It takes very little time before he makes meaningful eye contact with another male student, Louis, in one of their classes together. A few nights later, while attending a party, they sneak away from the crowd to become better acquainted, eventually working up the courage to share a kiss. Very soon, a picture of two boys embracing goes viral on Facebook, with Nathan’s face being the only one that’s recognizable. It opens the floodgates to a shitstorm of ridicule, rejection and bullying. Louis, who has a girlfriend, is able to pretend he wasn’t the other boy in the photograph. As Nathan continues to be bullied, Louis finally begins to feel guilty about his reluctance to protect his friend. When Nathan’s cuts and bruises become evident to his father, the typically homophobic cop is forced to take a stand neither of them expected he’d have to make. Meanwhile, Louis’ girlfriend and parents begin to sense what’s really been bugging him. His father, too, is forced to take a difficult stand. Which of the very different fathers will come through the way we want? Didier Bivel and writer Jérôme Larcher have already stacked the deck a bit, by showing Louis and his father going at each other in preparation for a regional boxing tournament. They seem more sympatico, but who knows? There’s no point in spoiling the resolution to their mutual dilemmas, except to say that it satisfies in a way that might not be acceptable to Standards & Practices executives at American networks, where, traditionally, naughty boys and girls are expected to pay for their sins, in one way or another. Because cable outlets don’t have to play by those rules, it would be nice to think that one of them might pick up Hidden Kisses as a statement for tolerance and against bullying. And, there’s nothing in it that would prevent teens from watching it with their parents, either.

PBS: NOVA: Ghosts of Stonehenge
PBS: NOVA: Killer Volcanos
Stonehenge may have become something of a tourist trap lately, but that doesn’t mean archeologists have solved enough of its mysteries to turn it into just another cool place to take selfies. The deeper one digs into the possibly sacred soil, the more questions are raised as to its origins, purpose and the fate of its builders. Was it an ancient cathedral, burial place, observatory or computer? Over the years, the evidence suggests all or none of the above. Over the last decade, fresh answers have come from an ambitious program of research, including the first scientific study of human remains — thousands of fragments of cremated men, women, and children — buried at the site 5,000 years ago. They were dug up once already in the 20th Century, but replanted when funds ran out for the project. In the “NOVA” presentation “Ghosts of Stonehenge,” archaeologists analyze the bones and piece together tantalizing details of the elite families who presided over Stonehenge. Remnants of huge feasts that fed the laborers at the site have come to light, including evidence that they traveled from the far corners of the British Isles to raise the stones and celebrate the winter solstice. Yet Stonehenge’s place as a centerpiece of ancient culture was not to last.

In another “NOVA” investigation, an expert team of scientists searches for the signature of a volcanic eruption powerful enough to have blasted a huge cloud of ash and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere. “Killer Volcanos” spotlights the search for the mystery volcano that plunged the globe into a deep freeze and inflicted famine on medieval Europe.

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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