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Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Chavela, Teacher, Shadowman, Shock Wave, Laugh-In and more

It can be said of Chavela Vargas, near-mythic singer of Mexican rancheras that she spent most of her 93 years on Earth struggling to achieve the kind of success today’s prefabricated singers achieve by the time they’re old enough to drive. Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s emotionally-charged documentary, Chavela, describes her journey from obscurity to prominence on the world stage, through painstakingly referenced video footage, recordings, interviews and photographs. Born Isabel Vargas Lizano, she left her native Costa Rica at 14 to pursue a career making music. Like Edith Piaf, Chavela found her first audiences in the streets, singing a distinctively Mexican form of the blues. In her youth, she dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a gun and was known for her characteristic red jorongo, a full-length poncho worn for special occasions. She adopted an androgynous persona, in part, because the canción ranchera was identified almost exclusively for its masculine points-of-view and Mexican audiences wouldn’t approve of a female singer drowning her sorrows in alcohol and refusing to articulate whether her heartbreaks were caused by men or women. Neither did she perform with the accompaniment of a mariachi band, preferring the support of a guitar or two. Chavela, who died in 2012, was in her 40s when she developed a fan base composed of fellow artists and intellectuals – among them,  Juan Rulfo, Agustín Lara, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Dolores Olmedo and José Alfredo Jiménez — and international tourists attracted to the Champagne Room of the Acapulco restaurant, La Perla.

In the late 1970s, Vargas partially retired from performing due to a long battle with alcoholism, which she described in her 2002 autobiography as “my 15 years in hell.” After getting sober, with the help of natural healing agents introduced to her by an Indian family that took her in, Vargas returned to the stage in 1991, performing at a bohemian Mexico City nightclub called “El Hábito.” Many fans of her recorded music, including Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, had assumed that she had succumbed years earlier. When he learned that Chavela was performing in Mexico, Almodóvar arranged for his personal muse to headline sold-out concerts in Madrid, Paris and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Although she had long dreamed of singing in such venues, her “overnight success” came late in her life. In her autobiography, Vargas also came out, which opened the door to a new demographic. As wonderful as the music is, many viewers will be struck as much by home-movie footage of Kahlo and Rivera, and Vargas’ recollections of their friendship. The DVD adds the directors’ commentary and a pair of Q&A’s, a 1981 interview with Vargas and a concert performance of “Paloma Negra.” (Her version also was featured in Frida.)

The Teacher
One of the rites of passage for parents of school-age children comes in recognizing the role politics play in the classroom, at PTA meetings, sports and other extracurricular activities. As is the case with every American institution, it doesn’t take a lot of time to distinguish between leaders and followers, volunteers and stragglers, winners and whiners. Teachers who attempt to distance themselves from the fray sometimes are caught short when a parent does an end-run and goes directly to a principal with a perceived grievance. In some schools, mostly public, the teachers and administrators hold the procedural edge over the parents, while, in tuition-based systems, it’s the parents with the most money and political clout who hold sway. It may seem like a typically American way of doing business, but Jan Hřebejk and writer Petr Jarchovský’s Slovak-language dramedy The Teacher, suggests otherwise. It is set in 1983, at a Bratislava middle school where Communist Party politics carry more weight than educational initiatives and parental input, combined. Like so many other dark parables that have emerged from the former Soviet bloc countries since the mid-1990s, The Teacher describes how certain theoretically egalitarian Socialist institutions were transformed into places where favoritism, corruption and spying were rewarded over achievement and ethical behavior.  The Czech director and writer, who previously collaborated with Jarchovský on the Oscar-nominated “Divided We Fall” (2000), doesn’t waste any time raising questions we can patiently wait to have answered later in the narrative. The biggest one emerges almost immediately, when new teacher Mária Drazdechová (Zuzana Mauréry) asks each boy and girl to stand up, introduce themselves and tell her what their parents do for a living. Wait, what? Was this standard operating procedure for teachers behind the Iron Curtain?

Turns out, Ms. Drazdechova moonlights as a high-ranking official of the Communist Party and she already knows more about the teenagers’ parents than they’re willing to admit on Day One of the school year. This includes defections, divorces and other perceived faults. In some cases, fellow students voluntarily fill in the gaps left in their classmates’ introductions. Clearly, the teacher has an ulterior motive for bringing the students’ parents into the picture. As the school year progresses, she divides the classroom between the students whose parents can be blackmailed into helping her out with errands, housecleaning and other random services, and those who fall short of her expectations. Drazdechova uses their cooperation as a factor in determining grades and approving participation in sports. Three strikes and they’re out. Her demands are anything but subtle. After one of the students, an aspiring gymnast, fails to meet Drazdechova’s standards and is denied the privilege of training and competing, she attempts to commit suicide. It leaves the director of the school with no choice but to call an emergency parents’ meeting to measure their outrage, if any. It plays out like any PTA meeting, anywhere, where things of greater importance than bakes sales and car washes are to be discussed. Parents already aware of Drazdechova’s abuses of power take sides, while others complain about being left outside the loop. Finally, though, the administrator will force the parents to make the decision for her, by presenting them with a petition intended to be presented to her superiors. That, of course, is when things get problematic. No one wants to attach their signature to a piece of paper that could find its way into the hands of people who control everything that’s important in their lives. If the teacher survives the inquiry, not only could their kids’ grades suffer, but the parents’ status at work and in the party could take a hit, as well. On the other hand, how could party apparatchiks justify ignoring the obvious and keeping Drazdechova in the classroom? The parents’ personal dilemmas are sketched out in darkly comic vignettes that have to be seen to be believed. Some American moms and dads might be able to relate to them, however.

Not having lived in Manhattan during 1980s, I was at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to the subject of Oren Jacoby’s fascinating documentary, Shadowman: street artist Richard Hambleton. I’ve recently been asked to review a small flood of bio-docs on the works of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy, Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Julian Schnabel, as well as films about the concurrent emergence of graffiti art and hip-hop, a decade earlier. My interest in Hambleton was sparked, in part, by an auction held last May, when Basquiat’s 1982 painting, “Untitled,” created with oil stick and spray paint, and depicting a skull, sold for a record high $110.5 million. Not bad for an art form once dismissed as vandalism. From all indications, Hambleton was every bit Basquiat’s equal, at least when it came to media attention and notoriety. So, why hadn’t I heard of him? Shadowman celebrates Hambleton’s successes and contributions to the international art community, without ignoring the fact that he became his own worst enemy when it came to profiting from his talent and vision. It was this trait, more than any other, that set him apart from his peers. Hambleton’s earliest public art, “Image Mass Murder,” could be found on sidewalks and stairways in his native Canada, New York and a dozen other cities in the U.S. and Canada. They resembled the chalk outlines police draw around the bodies of crime victims, to which a splash of red paint was added. The “crime scenes” often had the desired effect of startling or distressing passersby, who demanded police investigations. Hambleton’s next major project involved painting hundreds of silhouette figures on street-facing walls and alleys around lower Manhattan. In a city being ravaged by violence, his Shadowmen frightened pedestrians, who, from a distance, couldn’t ascertain whether the silhouette belonged to a hoodlum peeking out from behind a street corner, a watchman, an innocent bystander or simply was an illusion caused by artfully spilled paint. Others compared the silhouettes to the eerie death shadows found on the streets and sidewalks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after people were vaporized by the radiation delivered by the atomic bombs.

After he became identified with the Shadowman project, Hambleton produced a related series of “shadow” work, in which the characters resembled cowboys competing in a rodeo or the iconic Marlboro Man, often astride a horse. This time, the figures were painted on canvas and other material that allowed them to be hung in galleries and sold, without the aid of a jackhammer and crane. The artist, whose work would appear on both sides of the Berlin Wall, was profiled in mainstream magazines and made the late-night rounds with Warhol. It took its toll in the form of drug addiction and the debilitating effects of scoliosis and kyphosis. He defied potential patrons by refusing to turn the commissioned canvases over to them until they were completed, which, in his mind, they rarely were. Although he withdrew from society, consorted with junkies and was frequently homeless, Hambleton didn’t stop working. During his 20-year absence, he sometimes used paintings as currency among friends and completed a series of seascapes and color “landscapes,” known as the Beautiful Paintings. They were exhibited in 2007, at about the same time as his collaborations with Giorgio Armani were displayed as part of Fashion Week activities. Still, if his intention was to avoid the further commodification and branding of street art, as occurred after the deaths of Hambleton’s closest contemporaries, Haring and Basquiat, he succeeded. “At least Basquiat, you know, died,” Hambleton reflects in the documentary, during a scene shot in 2014. “I was alive when I died, you know. That’s the problem.” He succumbed to skin cancer on October 29, 2017, at 65. Shadowman is a compelling documentary about a perplexing and largely underappreciated artist and man. It is informed by archival images and interviews with curators, artists and people who knew him during the difficult years.

Love Beats Rhymes
In 1999, Jim Jarmusch’s genre-bending drama, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, successfully merged eastern philosophy and martial arts, with western gangster tropes and hard-core hip-hop culture. It may not have been the first movie in which these outlaw cultures overlapped – the mob frequently did battle with ghetto superstars in blaxploitation titles – but it was one of the first to exploit the interconnectivity of violent male cults, underground rituals and music usually reserved for so-called gangsta’ flicks. In it, Jarmusch introduced Wu Tang Clan co-founder RZA as a composer, actor and spiritual muse. If his hip-hop melodrama, Love Beats Rhymes, doesn’t break much new ground creatively, it demonstrates that RZA can direct a rom-dram that aspires to crossover success, while relying on others for its words (Nicole Asher) and most of the soundtrack’s music, beats and rhymes. I doubt he would consider popular entertainments to be his forte, however. In her acting debut, Azealia Banks plays an aspiring rapper in a crew dominated by her unfaithful lover, Malik (John David Washington). Even so, after a competition that recalls the ones in 8 Mile, Coco’s mic-dropping performance is noticed by a big-time producer, who wants to hear two more examples of the group’s sound before committing to a contract.

At the same time, Coco is pushed by her mother, Nichelle (Lorraine Toussaint), to pick up the credits she needs for an accounting degree, which could save her daughter from waiting on tables and washing dishes in her soul-food restaurant. It may not be the likeliest of scenarios, but Coco decides to take a poetry class at the Staten Island college as an elective. It is taught by the imperious Professor Nefari Dixon (Jill Scott), a former hip-hopper who’s come to detest rap and its influence on African-American youth. She treats Coco like a doormat for not acquiescing to her opinion. Things get worse when Dixon’s soft-spoken British teaching assistant, Derek (Lucien Laviscount)), invites her to a poetry slam, organized by her husband, Coltrane (Common). After she’s chosen as a judge, Coco repays the favor by giving Derek’s rhymes a low score. It causes a rift between them, but they continue to see each other. It isn’t until Coco discovers the clandestine sexual relationship he’s having with the professor that she truly begins to understand his continued disdain for rap and Dixon’s resentment of her, personally. It doesn’t help that Coltrane appears to be enabling their budding romance. In fact, the whole argument about rap not being poetry – and, therefore, an inferior art form – feels more than a little bit antiquated, considering the presence of RZA, Method Man, Common, Scott and Banks on the list of credits. It might hold water in an academic context, but not in real-world conditions. Not being aware of the difference between a couplet and a cutlet, or what differentiates iambic pentameter from a haiku, would hardly disqualify a rapper from turning their rhymes into hundred-dollar bills. The romances don’t ring true, either, but they rarely do in commercial rom-drams, where chemistry beats logic every time. If Loves Beats Rhymes finds an audience among students who need some encouragement to advance their educations, without sacrificing their musical tastes, I’d say that RZA has accomplished a great deal here.

Shock Wave: Blu-ray
Here’s another Asian movie that looks as if it were inspired directly by a popular western feature or series. In the last month, alone, I’ve traced the roots of movies from China and Korea to the Pink Panther series and La Femme Nikita. Writer/director/cinematographer Herman Yau has been churning out music videos and crime fare from his Hong Kong base since 1987. For obvious reasons, his latest revenge thriller, Shock Wave, immediately reminded me of The Hurt Locker, even though bomb-disposal units have been a staple of war and action movies, including The English Patient, Lethal Weapon 2 and Speed, for many decades. The scene in which Officer J.S. Chueng (Andy Lau), superintendent of Hong Kong’s crack Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, is called upon to defuse a bomb that could have been dropped on the city in World War II might as well have been directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The tension builds in precisely the same way it did whenever Russell Crowe approached an IED or booby-trapped vehicle, sucking us into the drama, as if there really were a chance Crowe’s Sergeant First Class William James could be written out of The Hurt Locker in its first half-hour. It takes a great deal of skill to convince an audience to suspend disbelief long enough to believe that an actor being paid upwards of $25 million could die before his first love scene or car crash. That’s why we continue to pay good money to see movies whose outcomes were telegraphed six months earlier in in long-lead teasers and trailers. If all the bombs in Shock Wave were neutralized with the same level of expertise and tension as the one unearthed at a construction site in downtown Hong Kong, it would have been better movie. It probably wouldn’t have been as commercially successful as Shock Wave turned out to be, but explosives experts in the audience would have left the theater in a happier state.

As the story goes, Officer Cheung joined the bomb squad after blowing his cover in an underground sting operation that might otherwise have resulted in the deaths of dozens of innocent people. In doing so, however, he made an enemy for life in the criminal who trusted him. Time passes and Cheung is required to defuse an increasingly complex series of bombs, while deciphering the hidden clues the could identify the perpetrator. Everything leads to Yau’s coup de grace, a scene so outlandishly conceived that, if it’s pulled off successfully, will make everyone forget the more carefully choreographed sequence with the WWII bomb. Without spoiling anything substantial, it comes when the mob boss whose brother was arrested in the earlier sting decides to punish Cheung by trapping hundreds of motorists inside the busy 1.6-mile Cross-Harbor Tunnel, which links the main financial and commercial districts on both sides of Victoria Harbor. Naturally, the mob boss demands that Cheung bring his brother to the tunnel and stand by while he murders innocent motorists and sets up the explosives he’ll need to blow up the foundation and cause the tunnel to be crushed by the weight of the water above it. What makes the plan preposterous is … well, everything. I suppose the same was said about 9/11, though. And, yes, what happens next is extremely memorable … for a day or two, anyway. Fans of extreme Hong Kong genre fare should find plenty in Shock Wave to like. Others will probably wish they saved their money for the Lethal Weapon series to arrive in 4K UHD. The DVD adds a decent making-of featurette.

Babes With Blades
Standing 4-feet-9 and weighing 92 pounds, British multi-hyphenate Cecily Fay would appear to be an unlikely candidate for martial-arts superstardom. Any woman as conversant as she is with artistic movement and fighting swords, however, isn’t likely to be deterred by conventional notions about size. With an extensive background in ballet and gymnastics, the 16-year-old Fay decided to take a shot at tai chi, which was being offered at the London Contemporary Dance School as an elective. She appreciated the connection between philosophy and performance, but sought a martial art that was more combative and involved cutlery. Eventually, she met a master of Malay silat, who promised to reward her hard work with lessons in the rare Silat Melayu sword discipline. In 1997, Fay teamed up with record producer Jon X and formed the Morrighan, as singer and main writer/composer. After breaking into film in the 2001 made-for-TV documentary “Gladiatrix,” she was hired to perform stunts in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The petite brunette would go on to find work as a stunt double, actress, fight choreographer, costume designer and composer. Besides looking incredibly hot in a leather bodice and bikini, Fay has also founded the all-women performance troupe, Babes With Blades. Something tells me that Babes With Blades, the movie, bears a resemblance to the stage act, as it serves primarily as a showcase for troupe members. The movie’s plot borders on the ridiculous. Dig: “On the dark streets of Draiga, a mining colony occupied by the Visray Empire, lives Azura (Fay), the last of a fearless warrior race known as the Sarnians. After witnessing her once-beautiful home turned into a lifeless husk, Azura must fight to the death in the gladiatorial ring to stay alive. Meanwhile, a group of freedom-fighters form a resistance, seeking to protect their families from the oppressive and cruel rule of the Visray Section Commander Sorrentine. Unbeknownst to Azura, the fate of all humans on Draiga is about to rest in her hands. Can she survive long enough to save her colony?” Does it matter? It’s the action sequences, after all, that count in Babes With Blades and the 96-minute movie is full of them, as are the bonus features. With Quintin Tarantino teasing plans for a third Kill Bill installment, it would behoove him to check out Fay’s chops – pun intended – inBabes With Blades.

No Solicitors
Any movie that dares to star Eric Roberts as “the country’s leading brain surgeon” is either trying to pull the legs of potential viewers or has greatly overestimated whatever cachet is left from his 31-year-old Oscar nomination for Runaway Train. Or, maybe not. Since that terrific action picture was released, Roberts has registered an incredible 472 acting credits at, with nearly 40 unreleased titles still in one form of post-production or another. A charter member of the Straight to Video Hall of Fame, the 61-year-old actor has a real shot at passing the 600-picture barrier before he retires. I can’t imagine that he spent much time on the set of John Callas’ No Solicitors, a tongue-in-cheek cannibal flick that would love to be mentioned in the same breath as Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul, Bob Balaban’s Parents, Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell and John Waters’ Serial Mom, but falls way short of those efforts. Unlike the hyper-prolific Roberts, Callas’ last credit of substance came in 1988, as director of Lone Wolf. In the interim, Callas produced live-action trailers for feature films and commercials, while also serving as a consultant and novelist. Here, Roberts plays the widely respected Dr. Lewis Cutterman – get it? – head of a seemingly normal suburban family that welcomes solicitors into their home to break bread with them. After some leading dialogue, the guests are drugged and chained to gurneys in the basement. Cutterman will harvest their organs, as needed by desperate patients, while his wife, Rachel (Beverly Randolph), eliminates evidence by cooking the leftover parts for dinner. Their adult children, Nicole and Scott (Kim Poirier, Jason Maxim), are growing into the family business, by learning how to separate guests of their precious organs, without killing them. Mostly, though, they taunt and torture them. The humor in Callas’ script is overwhelmed by the graphic nature of the amputations, which, even if we know they’re accomplished with special visual effects, might as well be real. The camera lingers on them far longer than is necessary, serving no useful purpose except to turn stomachs. And, yes, there is a big difference between shocking viewers and alienating them, even those attuned to torture porn.

Hell Night: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Released at about the same time as films in the slasher/splatter/stalker subgenres were approaching critical mass, Hell Night stands today as a reminder that excessive and gratuitous violence and nudity weren’t always determinants in the success of a horror picture. There probably were plenty of male viewers hoping for a glimpse of little Regan MacNeil’s grown-up Blair’s breasts, but they’d have to wait a couple more years for that to happen. If nothing else, it might have helped them erase the memory of her 1977 cocaine bust and her participation in Roller Boogie (1979). That career move would come two years after the release of Hell Night, a movie that probably could have gone out with an PG-13 rating, instead of the more promising “R.” The breakthrough came in her third women-in-prison epic – the first two being TV movies Born Innocent (1974) and Sweet Hostage (1975) – the highly respected Chained Heat, alongside old pros Sybil Danning, Edy Williams, Monique Gabrielle, Marsha Karr and Stella Stevens, and continued soon thereafter, in the less-admired Savage Streets and Red Heat, co-starring Sylvia Kristel. For a future Mr. Skin Hall of Famer, Blair remains remarkably chaste throughout Hell Night. She plays an above-it-all sorority pledge, Marti, forced to spend the night in a presumably haunted mansion with rich-boy Jeff (Peter Barton), party-girl Denise (Suki Goodwin) and surfer Seth (Vincent Van Patten). Suki picked up the slack by remaining in her Frederick’s of Hollywood bra, panty and stockings ensemble throughout Hell Night. The fun begins after fraternity president Peter Bennett (Kevin Brophy) revisits the mansion’s sordid past and possibility that deformed twin killers remain hidden within its walls. Because he doesn’t really believe the siblings are still alive, he instructs his underlings to trick out the mansion with scary accessories. Soon enough, the killing begins for real. By today’s standards, though, it’s pretty tame. What saves Hell Night is director Tom DeSimone’s imaginative staging, both on location at Redland’s Kimberly Crest Estate and on a soundstage in L.A. The DVD and Blu-ray features include a new 4K scan of the film, taken from the “best surviving archival print”; fresh interviews with Blair, Barton, Van Patten, Goodwin, Brophy and first-victim Jenny Neumann; and commentary with Blair, DeSimone, producers Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis. Blu-ray exclusives include new interviews with DeSimone, Curtis and writer Randolph Feldman; “Anatomy of the Death Scenes,” with DeSimone, Feldman, makeup artist Pam Peitzman, art director Steven G. Legler and special-effects artist John Eggett; “On Location at the Kimberly Crest House,” with DeSimone; “Gothic Design in Hell Night,” with Legler; an original radio spot; and photo gallery, featuring rare stills.

Time Life/WEA: Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Second Season
PBS: Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World
PBS: Frontline: Mosul
PBS: Frontline: War on the EPA
PBS: Frontline: North Korea’s Deadly Dictator
PBS: Mindfulness Goes Mainstream: Techniques
When Time Life released its complete, six-season boxed set of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” episodes last year, it came with a price tag many newcomers to the show and casual fans probably considered to be prohibitive. The company has begun to release full-season packages on an a la carte basis, with interviews that appeared in the set. At a full list price of $39.95, Season Two would be an excellent place to start. By then, mid-course corrections from the first stanza had taken hold and the ball was rolling at full speed. First-season regulars Judy Carne, Henry Gibson, Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Jo Anne Worley and Gary Owens were joined by Alan Sues, Dave Madden, Chelsea Brown, “Fun Couple” Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall, Dick “Sweet Brother” Whittington, J.J. Berry, Byron Gilliam and Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, whose trademark “here come da judge” routine was incorporated into the show’s regular bits. Another reason to favor “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Second Season” over other options is the steady stream of unlikely guest stars, some of whom appeared only for a few seconds. In the season-opener alone, the list includes then-candidate Richard M. Nixon, Hugh Hefner, Mayor of Burbank John B. Whitney, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Sonny Tufts, John Wayne and Barbara Feldon. The nature of the taping process precluded all the celebrities appearing with the hosts and cast members simultaneously, although some of the gags extended into the next episode, or two. Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, credits his loss, in part, to Nixon’s willingness to join the show’s parade of guests in the “sock it to me” routine. Markham sat in the mock courtroom, dispensing justice with a large rubber gavel to the noggin for emphasis. Markham was cast only after Sammy Davis Jr. imitated his act on “Laugh-In” in Season One and it sparked interest in the original judge. Prior to that, Markham hadn’t appeared on television or in the movies since 1947.

October 31, 2017, marked the 500th anniversary of Augustinian monk Martin Luther’s delivery of his “Ninety-five Theses” to his bishop, Albrecht von Brandenburg. Historians still find room to argue whether he nailed it to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, or employed standard delivery systems. No matter, because the simple fact remains that Luther’s “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” led to a general rethinking of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings and doctrine. It was, however, the Church’s practice of selling indulgences to shorten a soul’s time in Purgatory that struck a chord with common folks. In Thesis 86, Luther asked, “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers, rather than with his own money?” The unstated answer, basically, was “Because we can … and, by the way, how dare you question the infallibility of the pontiff?” PBS’105-minute special presentation “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World” (a.k.a., “A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy”) traces the roots of the Protestant Reformation, not only to that moment in history, but also to Luther’s earlier decision to disobey his father by leaving law school and entering St. Augustine’s Monastery, in Erfurt, on July 17, 1505. He hadn’t intended to upset the Church’s applecart all that much, but, in its intransigence to address logical bedrock concerns, the reigning pope opened the door to a revolution that continues today. The film is narrated by Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) and stars Padraic Delany (“The Tudors”), whose impersonation of Luther makes him look somewhat daffy. One of things I discovered about Luther was his devotion to nonviolence, which, 400 years later, would prompt American preacher Michael King to change his name to Martin Luther King. He would give his son the same name, adding a designation for “Senior” and “Junior” at the same time. I didn’t know that, within the course of a decade, Luther moved from a tolerant position on Judaism to one that was so virulently anti-Semitic that Hitler found it useful in the promotion of National Socialist values. Over time, the show contends, Protestant religions splintered into numerous denominations, many of whose followers wouldn’t recognize Luther’s core principles if the “Ninety-five Theses” if they nailed to their garage doors.  Originally, “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World” was exhibited in private showings across the country — in churches and movie theaters – as a conversation starter and teaching tool. I found a rather different biography of Luther and his problem with indulgences – among other things – on the Catholic Answers website.

PBS is also distributing three provocative and timely “Frontline” investigations: “Mosul,” “War on the EPA” and “North Korea’s Deadly Dictator.” Director Olivier Sarbil’s wartime documentary provides an extraordinary, inside look at the brutal, nearly year-long battle to drive ISIS out of Iraq’s second largest city, which some military commanders have described as the deadliest urban combat since World War II. “Inside Yemen,” a second film on the disc, examines the undeclared war in that country, between northern rebels and the Saudi Arabian Air Force – backed by the U.S. — and the high price paid by its civilians. “War on the EPA” wants us to ponder the question, “What is Scott Pruitt doing running the EPA?” and why does he want to reverse a half-century of progress on environmental issues and hand our precious resources over to corporations and other exploiters of the Earth? The third program asks, “Who killed Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, and what does the murder reveal about the North Korean leader and his regime?”

The three-disc, 165-minute PBS presentation, “Mindfulness Goes Mainstream: Techniques,” explains how one of the oldest methods for cultivating inner calm and stability – meditation – has now been proven by modern science to have a very positive impact on our health and quality of life, especially as we’re being bombarded by stressful impulses and demands. It explores this “revolution” and the power of meditation to transform our lives. The DVDs feature all the programs in the “Mindfulness Goes Mainstream” series, plus 20-minutes of bonus footage. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Chade-Meng Tan conduct the lessons.

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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