MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Darkest Hour, Coco, Tom Jones, Basket Case, Hangman, Godard+Gorin, Hallelujah Trail, Tyrus … More

Darkest Hour: Blu-ray
If, as expected, Gary Oldman takes home an Oscar for his spot-on portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, no one could blame him for pointing out, “It’s about time.” In 2011, he was a finalist in the same category for his take on master spy George Smiley, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Oldman deserved to be nominated, at least, for unforgettable performances in, among other pictures, Sid and Nancy, True Romance, Prick Up Your Ears, JFK, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the “Harry Potter” series. If the PM doesn’t appear in Christopher Nolan’s widely admired survival epic, Dunkirk – up for Best Picture and seven non-acting awards his shadow looms large over the evacuation and patriotic call to duty. In Joe Wright’s fly-on-the-wall Darkest Hour, viewers are made privy to the political and strategic machinations that preceded the launch and completion of Operation Dynamo. As it opens, Churchill is about to become the compromise candidate to replace Neville Chamberlain as the country’s Prime Minister. His enemies within Parliament and the War Cabinet fully expect the operation to fail, adding to blood left on his hands from the Brits’ defeat at Gallipoli, 24 years earlier. If the British army is devastated at Dunkirk, Churchill surely will be shoved aside by his opponents, including a dubious King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who would agree to negotiations with the Germans, brokered by the Italians. Could the free world survive a pact with Hitler? It’s a moot point, of course. Buoyed by the support of the everyday Brits he meets in an impromptu subway ride, Churchill decides to buck the conservative opposition and go forward with Operation Dynamo. Oldman shines throughout Darkest Hour, delivering inspirational oratory, displaying an unexpected sense of humor and the tenacity required to rally the nation in its, yes, darkest hour. The picture is further enhanced by key performances in supporting roles by Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane. Of Darkest Hour’s six nominations, the other likely winner is in the Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling category. The Blu-ray arrives with Wright’s commentary and, two shortish featurettes, “Into Darkest Hour” and “Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill.” Frankly, I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite among the other actors who’ve played Churchill recently. They include such worthy thespians as Brian Cox (Churchill), Albert Finney (The Gathering Storm), Brendan Gleeson (Into the Storm) and Michael Gambon (Churchill’s Secret). The women chosen to play the estimable Clemmie Churchill — Kristin Scott Thomas, Miranda Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave, Janet McTeer and Lindsay Duncan – are every bit as good.

Coco: Blu-ray
Lady and the Tramp: Signature Collection: Blu-ray
The odds-on favorite for Best Animated Feature Film is Disney/Pixar ‘s Coco. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’ song, “Remember Me,” is also a finalist, but in a more difficult category. Coco’s success at the international box certainly isn’t going to work against it. Like Moana (2016), which also showcased Disney’s multi-cultural ambitions, Coco topped the weekend box-office rankings for three straight weeks. While I was surprised to learn that Moana raked in more American currency than Coco, there was nothing shocking in the latter’s boffo performance abroad. Almost 80 percent of Coco’s total $739.3-million haul came from the overseas market. (In Mexico, it opened almost a month ahead of its U.S. debut.) As Pixar/Disney’s most ethnically inclusive release to date – most of the surnames on the credit roll are Hispanic – it’s unusually faithful to Mexico’s cultural landmarks, music, fashions, topography and marketplace minutiae. (Look for piñatas shaped like Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Mike Wazowski, Destiny the Whale Shark and Mr. Ray.) The backgrounds are modeled after the colorful homes and traditional architecture of historic Guanajuato City, while other cultural totems recall Oaxacan folk traditions. The quest for authenticity even extends to the choice of sidekicks. Dante the Xolo is the second canine companion to a protagonist in a Pixar film, preceded only by Dug from Up. Mexican hairless dogs (a.k.a., Xoloitzcuintli) have existed in the Americas for an estimated 3,500 years. According to Aztec mythology, the god Xolotl created the breed from a sliver of the Bone of Life. He gifted Xolos to humans, provided they protect the dogs with their lives. In exchange, they would guide the dearly departed through the World of Death, toward the Evening Star in the Heavens. It’s the perfect companion for Coco’s protagonist, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), an aspiring musician, who, on Día de Muertos, unwittingly finds himself in the World of Death, where his deceased ancestors are awaiting their ascendency to Heaven. The thing is, Miguel isn’t actually dead … or demonstrably alive, either. Only the dead recognize him as human. The charming trickster, Héctor (Gael Garcia Bernal), leads Miguel and Xolo to the estate of his great-great-grandfather, a gifted musician, Ernesto de la Cruz, and other relatives.

It’s complicated, so pay attention. The story begins in the village of Santa Cecilia, where Miguel’s great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) is about to be abandoned by her impoverished musician husband, who fails to return home from a gig. Also left behind is 3-year-old Coco, who, as an adult, would marry a master shoemaker and forbid anyone in the household from making music. She’s still alive – barely – when 12-year-old Miguel decides to disobey the ban and become a singer and guitar player, like the hugely popular Ernesto de la Cruz (R.I.P.). One day, Miguel accidentally damages an heirloom photo of Coco and her parents, which sits at the center of the family ofrenda (shrine). The guitar her father is holding looks exactly like the one being clutched by Ernesto de la Cruz in a statue in the town plaza. The picture will come in handy when Héctor introduces Miguel to Ernesto (Benjamin Bratt) in the afterlife. Could he be a direct descendant of his hero? Anything’s possible in a Disney/Pixar movie? The other half of the gimmick plot involves getting Miguel back to the World of the Living and keeping the memory of his ancestors alive, so they can continue to inhabit the World of the Dead. Once they’re forgotten, it’s anybody’s guess where they’ll end up. Like I said, it’s complicated. If any of this sounds too morbid for consumption by children, parents should know that Coco largely plays out in a brightly Technicolored Land of the Dead, where the inhabitants remain active, outgoing and communicative. Also present are shape-shifting alebrije, modeled after the whimsical folk-art sculptures sold in Oaxacan markets. If we’re going to die, anyway, there are plenty worse places to go than the World of the Dead theme park.

Unlike other Pixar pictures, Coco’s musical soundtrack is full of uplifting songs and instrumental compositions. The bonus package overflows with featurettes and other goodies. It includes commentary, with director Lee Unkrich, co-director Adrian Molina and producer Darla Anderson; making-of featurettes; backgrounders; deleted scenes and sketches; tutorials; and “A Thousand Pictures a Day,” a more detailed look at the crew’s travels to Mexico to better understand the culture, characters, story lines and details that would be central to the movie they wanted to make. Coco also arrives in a 4K edition.

It’s fitting that Walt Disney Signature Collection edition of Lady and the Tramp should include the new featurette, “Walt & His Dogs,” in which His Eminence reminisces about his pets, alongside images from the Walt Disney Family Museum. In the 60 years separating the original Lady and the Tramp (1955) from Cruella (2013) and Coco, the folks at Disney have given birth to at least 51 real and animated canines, including Old Yeller, a Shaggy Dog, or two, and Air Bud. The number doesn’t include a couple hundred Dalmatians and any canines found in Pixar pictures. None of them are as beloved as Tramp (Larry Roberts) and Lady (Barbara Luddy), who meet cute and get exponentially cuter with each succeeding meatball and romantic ballad. Besides demonstrating how opposites attract, Lady and the Tramp represents the first Disney animated feature filmed in CinemaScope. The process necessitated extra work in the planning stages and the extension of action scenes to fill the wide, wide screen. It also was the first Disney animated feature to benefit from the casting of a “superstar” voice: the sultry torch singer, Peggy Lee. The “Signature Collection” Blu-ray doesn’t contain a lot of fresh bonus content. Most of it has been ported over from the Diamond Edition, released in 2012 and still recommendable. Some insignificant featurettes have been warehoused or added to the digital-only edition. Besides “Walt & His Dogs,” the fresh material includes “Stories From Walt’s Office,” “How to Make a Meatball and Other Fun Facts About Lady and the Tramp” and “Song Selection.”

Hangman: Blu-ray
If you’re the kind of person who would pay to watch Al Pacino read the phone book or, God forbid, “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” Hangman would be the movie that sorely tested such resolve. Based on a series of grisly murders – hangings, to be precise — Johnny Martin’s occasionally gripping procedural follows a killer who teases police by leaving clues that correspond with the letters in the time-killer guessing game, Hangman. It opened here in a handful of theaters during the final week of 2017 and, on VOD outlets a month earlier. It’s still scheduled to open in several European countries over the next couple of months. The last time people lined up to see a Pacino film probably was in 2003, to see Insomnia and The Recruit, which were preceded by Any Given Sunday (1999), The Insider (1999), The Devil’s Advocate (1997), Donnie Brasco (1997), Heat (1995), Carlito’s Way (1993), Scent of a Woman (1992), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), The Godfather: Part III (1990) and Dick Tracy (1990). What other actors have compiled a similarly impressive string of titles over a 13-year stretch? It seems like ancient history. Some mainstream critics compared the plot of Hangman unfavorably to Se7en, especially for its gruesome death scenes and autopsies. One damned it with faint praise, citing the proposition that anything in which Pacino appears deserves a look. (A corollary of the telephone-book theory.) Others simply dismissed it as a would-be thriller that isn’t worth the effort it would take to tie up all the loose ends. I’d like to think that I’m the kind of Pacino completist capable of separating the many recent schlocky performances – Misconduct (2016), Jack and Jill (2011), The Son of No One (2011) — from the truly worthwhile ones he’s reserved for television; Phil Spector (2013), You Don’t Know Jack (2010), Angels in America (2003) and the upcoming Paterno. In Hangman, Pacino’s primary contribution is an imprecise Louisiana accent that drifts between Southern, New Orleansian, Cajun and backwoods redneck. He plays retired homicide detective Ray Archer, who’s asked by criminal profiler Will Ruiney, (Karl Urban), to help him unscramble the clues left by the serial killer, with whom they appear to share a history. New York Times’ crime reporter Christi Davies (Brittany Snow), who’s at home on vacation, joins the detectives after witnessing the killer’s wrath during a ride-along. As if. Sarah Shahi (“Reverie”) plays the police captain who OK’d the arrangement and easily qualifies as the most ravishing cop in Louisiana, maybe even Hollywood. The Blu-ray adds the featurettes “Al Pacino: Insight From a Hollywood Legend” and “Hangman: In Their Own Words.”

Tom Jones: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Besides being a wonderfully entertaining and extremely innovative period comedy, Tom Jones (1963) has been credited with freeing British New Wavers from the gritty realism of kitchen-sink dramas, by introducing them to the same creative freedoms already being enjoyed by such iconic “Swinging London” figures as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Mary Quant, Jean Shrimpton and “The Avengers.” In its immediate wake would follow Darling (1965), The Pleasure Girls (1965), The Knack … and How to Get It (1965), Blowup (1966), Alfie (1966), Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) and Georgy Girl (1966), all of which are still fun to watch. the Inspired by the about-face made by Tony Richardson and John Osborne in their adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling,” directors John Schlesinger, Richard Lester, Karel Reisz and Ken Loach decided to leave the kitchen sink behind and try something that’s entertaining. Instead of approaching the material in the traditional narrative manner, Richardson opened the film in the fashion of a silent film, with fanciful title cards and actors playing slightly over the top. Characters break the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera and addressing the audience. At one point, Albert Finney suddenly appears to notice the camera and covers the lens with his hat. John Addison’s Oscar- and Grammy-winning music keeps things upbeat with a harpsichord-heavy score that comments playfully on what’s happening on the screen. Walter Lassally’s hand-held cameras capture the intensity of the hunt scenes, from above the horses and riders and at saddle level. The orgasmic dinner scene is as fresh and funny today as it was 50-plus years ago. The Criterion Collection release features a new 4K digital restoration of the original theatrical version of the film, as well as the shorter 1989 director’s cut, both supervised by Lassally, with uncompressed monaural and stereo soundtracks; a conversation between Lassally and critic Peter Cowie on the film’s visuals; an excerpt from a 1982 episode of “The Dick Cavett Show,” featuring Finney; a new interview with Vanessa Redgrave on Richardson, to whom she was married from 1962 to 1967; a fresh interview with film scholar Duncan Petrie on the movie’s impact on British cinema; an archival audio interview with composer Addison; a new interview with the director’s-cut editor, Robert Lambert; and an essay by scholar Neil Sinyard. Tom Jones is a movie that begs repeated viewings, if only to break down individual scenes and put the pieces under a scholarly microscope.

Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971: Blu-ray
If all anyone knows of Jean-Luc Godard’s oeuvre is what can be gleaned from introductory courses in film history and watching such accessible classics as Breathless, Pierrot le Fou, Masculin Féminin and Week End, this ambitious collection from Arrow Academy probably wouldn’t be a good investment. To fully appreciate “Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971,” viewers should be conversant with Godard’s entire body of work – from his criticism in Les cahiers du cinema to the experimental 3D narrative essay, Goodbye to Language (2014) – as well as films made by other directors impacted by the political upheavals of the 1960-70s. There are plenty of things here to admire, but they won’t be easy to find at first glance. And don’t bother looking for Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina or Jean-Pierre Léaud, either. After finishing Week End (1967), Godard turned his focus to issues raised by French students and workers in their failed insurrection. His intention was to create a new kind of film, or, as he put it then, “new ideas distributed in a new way” … “film is not a gun, but a light which helps you check your gun.” He embarked on a collaboration with the young Maoist critic and journalist, Jean-Pierre Gorin. Both as a two-person unit and as part of the loose collective, Groupe Dziga Vertov, they crafted new frameworks for investigating the relationships between image and sound, spectator and subject, cinema and society. How Mao Zedong might have reacted to the films his revolution inspired may never be known.

The five titles represented here were shot on 16mm film and today benefit from a high-definition digital transfer. They include: A Film Like Any Other (“Un film comme les autres”), an analysis of the social upheaval of May 1968, consisting of two parts, each with identical image tracks, but differing narration; British Sounds (a.k.a., “See You at Mao”), an examination of the daily routine on a noisy British auto factory assembly line, set against musings on class-conflict and “The Communist Manifesto”; Wind From the East (“Le Vent d’est”), a loosely conceived leftist-Western that moves through a series of practical and analytical passages, into a finale based around the process of manufacturing homemade weapons; Struggles in Italy (“Lotte in Italia”), a discursive reflection on a young Italian woman’s shift from political theory to political practice; and Vladimir and Rosa (“Vladimir et Rosa”), sharply satirical reports from the trial of the original Chicago Eight, presided over by a tyrannical Judge Himmler. Godard frequently overlaps the visuals with voice-over narrations and readings, challenging viewers to pay attention without losing track of the other. Nearly a half-century of hindsight on the tumultuous 1960s, collapse of the worker/student coalition, capitalization of communism in Russia and China, and Godard’s own return to narrative cinema, provides viewers with even more room for debate. The true blessing here, however, comes in knowing that these films, previously seen only in dupes and bootleg videos, are now readily available to buffs, scholars and aspiring cineastes. The set also contains, “A Conversation With JLG,” a wide-ranging interview with Godard, by Dominique Maillet and Pierre-Henri Gibert; an offbeat commercial for a well-known aftershave; individual analysis; and a100-page full-color book, containing English translations.

Basket Case: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Scalpel: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Of all the vintage movies you’d think would be accorded a 4K restoration by the Museum of Modern Art, Basket Case probably would be at the bottom of the list. Somehow, I’d managed to avoid seeing Frank Henenlotter’s midnight-movie mainstay, in any format, since its release in 1982. Admittedly, I once felt obliged to review the Blu-ray version of either Basket Case 2 (1990) or Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991) – can’t remember which one … maybe both – but I kept putting off my date with the original. The release of Arrow’s Basket Case: Limited Edition provided the perfect excuse. It’s a hoot. Made on a shoestring budget, estimated to be around $35,000, Basket Case follows ordinary guy Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) on a his very first trip from Upstate New York, to the Big Apple. He’s accompanied by his hideously deformed brother, Belial, who fits neatly in the wicker basket he carries around Times Square. Even before the first shocking reveal, viewers will have figured out that Belial and Dwayne were conjoined twins, separated against their will as young boys. Instead of dying, as expected, Belial managed to survive in a blob-like state. The boys were nurtured by their aunt and loved each other. After her death, the pair decided to locate and punish the hacks responsible for their botched separation. Complications arise when Dwayne warms to a pretty receptionist – despite a wig that doesn’t quite fit her head – and Belial’s jealousy kicks in from a distance. He lashes out at anyone in their fleabag hotel whose curiosity prompts them to lift the cover of the basket. Even by 1983 standards, Henenlotter’s special effects are laughably primitive: perfect for grindhouse parody, but suitably horrific for midnight crowds. If the writer/director had another million dollars to spend, Belial probably wouldn’t have been nearly as adorable. The MoMA’s 4K restoration is from the original 16mm negative and uncompressed mono audio. It adds fresh commentary with Henenlotter and Van Hentenryck; “Basket Case 3½,” a contemporary interview with “Duane Bradley”; “Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins,” with Florence and Maryellen Schultz, the movie’s twin nurses; a new making-of featurette, containing interviews with producer Edgar Ievins, casting-director/actress Ilze Balodis, associate producer/effects artist Ugis Nigals and Belial performer Kika Nigals; “Blood, BASKET and Beyond,” with co-star Beverly Bonner; “Belial Goes to the Drive-In,” with film critic Joe Bob Briggs; outtakes; “In Search of the Hotel Broslin”; “Slash of the Knife” (1972), a short film by Henenlotter; “Belial’s Dream,” an animated short by filmmaker Robert Morgan; “The Latvian Connection”; “Basket Case at MoMA”; stills galleries; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck; and, first-pressing exclusive, a collector’s booklet with Michael Gingold. Henenlotter would go on to make two “BC” sequels, Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, Bad Biology and documentaries Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore, That’s Sexploitation! and Chasing Banksy.

Also from Arrow Films comes Scalpel, an obscure genre picture from 1977 that was marketed as horror, but more closely resembled a mashup of sci-fi, medical and Southern gothic conceits. At the time of its release, reconstructive plastic surgery was limited to victims of serious accidents, fires and combat wounds. Cosmetic surgery was reserved for celebrities whose vanity didn’t allow for imperfections. It explains the film’s opening scene, in which plastic surgeon Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is forced to defend his work as something other than quackery. Although he appears to live comfortably, Reynolds’ greed surfaces after learning that his daughter, Heather, has been bequeathed $5 million in her grandfather’s will. Peeved by the old man’s slight, he immediately plots his revenge. Heather (Judith Chapman) hasn’t been seen since she ran away from home, following the suspicious death of her boyfriend. The will stipulates that she collect the money in person and within six months of her grandfather’s death. All too conveniently, Reynolds is presented with a veritable godsend, in the person of young woman whose battered body he finds lying in the street, in front of his car. Jane Doe’s face had been used as a battering ram by the bouncer of a local nightclub, but there’s nothing wrong with the rest her. Anyone who’s seen more than one of these switched-identity dramas can predict what will happen in the ensuing 70 minutes, or so. Writer/director John Grissmer, in close collaboration with cinematographer Edward Lachman, finds several different ways to snatch Scalpel from the jaws of generic mediocrity. Likewise, the mossy Georgia locations were perfect for a movie with pretentions of being a Southern Gothic. Television veteran Lansing plays the crazed-by-greed card with great relish, while, as Heather/Jane, Chapman skillfully navigates the tricky twists of a double-double-cross. The Arrow package contains both the original, slightly tinted version of the film and a color-corrected update; commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith; new crew interviews; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil; and, first pressing only, a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Bill Ackerman. In 2015, Arrow released Grissmer’s only other directorial effort, Blood Rage (1987), in three differently edited versions. All of them starred Louise Lasser (“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”) as the frazzled mother of differently wired twin brothers, played by Mark Soper (“Knot’s Landing”). Sounds familiar.

Gate II: Return to the Nightmare: Blu-ray
The Sect: Blu-ray
The real joy in watching vintage titles in Blu-ray rejuvenations typically comes in discovering currently popular actors in roles they probably would love their fans to forget. Sometimes, their burden is lifted a bit by having changed names since breaking into the business. One of the stars of Gate II: Return to the Nightmare – the delayed sequel to Tibor Takács and Michael Nankin’s The Gate (1987) — is Pamela Segall, a talented actress whose voice, at least, is recognizable to fans of “King of the Hill,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “101 Dalmatians: The Series” and “Recess.” As Pamela Adlon, though, it’s her voice that’s instantly recognizable for her work in “Californication,” “Better Things” and collaborations with Louis C.K. While I initially failed to put a name to the face in Gate II, my curiosity prompted me to check its page. Sure enough … I wonder if anyone at Scream Factory asked Adlon/Segall if she would add her recollections to the bonus package. Gate II picks up a couple of years after a conduit to hell was opened in The Gate. Terry Chandler (Louis Tripp) re-summons the demons (a.k.a., minions) unleashed in the original, this time to grant his wish for his father’s return to sobriety. It isn’t until three of his acquaintances interrupt one of his conjuring sessions that everything begins to go haywire. What happens next demonstrates what can happen when the wishes of fools are granted, without regard for the consequences. A minion who bares a resemblance to Ray Harryhausen’s Cyclops is captured against its will and tormented by two of the teenage intruders. The next day, at school, Segall’s Liz apologizes to Terry and asks if she might join him in one of his sessions. Not surprisingly, things go absolutely bat shit when the minion’s larger and more violent relatives escape the underworld. The Blu-ray adds “Return to the Nightmare: A Look Back at Gate II,” with director Takacs, screenwriter Nankin and special-visual-effects creator Randall William Cook, and “From the Depths.”

For me, the surprise revelation in The Sect (a.k.a., “The Devil’s Daughter”) comes in learning that the pretty young teacher, who discovers a cistern in the basement of her new home that leads to hell, is the sister of Jamie Lee Curtis. Not only was Kelly Curtis born two years earlier than her scream-queen sister, but she’s also three inches taller, frequently asked to go blond and hasn’t acted in nearly 20 years. There’s nothing wrong with her performance here, so it’s possible to surmise she grew tired of chasing bit parts in television series … or saying “no” to producers asking her to join Jamie Lee in going topless. In The Sect, she stars as Miriam, an American teacher relocated to a part of Germany plagued by a satanic cult that murders and tears out the hearts of anyone who betrays it. One afternoon, Miriam accidentally hits an elderly pedestrian, Moebius (Herbert Lom), standing in the middle of the road. Inexplicably, Mariam takes him to her house to recuperate. Moebius takes the opportunity to drug her and implant a “hallucinogenic insect” in her nostril … a what?. Soon, Miriam’s life is taken over by nightmares, involving a diabolical cult leader, Damon (Tomas Arana), her pet rabbit and a dark well filled with mystical water. It was directed by Michele Soavi (The Church); written and produced by Dario Argento (Suspiria); and scored by Pino Donaggio (Dressed to Kill). The package adds enjoyable interviews with Arana and Soalvi.

Black Eagle: Special Edition: Blu-ray
When this straight-to-video actioner was released in 1988, fans of martial-arts flicks couldn’t possibly have known that the second-banana who nearly steals the show from reigning ninja enforcer, Sho Kosugi, would soon become famous as “The Muscle From Brussels.” Jean-Claude Van Damme was only five years removed from a successful kick-boxing campaign and wasn’t even ready to decide how he wanted his name to be spelled in credit rolls. Director Eric Karson (The Octagon) was called in at the last moment to salvage Black Eagle, for which Kosugi (Enter the Ninja) was the primary draw. Kosugi’s Ken Tani is an all-purpose CIA operative who’s called to Malta from Afghanistan, where he was fighting with the mujahideen against Soviet troops. When an American F-111 Aardvark, equipped with a new laser-guidance system, crashes into the Mediterranean, it attracts the attention of Soviet spies in the area. The CIA has already wasted one undercover agent in its efforts to thwart the enemy and calls in Tani to send the Russkies’ trawlers back to their Black Sea ports. Now, here’s where Black Eagle begins to go sideways: Tani refuses to accept the assignment, unless he’s allowed to salvage a promised vacation with his sons, by having the agency bring them to Malta. In doing so, the CIA is giving Tani an opportunity to split his time battling KGB agents – including JCVD’s ripped-and-ready Andrei – and hanging out with the two boys. Nothing could go wrong with that scenario, right? While Kosugi and Van Damme come together three times in hand-to-hand combat, the skirmishes are far too brief and made to look curiously even-handed. That’s because neither fighter would agree to being outmatched by the other on screen, even though the elder was the film’s designated fight coordinator. In an interview included in the package, Karson recalls having to split them up when things became too spirited between them. Even so, JCVD demonstrated his ability to perform splits while fighting and showing off for a pretty Soviet attaché, during a knife-throwing competition. His ability to perform lightning-fast kicks was also on display. Clearly, he was a star waiting to be born. Kosugi’s fine, as well, but their fighting disciplines don’t quite match up. Subsequently, their scenes together feel artificially short. It might have been fun to watch the slinky CIA babysitter (Doran Clark) engage in a Cold War cat fight with her hot KGB counterpart (Dorota Puzio), but, alas, it wasn’t to be. Tani’s sons are played by Kosugi’s real-life offspring, Shane and Kane. The package offers a 93-minute theatrical version and 104-minute uncut extended version of the film, deleted scenes, a collectible mini-poster and featurettes, “Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend,” “The Making of Black Eagle,” “Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme” and “The Script and the Screenwriters.”

The Hallelujah Trail: Blu-ray
Birdman of Alcatraz: Blu-ray
Five on the Black Hand Side: Blu-ray
Great Balls of Fire!: Blu-ray
There are a few good reasons to check out Olive Films’s Blu-ray edition of The Hallelujah Trail (1965), but none of them include watching Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick struggle in their attempts to lampoon Old West clichés embedded in the firmament of Hollywood mythmaking. Neither is well-suited for the assignment. Employing a faux-documentary format to crack wise on what’s clearly a parody – albeit, one photographed in Ultra Panavision 70 format – the 165-minute roadshow attraction almost negates John Sturges’ previous contributions to the genre in The Magnificent Seven (1960), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and Escape from Fort Bravo (1953). Almost, but not quite. Considering that the Mirisch Corporation and United Artists also were able to lure screenwriter John Gay (Separate Tables), cinematographer Robert Surtees (Ben-Hur), costume designer Edith Head (The Sting) and composer Elmer Bernstein (Thoroughly Modern Millie), it’s safe to say that Sturges was rewarded handsomely for making The Hallelujah Trail look like the real deal, at least. They earn their pay. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to excuse the film’s typically hideous portrayals of Native Americans – Martin Landau and Robert J. Wilke play Chief Walks-Stooped-Over and Chief Five Barrels – and demeaning take on Remick’s followers in the women’s-temperance movement. Lancaster and Jim Hutton’s cavalry leaders have been assigned the task of ensuring safe passage of a wagon train full of whiskey through Indian Country, to Denver. Brian Keith plays the greedy businessman who’s financed the delivery to taverns expected to run dry before winter. If that happens, the region’s miners could pull up their stakes and leave. Remick and Pamela Tiffin conspire against the wagons full of “demon rum” reaching Denver, while the Indians, of course, can’t wait to hijack the cargo of “fire water.” Dust storms and a strike by Irish Teamsters further complicate the proceedings. Hilarity ensues … not. I wonder if Mel Brooks was inspired by The Hallelujah Trail’s many miscues to make his infinitely more entertaining Blazing Saddles. If so, Sturges’ efforts weren’t in vain.

Lancaster fared far better in his portrayal of convicted murderer Robert Franklin Stroud, in John Frankenheimer’s Birdman of Alcatraz, also part of this month’s dispatch from Olive. If its portrayal of the surly amateur ornithologist stretches artistic license nearly to the breaking point – the movie should have been called “Birdman of Leavenworth” — the inaccuracies probably wound up helping a half-century’s worth of tour guides and shuttle-boat captains make their livings off tourists anxious to get a close look at the long-shuttered penitentiary. The Motion Picture Academy did its part by bestowing nominations on Lancaster, Telly Savalas, Thelma Ritter and cinematographer Burnett Guffey. The answer to the key question left unresolved in the movie – Why wasn’t Stroud, whose research was widely respected outside the prison, released on bail after 54 years in stir? – might have made him a far less sympathetic character than Lancaster’s performance allowed. (The star later claimed that authorities were concerned he might sexually abuse children.) Convention also dictated that Karl Maulden’s “Warden Harvey Shoemaker” be drawn as a composite of several different wardens that Stroud knew. None of that detracts from Birdman of Alcatraz’ inherent value as a vehicle for entertainment or Alcatraz’ appeal as a Bay Area landmark. For those unfamiliar with Lancaster’s star quality, it should prove to be a revelation, leading to sampling such triumphs as Elmer Gantry, From Here to Eternity, The Train, The Leopard, Atlantic City and Local Hero. Audio commentary is provided by Kate Buford, author of “Burt Lancaster: An American Life.”

Upon its release in 1973, Oscar Williams and Charlie L. Russell’s politically charged family dramedy Five on the Black Hand Side was all-too-conveniently lumped together with other blaxploitation flicks. While that approach might have seemed appropriate from a marketer’s point-of-view, it failed to account for the film’s absence of exploitative material – violence, nudity, vilifying “the Man” — and a willingness to find common ground between mainstream black parents and their dashiki-wearing children. Because it was adapted from Russell’s off-Broadway play, which launched in 1969, a certain stagebound quality seeped into the settings and performances. A tight budget couldn’t have helped, either. (Tyler Perry’s early career was likewise built on theater pieces recorded, as is, for instant adaptation to film. Williams’ direction is far more relaxed than Perry’s ever was, allowing for stage settings in a realistic apartment, the building’s roof, a barber shop and beauty parlor.) Leonard Jackson plays the domineering head of a middle-class African-American family. His home is his castle and his wife, son and daughter are his vassals. He’s only able to let down his hair, so to speak, at the barber shop, where he resents Black Power advocates in his chair and working alongside of him. After being handed a list of demands ahead of their daughter’s wedding, his wife (Clarice Taylor) is talked into compiling a list of her own, as well as adopting a new, more empowered look and attitude. Naturally, he bristles at her effrontery. It inspires her friends to lead a boycott of the shop, which is targeted more at the patrons’ wives than the barbers themselves. It remains an open question as to whether he’ll agree to compromise before the African-style wedding. If the ending feels a bit too pat, it serves well as a theatrical crowd-pleaser.

It may surprise casual fans of rock and country music to learn that Jerry Lee Lewis is still alive and kicking. As proof, the living legend was among the celebrities asked to share their condolences and admiration for evangelist Billy Graham, who died last week, at 99. “Billy was a great man that I admired, loved to watch when I had the chance, and always enjoyed talking the Bible with him,” said the man alternately known as “The Killer” and “rock & roll’s first great wild man.” In fact, his gospel roots run deep. Well before Lewis auditioned for Sun Records, in Memphis, his mother enrolled him in Southwest Bible Institute, in Waxahachie, Texas, so that he would be exposed exclusively to God’s music, as opposed to that favored by the devil. After he played a boogie-woogie rendition of “My God Is Real” at a church assembly, however, Lewis’ association with the school promptly ended. In Jim McBride’s wildly uneven, if frequently engaging biopic, Great Balls of Fire!, Lewis (Dennis Quaid) visits his evangelist cousin, Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin), who cautions that his real choice is between heaven and hell. “Well, if I’m goin’ to hell,” he says, “I’m gonna go playing the piano.” The movie doesn’t take viewers much farther than 1959, after his first hit records and shocking third marriage to his “first cousin twice removed,” Myra Gale Brown, well played by Winona Ryder. Lewis would survive the boycotts and lost income from cancelled concerts and plummeting record sales. He enjoyed several comebacks and re-discoveries by new generations of artists, even as his over-the-top behavior continued. That movie is still waiting to be made.

Milos Forman’s cinematic interpretation of the groundbreaking Broadway musical, “Hair,” holds up surprisingly well after 40 years … 50, if you include the original production. Originally billed as “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” it can be enjoyed today as a vehicle for nostalgia or as a wistful period fantasy. Most of the songs are still fun to sing out loud, alone in the shower or in a car, as well. Forman’s achievement in Hair, the movie musical, is redirecting the viewer’s point-of-view to that of Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage), a stranger in a strange world, prepared to die in a senseless, unwinnable war, even after being introduced to marijuana, LSD, free love, midnight swims in Central Park and other stimulants suited to a reconsideration of bred-in-the-bone patriotism. At the time of the film’s 1979 release, the Vietnam War was long over; LSD and marijuana had given way to more addictive drugs; no one wore headbands or bellbottoms, anymore; and Ronald Reagan’s ascent to the presidency was a foregone conclusion. The squares were in control of the country and the counterculture was thoroughly corrupted by Wall Street and Madison Avenue interests. Hair’s potential for success couldn’t be taken for granted. Unlike so many other adaptations of Broadway productions, Hair didn’t feel stagebound or cramped by space and time. Forman opened it up by tinkering with key plot points, eliminating songs from the Broadway score, changing the order in which they’re performed, and adding up-and-coming actors to a production that, on stage, only required great voices. (Several of the songs are lip-synched in the movie.) Twyla Tharp’s choreography is worth the price of a rental, itself. For some reason, Olive is sending out Hair as a DVD, which looks darn good, but isn’t Blu-ray. Oddly enough, it’s still rated PG, despite the prevalence of sex, drugs, rock-’n’-roll and some nudity. It isn’t anything that anyone over 13 hasn’t seen in movies, video games and real life, but newcomers should be aware of the ratings quirk.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: 4K UHD/HDR
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life: 4K UHD/HDR
It will be interesting to see how fans of the first two “Tomb Raider” movies react to Alicia Vikander assuming the role previously played by Angelina Jolie, whose outward appearance is completely different than that of the lithe Swedish Oscar-winner (The Danish Girl). The heroine of the video-game series has had her look and background altered several times in the last 20-plus years, so it isn’t likely gamers will mind Vikander’s presence … if they even bothered to attend the movies. Anyone who wants to be reminded of Jolie’s interpretation, before checking out Roar Uthaug’s reboot, is invited by Paramount to pick up Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life in their 4K UHD/HDR iterations. In the 2001 original, the voluptuous protagonist was introduced as a character born into wealth and provided with the best education. She travels the world in search of priceless gems, lost crypts and long-forgotten empires. In the movies, both of Lara’s parents have died and she doesn’t appear to have any firm allegiances, except to herself. In the original, she competed with the Illuminati to join the halves of the Triangle of Light, before all hell breaks lose in the solar system. In “The Cradle of Life,” Lara reluctantly joins forces with an old flame (Gerard Butler) after she loses control of a glowing orb, once owned by Alexander the Great, to the acquisitive leader a Chinese crime syndicate. The orb holds clues to the whereabouts of Pandora’s Box, which, we learn, is hidden inside the Cradle of Life, somewhere in Africa. It is protected there by cryptids – Bigfoots — that appear in and out of wet patches on dead trees. It’s there she will do battle with a nasty bioterrorist (Ciarán Hinds), who wants to rule the world. The combination of action, fantasy, sci-fi and sex appeal made some money for the studio, before Jolie decided to exit the franchise. In the reboot, Warner Bros. is hoping that Vikander will capture the same lightning in a bottle as Gal Gadot did for Wonder Woman.  It is primarily based on the 2013 video game of the same name by Crystal Dynamics. The Blu-ray versions that accompany the 4K disc contain the same bonus features that came on earlier editions.

The Coming War on China
If the continuing controversy surrounding control of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, doesn’t ring a bell, you may want to spend a few minutes of Internet time familiarizing yourself with the situation. If the ITV documentary, The Coming War on China, is to be believed, this largely submerged chain of 100 small islands, atolls, shoals and coral reefs could become the flashpoint for World War III. In 2013, China began a concerted effort to establish artificial islands throughout the Spratly archipelago, prompting a momentary frenzy among American media outlets, otherwise transfixed by the comings and goings of the Kardashian family. According to the CIA’s handy “World Factbook,” the islands are strategically located near several primary shipping lanes in the central South China Sea. They’re surrounded by rich fishing grounds and, potentially, gas and oil deposits. Here’s the rub, the Spratlys are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. Small numbers of military forces from those countries occupy 45 of the islands. The United States and the Philippines have forged three treaties that could force a direct confrontation with China. In The Coming War on China, writer/director John Pilger (The War You Don’t See) reminds viewers that this situation escalated under the watch of then-President Barack Obama. Ironically, he argues, the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize presided over a massive increase in nuclear spending and a strategic “pivot to Asia” that someday could force China’s hand. His successor, Donald Trump, has chosen to turn Americans’ attention to North Korea, a pipsqueak nation that only recently developed a nuclear threat of its own. If it seems odd that our trading partners in China haven’t shown much interest in containing their communist neighbor, Pilger uses charts, maps and data to illustrate how Obama managed to slip a noose around the massive country. The noose is comprised of hundreds of U.S. military sites – large and small, official and clandestine — stretching from Japan, South Korea, Guam and Okinawa, to Australia, India and Burma.

Kim Jong-un knows that the U.S. could destroy his country in a heartbeat, but he’s betting it won’t tighten the rope on its neighbor, a country that we couldn’t defeat in a land war or in a financial standoff. Still, with a president as unpredictable and temperamental as Donald Trump at the controls, anything’s possible. The Coming War on China offers a perspective on U.S./Chinese relations gleaned from history dating back nearly 200 years, to the Opium Wars, Chinese Exclusion Act, Boxer Rebellion, the Yellow Peril and recognition of Taiwan over the PRC. Pilger points to a letter written to President Harry Truman by revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, promoting trade and other common interests. Like a similar telegram sent in 1946 from anti-colonial leader Ho Chi Minh — requesting the assistance of the U.S. government in its negotiations with France – it was ignored. Apparently, a unified Asia inspired by Jeffersonian principles was a greater threat to post-war American imperialism than seeing a handful of individual countries go red. Truman convinced himself that any threat could be contained with military action, the threat of an atomic holocaust and the help of officials corrupted by American greenbacks. The strategy might have succeeded if those dollars had been channeled directly into the hands of the peasantry, instead of tyrants and their wives. China and Vietnam, while still technically communist, have found ways to make capitalism work for them. The Coming War on China was filmed over a two-year span, at five potential hotspots in Asia and the Pacific, using rare archival footage and remarkable interviews with witnesses who aren’t always aware of their foot being in their mouth. These include former residents of Bikini Atoll, where the U.S. tested weapons of mass destruction, with little regard for their future well-being. Today, across the bay from a resort-like American outpost in the Marshall Islands, three generations of survivors live in abject poverty and squalor, battling the lingering effects of radiation poisoning. Military administrators have known about the problems faced by residents of the survivors’ colony for many years and, while acknowledging their urgency here, admit to Washington’s refusal to fix any of them. On Okinawa, a citizenry outraged by rapes committed by U.S. forces stationed there has demanded more input into who’s in control of the island. Pilger uses interviews with less-than-credible Pentagon war planners, scholars, analysts and members of the PRC’s new political class to inform viewers of the fragility of our China policy and growing dependence on a first-strike nuclear solution.

Copyright Criminials: The Funky Drummer Edition
Even though Benjamin Franzen’s Copyright Criminals: The Funky Drummer Edition originally aired in 2010 on PBS’ “Independent Lens,” the documentary doesn’t look or sound remotely outdated in 2018. It asks the question central to the decades-long argument over what differentiates “sampling” — borrowing lyrics or riffs from already recorded music – from outright theft, especially as practiced by hip-hop artists. The debate began in the 1950s, when white singers recorded sanitized versions of early rock, blues and R&B hits – “Hound Dog,” “Tutti Frutti” and “Ain’t That a Shame” being prime examples – and continued through the 1960-70s, when George Harrison and Led Zeppelin were accused of conscious and unconscious plagiarism. When rap and emceeing transitioned to the more melodic hip-hop, emerging artists were largely forgiven for paying homage to their forebears by borrowing riffs, upon which they built songs of their own. When hip-hop no longer could be dismissed as a fad, and digital technology emerged as an enabling force, the original creators decided that it was time for them to be paid for their contributions. Rick James sued MC Hammer for sampling and repeating the prominent opening riff of “Super Freak,” in “U Can’t Touch This,” while former Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman went after De La Soul for appropriating a 12-second segment from “You Showed Me,” for use on “Transmitting Live From Mars.” As the title suggests, Copyright Criminals: The Funky Drummer Edition puts a tight focus on Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s drummer and “the world’s most sampled musician”), as well as commentary by another highly sampled musician, funk legend, George Clinton. Franzen maintains a balance between the creative and legal sides of the recording industry, while offering plenty of instructive examples. The double-DVD includes “The Art of Sampling With Cee-Lo Green,” “The Funky Drummer in the Studio With Chuck D,” “Eclectic Method Uncut Audio-Visual Remixes,” “Fair Use Explained: Four Featurettes by the Center for Social Media,” extended interviews with Chuck D, De La Soul and Clyde Stubblefield and lots of other goodies.

PBS: American Masters: Tyrus
PBS: Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities
PBS: Dinosaur Train: Big Pond Adventures
Smithsonian: Designing Dogs
In any discussion about the contributions of Asian immigrants to American culture – the creation of an Asian-American History Month, perhaps — the story of Tyris Wong would be of foremost interest. Like so many others, it begins in poverty in post-dynastic China and his uncertain status upon arrival at Angel Island, due to the still-enforced Asian Exclusion Act. He traveled with his father across the Pacific – forever leaving his mother and sister behind — but was stuck on the island by himself for months. Finally, he was summoned by his father to Sacramento and, later, Los Angeles, where Wong’s innate artistic talent rose to the surface and he was encouraged to enter an arts programs. He found work at Disney Studios, where his lush pastels and naturalistic brush strokes were put to good use on Bambi. (Next time you watch the movie with kids, focus on the impressionistic backdrops inspired by classical Song Dynasty art.) In the wake of the bitter 1941 animators’ strike, which lasted five weeks, Wong was fired from Disney. Although credited as one of several background illustrators, his full contribution to the film went largely unacknowledged for several decades. After leaving Disney, Wong worked for Hallmark Cards and Warner Brothers Studios, as a production illustrator, until his retirement in 1968. Wong’s passion for art and design kept him busy for the remaining 48 years of his life. He built, painted and flew kites, while also adding his signature strokes to plates, ceramics, posters and menus. It’s truly beautiful work. Pamela Tom’s intimate 2015 documentary, “Tyrus” – broadcast as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series – emphasizes his ability to bridge cultures through art, without ignoring the forces of racism that tried, but failed to hold him down.  It ends with a welcome, if belated celebration of Wong’s contributions to Disney, with an exhibit of his paintings. Featurettes include “Tyrus Visits Angel Island,” where he discovered wall carvings made during his forced stay there, and “Tyrus and His Artwork.”

Last February, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos caused a social-media panic – one of several prompted by members of President Trump’s clown-college Cabinet – with a statement she released after meeting with several presidents of historically black colleges and universities. If she had watched the PBS special, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” DeVos could have avoided the controversy. In her statement, she praised them for being “real pioneers when it comes to school choice. … They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.” While that might be a demonstrable point of view, De Vos failed to acknowledge how little choice has been accorded several generations of African-American students when it came to earning diplomas and launching meaningful careers. She ignored the fact that it wasn’t until the early 1960s that blacks were able to attend institutions of higher learning in the South and, in some cases, the court orders could be only implemented with the positioning of U.S. marshals and National Guardsmen on the campuses. It would take several more years for Southern colleges to recruit black athletes or even compete against schools that fielded an African-American player. The first students to break the color barriers had to demonstrate great courage and be of impeccable character. Scholarships were difficult to come by, as well. Before the Civil War, only three black colleges were established, and they were sponsored by Northern churches. Several more came on line after the conflict, but it wasn’t until the Second Morrill Act of 1890 that 17 segregated states were required to establish a separate land-grant college for blacks, if they were being excluded from the state’s existing land-grant college. In 1944, the United Negro College Fund was incorporated to raise and provide funds for scholarships at 37 private HBCU institutions. Since adopting the motto, “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” more than $2.2 billion has been raised and more than 350,000 minority students have graduate from the schools. The PBS Black History Month special should be considered required viewing for incoming education secretaries, as it examines the impact these institutions have had on American history, culture and national identity. As filmmakers Stanley Nelson & Marco Williams assert, “These institutions have nurtured some of the most influential Americans of our time, from Booker T. Washington to Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison to Oprah Winfrey, Alice Walker to Spike Lee to Common. … HBCUs were also a place of unprecedented freedom for African American students and a refuge from the rampant racism that raged outside the campus walls.”

In “Dinosaur Train: Big Pond Adventures,” PBS Kids invites viewers 3 to 6 years of age to “dive into eight action-packed adventures at the Big Pond. with the Pteranodon family. Watch Buddy and Tiny work together to catch fish, find out what happens when Mr. Pteranodon and Larry accidently miss the last train home, and see Buddy and Don discover fossilized tracks that are millions of years old.” The Jim Henson Company production allows kids to apply scientific thinking, while discovering new types of dinosaur species, compare and contrast dinosaurs to today’s creatures and embrace the living sciences of paleontology and natural science.” The set is 88 minutes long.

Like the animators at Disney/Pixar, average folks have been cross-breeding dogs for centuries, not always on purpose. Humane Society kennels are full of mutts and other mixed-breeds cast-offs that ceased to impress their owners at one stage of their development or another. The Smithsonian presentation, “Designing Dogs,” chronicles the never-ending search for the perfect canine and looks at the world of hybrid, purebred and rescue dogs. These animals represent crosses between two purebred dogs of different genetic backgrounds. One of reasons people are drawn to purebreds is to assure that common traits are passed down to subsequent generations of the breed. Hybrids can be a bit of a crap shoot, with some characteristics transferred and others lost. By now, potential owners of hybrids have a pretty good idea of how the dogs will turn out and if they will match their vision of canine perfection. Puggles, Schnoodles, Yorkipoos, Labradoodles and Pomchis are popular now, but there are dozens of other cross-breeds, with names that run the gamut from descriptive to fanciful to ridiculous.

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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