MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Thor, Gintama, Novitiate, White Sun, Faces Places, Voyage, Paris Opera, Strangers, Moveable Feast and more

Thor: Ragnarok: Blu-ray: 4K UHD
Comic books are said to have existed in America since the publication of the hardcover book, “The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck,” in 1842. Newspaper comic strips and panels became a phenomenon in New York at the end of the 1890s, with “The Katzenjammer Kids” and “The Yellow Kid.” It wasn’t until the 1930s that comics in the print and visual media came of age, with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s “Superman,” which opened the door for a legion of superheroes to come. It’s been something of roller-coaster ride for comic books, strips and movies, ever since. Anyone born since the advent of the digital age might think that studios have always been buoyed by the fortunes of their comic-book franchises. Until recently, though, they’ve been anything but a sure thing. Expensive to make and subject to the whims of fickle fan bases, comic-book movies now flourish commercially because of the extraordinary emergence of modern theaters in foreign markets and audiences hungry for CGI thrills. Unlike comics, storylines are incidental to a movie’s performance.

Take Parmount/Buena Vista’s Thor series, for example. Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013) barely covered their production and marketing nuts through domestic box-office receipts. It’s likely that above-average overseas numbers kept the franchise alive. It wasn’t until last year’s release of Thor: Ragnarok that business exploded on both fronts. While it probably didn’t matter much that critics universally approved of Taika Waititi’s interpretation of the legend, the pulled quotes looked impressive on ads. Thor originated – in comics, anyway – in Marvel’ “Journey into Mystery,” released in August 1962. (The Norse god also found a place in the DC Universe, thanks to Jack Kirby’s brief defection to Marvel’s rival, in the 16th issue of “Tales of the Unexpected.”) Chris Hemsworth has played Thor in the three big-screen editions, as well as a trio of wildly popular Avengers installments. Two more are already on the drawing board.

Even though I’ve watched the Blu-ray editions of Thor and Thor: The Dark World, and perused the bonus features, it took me a while to figure out what precisely was going on in Thor: Ragnarok. Comic books used to be simple, if only because they were created to appeal to children and adults, with similarly short attention spans. Recent immigrants also found them useful as a tool to learning English. If you have a few hours to kill, check out the Wikipedia entries related to Thor’s appearances in the print and electronic media since 1962. They take up as much, or more digital space as that devoted to most American presidents. It’s there that anyone as unfamiliar with the word, “Ragnarok,” as I was, probably would look first. (I assume that the vast majority of all proper nouns in sci-fi are fabrications and sometimes don’t bother.)  In Norse mythology, Ragnarök refers to a series of foretold events, including a great battle, expected to result in the deaths of the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr and Loki. The occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water, would be followed by the emergence of a new world and Genesis-like rebirth of humanity. (It’s also the name of an internationally popular online role-playing game.)

As Thor: Ragnarok opens, Our Hero has been imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown), on Muspelheim, a planet the other side of the metaphysical universe from Asgard. Before returning to home, where the beginning stages of the apocalypse have begun, Thor must defeat Surfur and claim the holy crown stolen from Odin. Back on Asgard, where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is posing as Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor learns from Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that Odin passing his final day, in exile, in Norway … what, you thought Burbank? While Thor gathers strength from his final visit with his father, he is disturbed to learn it’s already carved in stone that his first-born child, Hela, is entitled to the crown. When the so-called Mistress of the Darkness (Cate Blanchett), who’s been part of Marvel’s greater media universe since 1964, is freed from her own imprisonment, she wastes no time regaining control of Asgard. She does so by destroying Thor’s hammer, obliterating Odin’s army and the Warriors Three (Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi), and resurrecting her undead legions, which include her giant wolf companion, Fenris, and executioner, Skurge (Karl Urban). Heimdall (Idris Elba) returns from exile, as well, to serve Hela as a warrior, while also protecting vulnerable Asgardians.

Thor and Loki are expelled. Instead of dying, though, they land on the garbage planet Sakaar, which is surrounded by wormholes. After they are captured by a Valkyrior (Tessa Thompson), Thor is sold to the planet’s Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) for gladiatorial purposes and Loki once again elects to serve the opposing team. As fate would have it, Thor is pitted against his old pal, Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), the original bull in a china shop. the Incredible. Long story shorter, they eventually will form an alliance and return to Asgard, where the final battle to save humanity will transpire on the Bifröst bridge, which connects the nearly spent planet to Midgard (Earth). As verbose as that summary makes it sound, Thor: Ragnorak is replete with imaginatively conceived action and snazzy comic-book graphics. Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost’s extremely complex, yet surprisingly funny script complements Waititi’s playful directorial conceits, which previously were observed in Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Boy (2010) and Eagle vs Shark (2007). The combined budgets of those pictures probably were less than what Waititi spent to license Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which also was inspired by Norse mythology and sets part of the tone in Thor: Ragnorok. The Blu-ray and 4K UHD looks terrific. Audio commentary, with Waititi, and 11 rather short featurettes are bundled on the separate BD disc.

Gintama: Blu-ray
Although the roots of manga can be traced to the anthropomorphic characters found on 12th Century scrolls, Japanese comic books and cartooning followed a path similar that taken by newspaper strips, serials, comic books and magazines in western countries. Manja really boomed in post-World War II, after censorship was outlawed and artistic creativity was encouraged. Osamu Tezuka’s “Mighty Atom” (a.k.a., “Astro Boy”) and Machiko Hasegawa’s “The Wonderful World of Sazae-san” led the charge into markets divided by age and gender. The earliest commercial Japanese animation dates to 1917, with the characteristic anime style emerging in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the early-1980s that anime found a second home in the U.S., however. The live-action feature, Gintama, is adapted from a long-running manga, Gin Tama, written and illustrated by Hideaki Sorachi, and serialized in Shueisha Publishing’s Weekly Shōnen Jump anthology. It’s been adapted three times as a feature film, twice in animated form, and, last year, in a truly wacky and sometimes wonderful live-action format. Populated with characters and subplots that wouldn’t be out of place in Guardians of the Galaxy, Gintama is set in an alternate Edo-period Japan, where an alien race has invaded the country and taken control. In doing so, the invaders forced the powerful samurai to lay down their swords. Once feared as the White Demon, former samurai Gintoki Sakata, now works as an everyday handyman. That changes when a master swordsman tasks him with finding a cursed Benizakura sword to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. There’s no scarcity of swashbuckling sci-fi action and offbeat humor, some of it aimed directly at the lowest common denominator of audience tastes. Gintama, which was partially financed by Warner Bros., looks pretty spiffy in Blu-ray, as well, but only offers three teasers as extras.

Novitiate: Blu-ray
Once a staple of any major studio’s repertoire, melodramas featuring Roman Catholic nuns and priests have become something of a vanishing species. Priests have become problematic because it’s no longer possible to cast one without audiences wondering if he might be there to address issues pertaining child abuse. It’s difficult to identify an important actress who hasn’t played a nun during her career. After the release of Sister Act (1992) and Dead Man Walking (1995), in which Whoopie Goldberg and Susan Sarandon played the yin and yang of American sisterhood, there wasn’t much more to add to the subgenre. In 2008, John Patrick Shanley’s extremely topical Doubt might have made a few pennies, thanks to chilling performances by Oscar nominees Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a priest suspected of abusing his school’s only black student; Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, as nuns who confront him; and Viola Davis, as the boy’s mother. In 2015, Best Picture-winner Spotlight made some money for Universal, but thanks only to robust foreign sales. Lately, though, documentaries have been left to do the heavy lifting.

Plug the keyword, “Nun/Catholic” into’s highly unscientific data base and 282 titles pop up. Subtract “Catholic” and it grows to nearly 1,800. Add “Convent” and it rises to 321. There’s room there for nuns who sing, fly, sin, lose their faith, regain it, wear habits, discard them and pray, although fewer than one might assume. Chronologically, they are loosely bookended by The White Sister (1923), starring Lilian Gish, and Novitiate (2017), with the similarly estimable Melissa Leo. The latter is a compelling period drama that received excellent reviews, but a mere handful of playdates. It isn’t difficult to see why, really. Margaret Betts’ debut feature is set in the early-1960s, just as the Second Vatican Council was about to introduce the Roman Catholic Church to the second half of the 20th Century. In the United States, at least, it was still a time when large families were encouraged to heed the calling of God by “giving” one of their children to the Church, as a priest or nun. In my extended family, it was both. Back then, there were as many other reasons for joining a seminary or convent as there are flavors of Baskins Robbins ice cream. Nuns wore habits and priests wore detachable collars around their neck. Celibacy wasn’t necessarily looked upon as something weird or an excuse for perverse behavior. That’s just the way it was.

In Novitiate, Margaret Qualley is extremely convincing as Cathleen Harris, a slightly withdrawn teenager being raised in a rural Tennessee town by her divorced mother, Nora (Julianne Nicholson). As an avowed agnostic, Nora rarely asks Cathleen to go to church, but, when they do, she’s strangely drawn to the priest’s homilies and mysteries of the Latin mass. Nora doesn’t sense anything is wrong when local nuns offer Cathleen a scholarship to the local parish school, which she knows is a vast improvement over the other options. What she doesn’t know is that it often serves as a feeder institution for convents, where many nuns were trained to serve the Church as teachers, nurses, social workers and missionaries. It wasn’t for everyone, so those who stayed usually knew what they were in for … expect when it came to celibacy, which can only be encouraged, not taught. Though still not officially Catholic, Cathleen decides that she wants to give herself over to Christ by accepting an invitation to join an order of cloistered nuns. Her mom isn’t thrilled by her decision, but she doesn’t know how to talk her daughter out of it, especially considering how badly her marriage turned out. In the dormitory, where the young postulants are allowed time to talk freely with one another. Like Cathleen, the girls are drawn to the convent by their love for God and a desire to return His love through prayer and silent meditation. Their conversations are filled with the same passion for Jesus Christ as their peers reserve for their boyfriends. They see nothing sad or freakish about their withdrawal from the material world or the restrictions imposed on them by Mother Superior (Leo). For now, at least.

The Reverend Mother is as old-school it was possible to be in the 1950s. Most of the girls’ time is devoted to prayer or chores that were to be performed in silence and to the letter. They were given set periods of time when they exchange greetings and small talk. Once they’re acclimated to the rules, Mother Superior schedules weekly confessionals, during which the novitiates confess their sins out loud – as minor as they might be – and open themselves not only to criticism, but also the recriminations of their peers. Because most of the girls are pure as the driven snow, they are required to dig deeply into their souls to find something resembling the stain of sin. Mother Superior takes advantage of their naivete to weed out the weaklings and discourage the stronger girls from testing her will. The abusive nature of the process isn’t presented as being necessarily bad or gratuitous, any more than the hazing of Marine recruits in Full Metal Jacket could be considered entirely without value. About halfway into the novitiates’ probationary period, Mother Superior is told by a representative of the archdiocese that her methods have become unsound and are not in keeping with the reforms of Vatican II. When another reprimand is issued, she is rocked to her core that the Church into which she married as a girl has forsaken her. Her greatest sin, however, is refusing to alert the novitiates that great changes were on their way and to anticipate the likelihood of being accorded more freedom. It isn’t a message everyone wants to hear. Novitiate can be viewed as a companion piece to Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013), Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents (2016), Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men (2010) and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus.

White Sun
A comprehensive familiarity of the decade-long Nepalese civil war – which ended in 2006 – isn’t necessary to enjoy Deepak Rauniyar’s sophomore feature, White Sun. A basic understanding of the overlying facts will suffice. That such a conflagration even occurred may come as a surprise to anyone who isn’t of Nepali or Indian ancestry, doesn’t read the New York Times, listen to the BBC World Service, or was a climber inconvenienced by the Maoist insurgency. Some 17,800 people were killed, including many non-combatants, and 1,300 are still missing, Sheer numbers, however, can’t do justice to the pain and heartache felt by survivors. White Sun plays out in a tiny mountain village, several years after a Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed and the monarchy was dissolved. Rauniyar does a masterful job condensing the disparate issues still affecting the citizenry into a comprehensive 89-minute narrative, leaving plenty of room for traditional drama, fractured romance, a smattering of humor and depiction of male chauvinism dictated by religion and custom. On the occasion of his father s death and funeral, Chandra (Dayahang Rai) returns to the village he left years earlier to join the Maoist rebels. His father and brother, Suraj (Rabindra Singh Baniya) sided with the losing royalist government, as did many of their neighbors. A small unit of Maoist guerrillas are still holding out on a mountaintop across a deep valley, but things are mostly peaceful. The first thing the politically disaffected Chandra notices is the lack of any of the structural improvements promised by the coalition government. The second is a growing debate over the disposition of his overweight father’s body, which barely made it through the window frame of his two-story home. Because the deceased insisted on a traditional religious funeral, the village priest was able to lay down strict conditions on its execution. Among other things, custom dictates that sons must carry their father’s body to the cremation site, which is alongside a swiftly flowing river deep in the valley.

The brothers’ estrangement becomes evident when Suraj drapes a Nepali flag over their father’s body and Chandra responds by pulling it off him. As the procession, which excludes women, makes its way down a steep hill to the riverside pyre, the brothers’ delicate truce completely erodes. By now, however, their disagreement includes the welfare of 10-year-old Pooja and a request by her lower-caste mother, Durga (Asha Margranti), for Chandra to sign a paternity statement that would allow her to attend school in a larger city. The precocious child has been led to believe that Chandra’s her biological father and became confused by the gossip raised by his arrival with Badri, a street orphan rumored to be his son. While Durga admits to cheating on her ex-husband, she’s quick to point out that Pooji wouldn’t have been born out of wedlock in the first place if Chandra hadn’t deserted her. Halfway to the river, Suraj abruptly decides to quit the procession, leaving Chandra with the corpse and a dozen old men who either are too weak to carry it or, because they aren’t related to the dead village elder, can’t even touch the corpse. By this time, however, Chandra is willing to veto the priest’s strict orders and seek help elsewhere. He first visits the home of a newly appointed government official, who lives nearby and owes his life to his former comrade. No matter, because the politician refuses to interrupt the party at his home to ask for volunteers. He turns to the local police, while Durga rounds up the local guerrillas, who still consider Chandra to be a brother-in-arms. Let’s just say here that things don’t work out as anyone planned and it takes the combined efforts of Pooji, Badri and other village children to accomplish what their elders couldn’t do. The lesson to be taken away from White Sun may be obvious, but it’s as compelling as ever: the only hope for mankind’s future lies in our children. The fine acting performances are complemented by cinematographer Mark O’Fearghail’s beautiful widescreen images of Himalayan peaks, mountain trails and goat paths, and Vivek Maddala’s evocative score.

Faces Places: Blu-ray
In its infinite wisdom, the Motion Picture Academy elects not to celebrate the winners of its Honorary Awards on the night of its gala ceremony. Host Jimmy Kimmel alluded to this slight in his introductions to Donald Sutherland, Charles Burnett, Owen Roizman, Agnés Varda and Special Achievement Award-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu by tweaking the academy (and/or ABC) for its concern over not wanting to bore the viewers at home. The producers should have thought of that when they decided to force Kimmel to introduce celebrities assigned to introduce other celebrities chosen to read the list of nominees in a category. Varda had already been handed her trophy in November by Angelina Jolie, during the Governor’s Ball. Faces Places, her delightful collaboration with French photographer/muralist JR, had yet to be shortlisted by the academy’s documentary branch or nominated for the Independent Spirit Award it took home last weekend. Last May, Faces Places won the Cannes festival’s Golden Eye, the first of many such prizes and critics’ nods it would receive going into the Academy Award deliberations. Of the five finalists – all deserving – Faces Places is the only doc that’s as entertaining as it is intellectually stimulating. (The winner, Bryan Fogel’s Icarus, exposed Russia’s systematic doping of athletes and attempted silencing of whistle-blowers.)

Faces Places combines elements of the buddy film and road picture, with a heavy dollop of nostalgia for disappearing ways of life in France. The extreme differences in their ages, height, shape and preferred artistic mediums would have argued against the success of any successful collaboration between 89-year-old Varda and 33-year-old JR. Overriding those differences, however, was their lifelong passion for images and how they are created, displayed and shared. The result was a far-reaching exercise in monumental, public, outsider and conceptual art – take your pick — that wouldn’t require a PhD or membership to the Louvre to appreciate. Together, the artists toured the countryside in JR’s specially appointed photo truck, meeting locals, learning their stories and producing epic-size portraits of them. They also stopped off at the port city of Havre. The photos, which were prominently displayed on the sides of houses, barns, storefronts, shipping containers and train cars, demanded of viewers that they recognize the humanity in their subjects and themselves. The most touching image, perhaps, is that of the elderly widow of a miner, whose company-built row house was about to be replaced by something more modern … which is to say, soulless and too expensive for her to afford. When it was plastered on the front wall of the building, it reminded passersby that the house and the woman were about to go the way of the local mining industry. Beyond its entertainment value, Faces Places could easily stimulate the imaginations of children in need of artistic inspiration. The Blu-ray adds a long interview with Varda and JR and three deleted vignettes.

The hurt caused by the untimely death of a loved one – due to an accident, natural disasters or suicide — is something that defies easy consideration in the arts. The absence of closure that derives from such unexpected events plagues survivors for the rest of their days, even if there was no way to prevent a car crash, hurricane or school takeover by a lunatic with an automatic rifle. Friends and relatives of people who take their own lives agonize over missing signs of distress or their failure to intervene when they arose. The uncompromising Hong Kong filmmaker, Scud (Utopians), tackles such difficult themes head-on in his alternately poetic, disturbing and surrealistic, Voyage. Because he does so in interlaced vignettes, it takes a while to understand what’s on Scud’s mind here. The movie opens in a remote part of Mongolia, suitable primarily for grazing sheep, during China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. A student from the city has been ordered to move to the yurt shared by a young shepherd and his wife, ostensibly to be re-educated in the progressive ways of the peasantry. Like Mao’s hugely divisive initiative, the student’s mission fails miserably. His death isn’t without a peculiar sort of beauty, symmetry and mystery, however. The rest of Voyage takes place in the present, as a relatively young psychiatrist embarks on a solo journey from Hong Kong, along the coast of Southeast Asia, to overcome his depression. On route, he records stories of people who departed this world prematurely, some of whom he treated professionally. Scud dramatizes the stories, with an eye to the victims’ immediate journey through the afterlife. In his interpretation of Chinese religious belief, people who commit suicide linger between heaven and Earth for a year, reassessing their lives before committing the same act once again. (Yes, like an infinitely more cruel take on the Groundhog Day theme.) Naturally, the lingering effects of unrequited love also figure into the situations portrayed here. Charlie Lam’s evocative cinematography captures the atmospheric factors in Scud’s musings, whether the vignettes take place in Hong Kong and Mongolia, or Malaysia, Australia’s Outback and Ayers Rock, Germany and the Netherlands. Scud doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of homo- and hetero-erotic sexuality or full-frontal nudity. While none feel gratuitous, it could be too much for easily offended viewers. Anyone looking for something completely different could do a lot worse than accepting the challenge presented in Voyage. The Breaking Glass DVD adds an interesting making-of featurette – which frequently forgets to add subtitles to dialogue in Chinese and other languages.

Curse of the Mayans
Of all the world’s lost civilizations, few have been as effectively exploited in genre fiction as the Mayan. If their demise remains mysterious, the objects left behind have fueled the imaginations of scientists, artists, writers and conspiracy theorists in equal measure. Moreover, as part of their religious beliefs, the Mayans practiced human sacrifice. Remnants of the Mayans’ great architectural feats continue to be discovered in the Yucatan jungle, as are subterranean waterways and caverns that raise even more questions. Although the highly sophisticated culture began its decline 500 years before the Spaniards arrival in 900 A.D., the God-fearing, gold-worshipping conquistadors took care of what was left of it. A basic misreading of the Mayan calendar recently inspired several studios to embark on projects that prophesized the calamitous end of the world. That the apocalypse didn’t occur as anticipated hasn’t stopped screenwriters from speculating on what might have screwed up the calculations. Curse of the Mayans may be a minor entry in the subgenre, but its adherence to myth and spooky Yucatan settings make up for some cheesy plotting and underfinanced special effects. In the preface to Joaquin Rodriguez’ tale, we’re told, “According to the Mayan book of creation, the Mayan spoke of a species of lizard men who descended from the sky and captured their civilization.” Nine of them wreaked havoc on the population before being captured and imprisoned behind a thick wall in the underground caves. When American archeologist Alan Green (Steve Wilcox) senses that he’s stumbled upon the entryway to the cave, he makes veteran diver Danielle Noble (Carla Ortiz) an offer she can’t refuse to reassemble her team and join the expedition. The cover of the DVD already telegraphs the presence of a UFO – like the one in District 9 — and a monster that could be called, the Creature From the Turquoise Lagoon. Nothing truly surprising happens after the team is ambushed by a bunch of Frito banditos seeking money and nookie, but the incident whets our appetite for something exceedingly cruel and bizarre. Unfortunately, the budget didn’t provide for adequate lighting of the subterranean world and too many of the confrontations between the lizard people and the divers are lost in the darkness. The F-bombs dropped in the verbal exchanges tell me that Curse of the Mayans wasn’t intended for consumption by Syfy audiences. Without them, however, it would been a perfect fit.

The Paris Opera
The Phantom of the Opera doesn’t make an appearance in Jean-Stéphane Bron’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Paris Opera, but the hideously disfigured menace probably couldn’t have caused the venerable institution any more problems than it naturally experienced in the 2015-16 season. Besides coordinating the challenging day-to-day operations of a cultural institution founded in 1669 by Louis XIV, newly appointed director Stéphane Lissner was forced to contend with the potential for a labor strike, the possible threat of a terrorist attack, the defection of the Paris Opera Ballet’s director of dance, the last-minute illness of a lead baritone, a strategic reduction in ticket prices, opening-night-seating diplomacy and the casting of a massive bull for Schönberg’s “Moses and Aaron.” If Lissner had also been required to deal with a caped ghost demanding creative input, it might have qualified as the least of his worries. Bron’s cameras take us behind the scenes at the famed Palais Garnier, where drama unfolds every day, on and off stage. At 110 minutes, it would have been impossible to adequately cover everything that happens on the job, and anyone anxious for wall-to-wall coverage of singing, acting and dancing is likely to be disappointed. That’s handled in visits to rehearsal halls, dressing rooms and behind-the-curtains shots of a prominent diva having her perspiration swabbed by a dedicated assistant. Bryn Terfel and Millepied prepare for their upcoming performances in their street garb, while a talented intern takes mental notes on how he might handle such fame when it’s his turn to shine. The Paris Opera is one of three documentaries recently shot at Palais Garnier and its separate ballet school: Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009) and Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai’s Reset. The bonus package adds commentary and an interview with Bron, as well as the short film, “Les Indes Galantes,” by director Clément Cogitore.

The Strangers: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
This weekend, a sequel to the surprise 2008 home-invasion hit, The Strangers, will be released into theaters around the world. The Strangers: Prey at Night stars Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) Martin Henderson (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Bailee Madison (“Good Witch”) as an unfortunate family required to deal with the crazed trio of masked intruders — Pin-Up Girl, Dollface and Man in the Mask – this time in an abandoned trailer park. It is based on a screenplay written Bryan Bertino, who was solely responsible for the original, which gets a fresh polish from Scream Factory this week. The Strangers isn’t the scariest home-invasion flicks I’ve seen – Funny Games (1997, 2008), High Tension (2005), Wait Until Dark (1967), Them (2006), Knock Knock (2015) are better – but sympathetic performances by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, as an already unhappy couple, provide a sharp contrast to the nihilistic violence that necessitates the rekindling of their feelings for each other. Like any good home-invasion thriller, the familiar setting allows viewers to empathize with the ordeal of the innocent protagonists. The “Collector’s Edition” contains a new 2K remake of the theatrical and unrated versions of the film; fresh interviews with Bertino, Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask), Laura Margolis (Pin-Up Girl) and editor Kevin Greutert; ported-over interviews with cast and crew, and Bertino; and deleted scenes.

PBS: A Moveable Feast With Fine Cooking: Season 5
Nickelodeon: PAW Patrol: Sea Patrol
Like game shows, comedies, serials and mysteries, cooking programs began on the radio and transitioned to television in the 1950s. Broadcasts can be traced to World War II, when nutritionists helped homemakers adjust to food rationing and unexpected shortages. It took Julia Child’s wonderfully eccentric personality to convince Americans that French cuisine wasn’t limited to snails and frog legs. I’ve enjoyed listening to fine essayists describe their favorite meals in ways that made my mouth water, but, today, the genre is dominated by television-based chefs, who run the gamut from bland to fascistic. We can be as fickle in our choice of preferred hosts as we are about the food we eat. I’m reminded of this every couple of weeks, when a DVD containing a full season’s worth of a show’s episodes – or a profile of a famous chef or restaurant – lands on my doorstep. My favorite shows combine food preparation, dining and travel in equal measures. If I were to pick a particular host to watch on weekly basis, it would be Anthony Bourdain, for his edgy sense of humor and ability to put food into the cultural context of the places he visits. I’ve reviewed previous seasons of PBS’ “A Moveable Feast With Fine Cooking,” often citing the show’s tendency to appeal to yuppies and its cloying background music. I was drawn to the Season Five lineup, however, by the choice of regions, several of which I’ve also visited. Aussie host Pete Evans may best be described as the anti-Bourdain, in that you’re always expecting him to say, “G’day,” while flashing a Ken-doll smile. This season, though, the locations, food and guest chefs were allowed to speak for themselves. Full shows were dedicated to Santa Fe and Taos; Seattle; San Luis Obispo and Carmel, on California’s Central Coast; Dijon, Paris and Cadenet, France; Polesine Parmense, Livorno, Vercelli and Bologna, Italy; and Puerto Rico, before the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Thank goodness, the annoying dinner guests mostly stayed in the background and kept quiet.

Nickelodeon’s latest compilation, “Paw Patrol: Sea Patrol,” follows the gang as they gear up for some underwater crime fighting and problem solving. The six nautical-themed adventures from Season Four include two double-length tales and missions to save a shark, a frozen flounder a narwhal, rescue a baby octopus and support the town pier.

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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