MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Mohawk, Insidious IV, Proud Mary, Are We Not Cats, Fencer, Man From Earth, Mary Stark, Child in Time and more

Mohawk: Blu-ray
I’d like to promote a gritty action adventure picture so small it didn’t even register a blip at Box Office Mojo. If Mohawk had been produced and released in the same general vicinity as Little Big Man, Soldier Blue, Black Robe or The Last of the Mohicans, writer-director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) might have found a niche among fine revisionist Westerns. As it is, he can be proud of almost universal raves in and kudos for showing a different side to Uncle Sam’s decades-long campaign to eradicate native Americans from their homes. Make no mistake: Mohawk is a genre film from start to finish. No one holds the high ground for very long. Now that the true horrors of American genocide are no longer hidden under layers of dust in museums and university archives, Geoghegan isn’t required to build a case for the revenge-minded Indians – the ones not killed in the smallpox epidemic if 1635, anyway – before they’re driven to war. Here, they are still being punished for backing the losing teams in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 and refusing to buy into the American dream of dairy farms and white picket fences, stretching from sea to shining sea.

After a frontier outpost is overrun by Mohawks unwilling to relocate to Canada, it becomes incumbent on the survivors to capture them and either lead them to justice at a nearby fort or kill them on the spot. The disparity in fire power is represented by a British arms dealer’s efforts to trade hatchets for furs, while the Americans carry muskets, pistols and swords. The Mohawks’ greatest ally is their sibling relationship with the forest, but the advantage is shrinking with every new Yankee victory. After the fair-minded American officer is killed, his spot is taken over by a venom-spouting racist who never met an Indian he didn’t already hate. He makes the unilateral decision to torture and hang a young warrior, who shares a lover with the Brit. Made up (or tattooed) to resemble a ghost, Oak is played with gusto by Kaniehtiio Horn (“Hemlock Grove”), a 5-foot-8 Canadian Mohawk who’s pregnant and in love with both the captive and British arms trader. Carnage begets carnage, until there’s no one left to draw last blood. The costumes and makeup seem reasonably accurate throughout Mohawk and the action is staged, in part, at Syracuse’s Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center. While I wouldn’t care to hazard a guess as to the movie’s historical accuracy, Mohawk looks great and Geoghegan nimbly injects a supernatural angle that enhances, but never gets in the way of the cold-blooded action.

Insidious: The Last Key: Blu-ray
If any working actress could survive being cast as the title character in Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves (2015), it would be Lin Shaye. The genre-bending horror, which should never be confused with The Miracle Worker, “explores the true story that the government didn’t want you to know, about how Helen Keller really lost her eyesight and hearing.” The only way it could have succeeded at the box office was on a double-bill with “Grandma Moses’ Death Pact With the Art Mafia.”  Even then, however, only an actress with Shaye’s horror cred could avoid being burned at the stake by politically correct critics. In Adam Robitel and Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: The Last Key, Shaye once again reprises her role as parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier, who returns to her family home with her ghostbusting team of Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to face the unrelenting demons that have plagued her – and subsequent home owners — since childhood. For the record: “The Last Key” is the second prequel in the franchise, which continues to make money for the Universal and Sony co-release. It takes her to her childhood abode, where Elise first made contact with the “Further” and Key Face, as well as ghosts she left behind when she escaped her possession. All these years later, she’s still drawn to the Further by a lonesome whistle in the basement. Elise is confronted there by a series of doors, some of which lead nowhere.

Once again, Elise is vanquished by Key Face, but, somehow, lives to tell about it. While not particularly scary, relying mostly on jump scares, “The Last Key” exudes creepy atmosphere throughout. If you’ve seen the previous three chapters, you’ll know what to expect in “The Last Key” and won’t be disappointed. If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, it’s only because I don’t have any brain cells already invested in the story. Shaye’s growing legion of admirers – where’s her star on the Walk of Fame, by the way? – benefit the most from her presence here. That, and some of the special makeup effects are pretty good. The first time I interviewed Shaye was after she scored a trifecta in the Farrelly Brothers’ gross-out trilogy, Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary as a disgusting old hag. And, while I wasn’t expecting a human gargoyle, per se, Shaye couldn’t have been more different in person. Despite more than 200 acting credits on, she’s been one of Hollywood more underappreciated actresses, supporting and otherwise, for 25 years. It doesn’t look as if she’s spend much time telling stories to the hosts of American talk shows, either. Shaye deserves her moment in the sun, however. The Blu-ray adds a quick refresher course on previous Insidious installments, several deleted scenes, an alternate ending and several making-of featurettes, including one devoted to the character, Elise.

Proud Mary: Blu-ray
I’ll admit to being among the small minority of Americans who’ve yet to see Black Panther. I have, however, enjoyed Marvel Knights: Black Panther, a motion comic from Shout! Factory that was presented as an eight-episode mini-series, in 2012. The character was a franchise waiting to happen. If Screen Gems had been able to read the tea leaves a bit more clearly, it might have held off releasing its throwback actioner Proud Mary until it saw how the African-American community reacted to a movie that features a black comic-book superhero. There were plenty of superheroes back in the era of blaxploitation flicks, but their domains were limited in scope and scale. Their chief superpower was limited to being smarter than the goombahs and corrupt cops who exploited the ghetto community, while their “superfly” costumes protected them from being considered square in an ocean of cool cats and swinging kittens. The approach worked in Harlem and the remote African kingdom of Wakanda.

Proud Mary may not be in the same league as Black Panther – as a commercial vehicle or fully realized story – but it features an excellent performance by Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) and atmosphere to spare. Loosely based on John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands’ Gloria (1980), Proud Mary stars Henson as a ruthless assassin for a mob operation fronted by Danny Glover, with connections to a bunch of twitchy Eastern Europeans. When Mary shoots a sociopathic if protected mobster, to save a slick street urchin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), she puts herself in mortal danger. Neither is it anything that would have been expected of her. They have good chemistry together, and it almost saves the rest of the picture from undernourished clichés. That, and a lot of madcap violence involving automatic weapons and hand-to-hand combat. The studio decided, instead, not to screen Proud Mary for critics and they reciprocated by trashing it. The Blu-ray adds featurettes, “Mary’s World,” “The Beginning of the End” and “If Looks Could Kill.”

Are We Not Cats
In John Waters’ largely ignored sex comedy, A Dirty Shame (2005), one of the points he makes is that a bizarre fetish need not stand in the way of love or romance. In a world in which it only takes two to tango, a partner in perversion shouldn’t be that difficult to find … if they know where to look. I don’t recall that any of Waters’ characters engaged in trichotillomania and trichophagia — the compulsive pulling-out of one’s own hair and eating it – but they wouldn’t be the strangest of compulsive activities that occasionally lead to romance in the movie. Xander Robin’s possibly autobiographical Are We Not Cats harkens to a time when New York’s punk, New Wave and dispossessed underground was represented on film by such films as Ulli Lommel’s Blank Generation, Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan, and Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation. Things haven’t changed all that much for the young people who comprise New York’s hipster proletariat, as represented here by Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson). Eli’s a friendly enough chap, but he lacks the drive and passion for life necessary to make a living in the Big Apple. Here, however, Eli’s having a particularly rough week. Not only has he been dumped by his girlfriend and fired from his garbage-route job, but he’s also been thrown out of his immigrant parents’ apartment. They received an offered they couldn’t refuse and decided to pull up stakes for Arizona. His mother invites him to visit, but he wouldn’t last a week in the desert sun.

Instead, Eli ends up sleeping in the back of the track passed along to him by his father, and now allows him to make a few bucks performing errands for the kinds of people whose work is always done off the books. On a delivery run upstate, Eli befriends a shady rock entrepreneur, Kyle (Michael Godere), and his kooky, blond-wigged girlfriend, Anya (Chelsea Lopez). When Kyle observes the chemistry growing between Eli and Anya, he warns him not to take everything about her at face value. After a very weird night together, it’s clear what Kyle meant about Anya’s hidden personality traits. In a shocking conceit that some viewers will find difficult to digest, Eli’s trichotillomania complements Anya’s trichophagia, but only to the point where tragedy overcomes the generally dark comic tone. Did I mention that Are We Not Cats isn’t for everyone? Its idiosyncrasies should appeal, however, to those who can identify the fine lines that separate comedy, horror and romance in the underground cinema. Nicholson and Lopez deserve a lot of credit for being able to keep their characters working within the line and not straying into caricatures.

The Fencer
If there’s a subgenre in which American filmmakers excel, it’s the sports melodrama. Hoosiers, Miracle, Brian’s Song, Rocky, Seabiscuit, Million Dollar Baby, Remember the Titans and Rudy topped one best-of list I found on the Internet, but there are hundreds, maybe thousands more titles that fit the generic mold. Several good movies have been made in which ping-pong, bowling, water polo and volleyball factor into drama, comedy or romance. Ridley Scott broke his directorial cherry in 1977 with The Duellists, in which a small feud between two Napoleonic officers escalates into a decades-long series of duels. Since then, however, it’s entirely possible that the only filmmakers who’ve taken fencing as seriously as Scott have been Klaus Härö and Anna Heinämaa. They’re the creative team behind The Fencer, the Finnish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards. Newly released into DVD by Music Box Films, it does for swordplay what Stand and Deliver did for math, McFarland, USA did for cross-country running and The Great Debate did for, yup, debate. In addition to playing the David-vs.-Goliath card, The Fencer describes how a group of kids from an enslaved Baltic state took on better-equipped teams from around the U.S.S.R., giving their outcast coach an opportunity to stand up to Joseph Stalin’s goons … for a while, anyway. Härö, working from a script by fellow-Finn Heinämaa, has crafted a story that fits alongside the aforementioned titles as an inspirational drama, unabashed crowd-pleaser and hankie-optional tear-jerker. And, while it’s informed throughout by Cold War politics and repression, The Fencer doesn’t require a refresher course in European history to be enjoyed by American teens and adults, even if they couldn’t find Estonia on a map.

A prologue explains how, after 20 years of independence, Estonia was taken over, first, by communist forces; then, Nazi Germany; and, once again, by the Red Army. Each time, Estonian men were conscripted into the armies of their traditional enemies and put on the front lines in suicidal offensives. Those who survived the war found themselves in an emotional and philosophical limbo, caught between the Soviet Union and a resistance movement doomed to failure. The title character here, Endel Nelis, was conscripted into the German army in 1943 and, possibly, forced into the hastily assembled Estonian Waffen-SS division. (Others escaped to Finland, where they volunteered to join the Finns in their battles with the Soviets.) After escaping from Stalin’s secret police, Endel changed his identity to find work at home in a small country school. Although he was a competitive fencer before the war, Endel is reluctant to tip his hand as to his true identity. One of the chores he’s assigned is arranging athletic activities for the students. No sooner is he able to get the kids excited about a skiing expedition than the equipment is commandeered by Soviet forces occupying the town. It only adds to the emotional burden they’ve been carrying around like a backpack full of rocks.

When one girl catches Endel practicing fencing moves in the gym, she pleads with him to teach her the basics of the time-honored sport. He reluctantly agrees, unaware of how desperate her classmates would be to join the fun. To compensate for a lack of equipment, they make swords out of reeds they find in a marsh and share protective padding. Envious of Endel’s popularity, the school’s toady principal does everything he can to sabotage the fencing club. By then, however, a handful of the kids has been invited to the competition in Leningrad, where it would be difficult for Endel to avoid arrest, possible execution or a labor camp in Siberia. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the coach risks his freedom by sticking with his team. The principal makes sure Soviet officials are aware of his identity and decision to go to Leningrad. Even so, Endel is allowed the time to complete his coaching duties, before being hauled away by the police. The spotlight then turns back to the kids, who, in fact, are quite formidable. Härö also finds room for an us-against-the-world romance and a parents’ revolt against the hardline principal. Then, too, watching the faces of the students as they evolve into individuals with dreams and goals of their own, while coming together as teammates, is nothing less than thrilling. Oh, yeah, The Fencer is based on real people and actual events. The DVD adds several deleted scenes and a lengthy interview with Härö.

The Man From Earth: Holocene: Blu-ray
Normally, it would be easy to dismiss The Man From Earth: Holocene as a novelty sequel to a work of speculative fiction that enjoyed a modicum of success, after it was widely shared through geek-to-geek networks and found an afterlife on stage. Director Richard Schenkman claims that “Holocene” wouldn’t have come about if it weren’t for a groundswell of support from fans loyal to the source material, The Man from Earth, and, in turn, respect for midcentury fantasist, Jerome Bixby. And, therein, lies the tale that makes “Holocene” a compelling entertainment. Among other things, Bixby is credited with writing “Requiem for Methuselah,” which aired twice during the third and final season of “Star Trek.” The teleplay’s roots extend back even further than that, however. Some “Star Trek” scholars believe that it was based on ideas advanced in Forbidden Planet (1956), which, in turn, was inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Bixby’s final screenplay, for The Man from Earth, was conceived in the early 1960s and completed on his deathbed in April 1998. In 2007, it was turned into an independent film project executive produced by his son, Emerson Bixby, directed by Schenkman and starring David Lee Smith, William Katt, Richard Riehle, Tony Todd, Annika Peterson, Alexis Thorpe, Ellen Crawford and John Billingsley. It’s possible, as well, that Bixby cribbed the core conceit from his screenplay for It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), which – wait for it – is said to have inspired Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay for Alien (1979). What’s this mystically powerful idea? Selective immortality.

The Man from Earth’s plot focuses on John Oldman (Smith), a university professor, who claims to be a Cro-Magnon who’s secretly survived for more than 14,000 years. As his colleagues press him to explain his sudden departure from the university, Oldman reluctantly reveals that he relocates every 10 years to keep others from realizing that he does not age. Oldman asks his academic friends to challenge his claim, prompting a lively debate on subjects ranging from pure science to science-fiction and religion. Like a multi-millennial Leonard Zelig, Oldman always appeared to be at the right place at the right time, alongside the right people. He was a Sumerian for 2000 years and a Babylonian, who traveled east to become a disciple of Gautama Buddha. He brought these teachings to ancient Palestine, at the time of Jesus. He also dropped the names of Christopher Columbus and Vincent Van Gogh into the conversation. Atypically, for sci-fi, everything in the movie transpires within the walls of a rural home and the special-effects budget couldn’t have been more than a few bucks. It explains the easy transfer to the stage. The Man From Earth: Holocene picks up a decade later, after Oldman resurfaces at a different college, as comparative-religion professor John Young. While he’s well-regarded and something of a campus heartthrob, Young maintains a healthy distance between himself and his students. Thanks to the Internet, a group of his admirers trace his disparate roots to a widely discredited book written by one of the professors (Katt) who attended the going-away party and took Oldman’s story as something other than hokum. Knowing how such an amazing story, if proven true, could disturb easily freaked-out people, Oldman/Young tries mightily to keep his secrets just that … secret. One of the students, a Christian fundamentalist, takes exception to his professor’s account of history, and it leads to a Judas-like betrayal. Once again, “Holocene” relies more on words than action. Here, though, the tension isn’t heightened by a claustrophobic setting.

Bixby hadn’t envisioned a sequel, so “Holocene” takes liberties with the original concept. Indeed, Schenkman foresees the possibility of a TV series, not unlike “Kung Fu” or “Quantum Leap.” As it is, though, the sequel only found an audience through a festival screening and guerrilla distribution network, based on self-pirating the film via the Internet. According to Schenkman and producer Eric D. Wilkinson, they’ve received nearly $45,000 in donations via their site,, from fans and supporters around the world, including China. Besides Smith and Katt, “Holocene” features credible performances by Vanessa Williams, Michael Dorn, Sterling Knight, Akemi Look, Brittany Curran, and Carlos Knight. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Schenkman and Wilkinson; a 40-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, with cast and crew; a piece on the original score; a Q&A with Schenkman at the Dances With Films World Premiere; deleted/extended scenes; a ”Primal Kickboxing” instructional video; photo gallery; and original posters.

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds: Blu-ray
Although the smash Korean action/fantasy Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds is officially based on Joo Ho-min’s popular webtoon (a.k.a., manhwa), it shouldn’t be difficult for western viewers to identify traces of Defending Your Life (1991), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and Heaven Can Wait (1943). The guiding conceit, however, is provided by an ancient Buddhist belief that when a person of substance reaches the afterlife, they are judged 7 times over the course of 49 days, and “only the souls who pass trials relating to deceit, indolence, injustice, betrayal, violence, murder and filial impiety can be reincarnated.” Maybe, maybe not. If anyone deserved to bypass the seven trials, you’d think it would be the heroic firefighter Kim Ja-hong (Cha Tae-hyun), who saved the life of a little girl by using his body to break her fall from a high floor in a skyscraper inferno. After some natural confusion on his part – Kim can hear people lauding his heroic sacrifice – he’s guided to the afterlife by three guardians, who, themselves, aren’t very clear on the seven-trials concept. Even though Kim led an exemplary life, his reincarnation can be affected negatively by unforeseen repercussions from positive acts. In other words, celestial prosecutors can use the butterfly effect against the defendant … times seven. At 140 minutes, there’s plenty of time for a dazzling display of CGI-driven flashbacks and guilt trips, fantasy landscapes, demons and angels, gods and goddesses. If the appeal still is to fans of Pacific Rim cinema, I can see how kids here might be attracted to it for the same reasons they’re drawn to The Wizard of Oz. The background featurettes aren’t up to snuff, however.

Braven: Blu-ray
If the poster art for Braven is intended to remind browsers of Logan/Wolverine, of X-Men fame, it just could work. Jason Momoa stares out from the photograph, with a snow-covered mountain and dense forest in the background, a bow in his left hand, a quiver on his back and a fresh scar on the side of his face. Although his hair looks frozen in place, the sleeves of his T-shirt only extend to middle of the Polynesian tattoo on his forearm. On the cover of the DVD/Blu-ray box, the same photo of Momoa is used, with a handgun in his right hand, the bow and quiver erased, and, instead of a mountainous background, the forest is quite a bit denser. A cabin has been set on fire, apparently, by marauders on snow-mobiles. The differences aren’t terribly misleading or inaccurate, however. The Hawaiian-born, Iowa-raised Momoa may have struck the same sort of pose in marketing material for “Baywatch: Hawaii,” “Stargate: Atlantis,” Conan the Barbarian, “Game of Thrones,” “The Red Road,” “Frontier” and the “Justice League,” where he plays Aquaman. At a buff-and-tumble 6-foot-4, the camera didn’t have to add muscles where they don’t exist. If there’s any deception intended here, it’s to make the modestly budgeted Canadian indie look several million dollars more expensive than it probably was. But, Northwoods logger Joe Braven is only half the story here. The other half is provided by the spectacular scenery along Newfoundland’s coastline, all of which is extremely well utilized by stuntman-turned-director Lin Oeding, cinematographer Brian Andrew Mendoza and a trio of stunt coordinators.

When a truck transporting logs and heroin slides off the road during a severe snowstorm, the driver and his assistant find a temporary hiding place for the drugs in a nearby cabin. Inconveniently, for the traffickers, Joe and his father (Stephen Lang) have picked the same weekend to take advantage of the cabin’s isolation to chart the crusty old man’s future in anticipation of Alzheimer’s. Unbeknownst to them, as well, Joe’s daughter, Charlotte (Sasha Rossof), has stowed away in their SUV. When the bad guys can’t wait any longer, they decide to storm the cabin and eliminate the owners. If they had held off for a couple more hours, they could have walked into the shed unobstructed and carried away the stash. What fun would that be, though?  The shootout, which, yes, includes pinpoint-accurate archery and wolf traps, is extremely well choreographed and executed. At a brisk 94 minutes, hardly a moment is wasted for idle chitchat, time-consuming romance or needless exposition. Even when Joe’s bow-hunter wife, Stephanie (Jill Wagner) is introduced to the mix, the action never wavers or seems absurd. The story’s economic use of violence might remind some viewers of similar work by Sam Peckinpah and Don Siegel. It’s not as much of a stretch as you might think. The package adds the featurette, “The Braven’s Views.”

Gone Are the Days: Blu-ray
Despite the fact that he’s pushing 78, Lance Henriksen has more work on his plate than actors half or two-thirds his age. As one of the most recognizable, genre-defying hard-guys in the movies and television, the New York native has played more wildly different sorts of working-class heroes – and villains – than one can instantly identify. He’s excelled as astronauts (Alien) and vampires (Near Dark) and provided voices in several animated features. Typically, though, character actors don’t wait for their phones to ring on the days that awards nominations are announced. Even so, Henriksen’s portrayal of psychic FBI profiler Frank Black, in “Millennium,” garnered three consecutive Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Drama Series. In Mark Landre Gould and Gregory M. Tucker’s atmospheric oater, Gone Are the Days, he plays a notorious outlaw, Taylon Flynn, who’s heading rather quickly toward his last roundup. Despite his bad health, Taylon saddles up for one last shot at redemption, by relieving one last bank of its money. Once inside the mining town, he discovers the daughter he abandoned decades earlier, working in a seedy brothel. Naturally, the brothel owner doesn’t want to lose one of his prized assets, so he enlists the local sheriff (Tom Berenger) to his cause. Gone Are the Days may not break any new ground, but it serves as reminder as to the genre’s continued vitality and ability to entertain.  Also on hand are Danny Trejo, Steve Railsback and Jamie McShane. The package adds a making-of featurette and cast/crew interviews.

My Friend Dahmer: Blu-ray
With a title like My Friend Dahmer, you’d think that Marc Meyers’ disconcerting drama would have a snowball’s chance in hell of being watchable. Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes were so heinous and thoroughly covered by the media that it would have been difficult to find an angle worth revisiting. What would be the point, anyway? My Friend Dahmer is based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf, who attended the same high school as the future serial killer and considered himself to be one of his few friends. And, by “friends,” I mean fellow students who adopted the terribly shy and awkward teenager as their personal plaything. The band nerds who comprise the Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club here have no trouble convincing Dahmer (Ross Lynch) to do oddball things that would draw attention to himself and cause other students to shun him. While the hazing easily qualifies as bullying, Dahmer seems to welcome the companionship it provided him. The other boys might have been surprised to learn that Dahmer already fits the profile of a future sociopath. He collects bones and dissects roadkill, has dysfunctional parents (Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts) and lives in a world of his own creation. He fixates on a neighborhood jogger (Vincent Kartheiser), who appears like clockwork on the road outside his home. For all his weirdness, however, he’s a good student and not without ambition. Meyers lays out all of Dahmer’s pluses and minuses in as neutral a way as possible, using Backderf’s subsequently published sketchbook as a roadmap to the psychological profile. My Friend Dahmer climaxes at the point where Dahmer – angry after his mother pulls up stakes without alerting him – decides to take his first human life. Blessedly, we’re spared any depiction of the crime. My Friend Dahmer is the culmination of a comic- book project that began in 1994, shortly after Dahmer was murdered in prison, and has since grown to include the self-published 24-page “My Friend Dahmer” (2002) and a 224-page version, released in 2012. The Blu-ray adds an interview with actor Ross Lynch and behind-the-scenes slideshow.

Jasper Jones
This coming-of-age tale about life in a claustrophobic Western Australian town, circa 1969, is based on an award-winning novel by Fremantle writer Craig Silvey. It could just as easily been set in the American South, during the same period, without missing a beat. Because Jasper Jones addresses small-town crime, racism and intolerance in similar ways, several Down Under critics have compared it favorably to Stand by Me and To Kill a Mockingbird. In it, Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), a bookish 14-year-old, finds himself caught in the middle of an investigation into the disappearance and probable murder of a teenage girl, Laura Wishheart, who was dating mixed-race 16-year-old Jasper Jones (Aaron McGrath). Even absent a body, all fingers in town are pointing in Jasper’s direction. We suspect that he didn’t commit the crime, if only because the evidence against him is too conveniently laid out. (If he were guilty, why would Jasper coax Charlie out of bed on that fateful night to help him deal with her lifeless body.) To protect Jasper, Charlie goes along with the scheme, first, and ask questions later. Complicating things for Charlie on a personal basis is his burgeoning relationship with the victim’s whip-smart sister, Eliza (Angourie Rice). The boys suspect that the killer is a reclusive swamp rat, Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving), who’s harboring secrets that may or may not have anything to do with the crime. It’s to Rachel Perkins’ credit that there’s sufficient room left in the narrative for compelling parallel storylines, involving prejudice faced by a Vietnamese immigrant family, and a reckless affair between Charlie’s mom (Toni Collette) and a local cop. Not everything is tied together with a neat little bow, but it’s easy to see how Jasper Jones became a big hit in Australia. Bonus features include interviews with director Perkins and stars Collette, Weaving, Rice and Miller; a short film “Death of a Unicorn,” narrated by Tilda Swinton; and director’s statement.

Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer
At its heart, Leslie Zemeckis’ exhaustively researched documentary, Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, is the story of a Kentucky girl who ran away from home, joined the circus and, for the next 57 years, was one of its greatest stars. After being raised in poverty, and stints as a nurse and hoochie-coochie dancer, Mabel Stark became the first woman to train tigers, doing things with big cats in the center ring that few other performers dared. She headlined shows with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, survived multiple maulings and tempestuous marriages, and starred in Hollywood movies (Doctor Doolittle, Tarzan). At one time, Stark managed up to 20 tigers at a time, forming intimate bonds with each one, rather than using the whip. In 1968, her life ended tragically just outside of the Jungleland amusement park, in Thousand Oaks, California. The circus setting adds a lot of color to what might have been just another first-woman-to-do-such-and-such story. Her marriages, alone, could have inspired through-lines in a dozen soap operas. Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer does a nice job encapsulating American entertainment history as the circus moved from big tops to big-city arenas, with no room for midway rides or freak shows. By the time Stark left the circus for good, there were only a few traveling units. The archival material is enhanced by fresh interviews with historians and circus folk. The DVD adds several bonus features. And, yes, a theatrical feature is currently in the planning stages.

The City of the Dead: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Deep Red: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Full Moon High: Blu-ray
Sometimes, there’s nothing more comforting than a nearly 60-year-old exploitation flick that refuses to succumb to the clichés that cling to its surface like barnacles to a whale. On its surface, the only thing worth savoring in The City of the Dead (a.k.a., “Horror Hotel”) would be an early performance by Christopher Lee, who, in 1960, was well on his way to becoming a horror icon. Produced in England but set in the colonies, the British actors were required to speak with American accents throughout. The City of the Dead takes places in the fictional Massachusetts town of Whitewood, where a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn is about to be burned at the stake. Before that can happen, though, she confesses to being Satan’s host on Earth and curses the town’s inhabitants for generations to come. Flash forward a few hundred years and a comely student of Lee’s Professor Alan Driscoll has been encouraged to visit Whitewood for a paper she’s doing. Nan’s visit corresponds with Candlemas Eve, when local wiccans sacrifice a young girl to sate Satan’s appetite for virgins. Even in 1960, Venetia Stevenson probably wouldn’t be mistaken for a virgin, but she’ll do in a pinch. Two weeks later, Nan’s brother follows her path to Whitewood, which, by now, is surprisingly lively for a ghost town. If that scenario feels more appropriate for a horror anthology, it’s probably because the script was originally written by George Baxt as a pilot for a TV series – possibly “Thriller” — starring Boris Karloff. And, yet, thanks to the British cast and a fresh 2K polish, City of the Dead in none the worse for the wear and Lee, as usual, is a delight. The Arrow package adds the slightly shorter American version, “Horror Hotel,” which was released in 1963; a 45-minute interview with Lee, from the DVD release; a 17-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; interviews with directorJohn Llewellyn Moxey and Stevenson; commentaries by Lee, Moxey and actor/historian Jonathan Rigby; and an insert booklet with essays and production photos. For some reason, City of the Dead has resonated through the years with such bands as Iron Maiden, UFX, Kid Diamond, Rob Zombie and In This Moment, all of whom have borrowed snippets for songs and videos.

Arrow Video extends it Wonderful World of Giallo series – my words – another month with Dario Argento’s way-over-the-top fright fest, Deep Red (a.k.a., “Profondo rosso,” “The Hatchet Murders”), starring a totally cool David Hemmings, beguiling Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia and Macha Meril. It arrived four years after Argento’s “Animal Trilogy” changed the way the world looked at Italian genre filmmaking. As such, it represented a refinement of the genre, which previously had to overcome tight budgets and skeptical critics, and a stepping stone to Argento’s more supernaturally themed material. One night, musician Marcus Daly (Hemmings) witnesses the brutal ax murder of a woman in her apartment. Racing to the scene, Marcus just manages to avoid the perpetrator. Now moonlighting as an amateur sleuth, Marcus becomes ensnared in a bizarre web of murder, mystery and the macabre, where nothing is what it seems. The action is backed by a throbbing score from the progressive Italian rock band, Goblin, and a color scheme from a Technicolor wet dream. The two-disc Limited Edition is enhanced by the inclusion of the original version and shorter export edit of the film; six postcard-sized lobby-card reproductions; a reversible fold-out poster, featuring two original artworks, and reversible sleeve, with newly commissioned work by Gilles Vranckx; a booklet, with new writing on the film by Mikel J. Koven, author of “La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film,” and an archival essay by Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills; audio commentary by filmmaker and Argento expert, Thomas Rostock; an introduction, by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin; and several archival featurettes.

For a while there, genre parodies were almost as prevalent as the movies they spoofed. The best of them — Shaun of the Dead, Scary Movie and What We Do in the Shadows, among them – could stand on their own merits as entertainments for buffs and casual fans. Most best-of lists I’ve seen omit Lawrence Cohen’s Full Moon High, which, even upon its release in 1981, gave off cheap and outdated vibes. By using the 24-year-old I Was a Teenage Werewolf as its inspiration, Cohen appeared to be betting against the odds that kids newly enthralled by slasher and splatter flicks would find something amusing in tropes that no longer carried much weight. Knowing that the high-school experience, with its bizarre subcultures and codes, hasn’t changed all that much in the last 200 years, or so, Cohen simply lowered his sights to include viewers for whom whom Mel Brooks might as well have been Moliere. One indication that he wasn’t dumbing down the humor to reach the lowest common denominator, however, was his decision to cast Brooks regular Kenneth Mars (Young Frankenstein, The Producers) as the handsy Coach Cleveland. In such a target-rich environment, Cohen didn’t have to look too far more inspiration than that. Adam Arkin plays Tony, a star athlete whose horndog father (Ed McMahon) insists he accompany him on a business trip to Romania. Locked out of their room, while daddy’s romancing a pair of Transylvanian hookers, Tony is ambushed by a werewolf and inherits the full-moon curse. Skip ahead 20 years and Tony is every bit as fresh-faced, athletic and handsome as he was when he split town to avoid revealing his sickness to his friends. He pretends to be his own son, but there’s no way to fool an old girlfriend. Full Moon High may not be able to bear more scrutiny than that, however.

Up in Smoke: 40th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Cheech and Chong’s debut motion picture has been released, re-released and repackaged enough times for veteran stoners to have memorized lines and set up gags of their own as trip-wires for fellow potheads. For lots of Old Hippies, Up in Smoke is one of those movies that delivers new laughs no matter how many times they’ve seen it. It’s anyone’s guess, however, how well Lou Adler’s lucrative collaboration with Cheech & Chong will hold up at a time when pot is legal in a growing number of states, THC content can be adjusted to fit a smoker’s moods and no-smoke-toking threatens to put the Zig-Zag man into a retirement home. Paramount’s “Up in Smoke: 40th Anniversary Edition” carries over several featurettes from previous editions and anniversaries. It adds newly recorded interviews with the boys, reflecting on four decades of marijuana-enhanced memories. A special “Deluxe Edition” is also addition. If Adler’s name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the geezer with courtside seats next to Jack Nicholson at every Lakers home game.

Condorito: The Movie
Tad, The Lost Explorer and the Secret of King Midas
I don’t know if the popular Chilean comic-strip character, Condorito, shares any avian DNA with the Disney’s Jose Carioca, but their respective ages and geographical proximity to each other suggest that they might. The anthropomorphic Condorito was created by René Rios Boettiger (a.k.a., Pepo) in 1949, seven years after Uncle Walt’s “dapper Brazilian parrot” was introduced throughout the Americas in Saludos Amigos (1942). While Carioca appears to be enjoying semi-retirement at various Disney parks around the world, Condorito is still going strong throughout Latin America. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Condorito: The Movie as much as I did. In the opening prologue, we learn that he’s a descendant of a “featherless condor” who saved humanity from an alien attack during pre-Columbian times, by stealing a powerful amulet that was used to enslave humans. The character leads a decidedly less heroic life, today, in the fictional village of Pelotillehue, where he’s something of a slacker. The aliens return in Condorito: The Movie to retrieve the amulet. When the aliens call Condorito to demand the talisman in exchange for anything he desires, he assumes it’s spam from wireless company. As a lark, he agrees to turn over the gem if they agree to take away his girlfriend’s overbearing mother, Tremebunda, which, of course, is just what happens. In one fell swoop, Condorito manages to alienate his girlfriend, Yayita, and promise to deliver an amulet he can’t find. And, even if he does locate it, the amulet would give the aliens the power to conquer the universe, so why bother? Condorito and his condor nephew, Cone, team up to find the amulet and rescue Treme without allowing the aliens to take over the universe. What’s a poor bird and his nephew to do? I was impressed by the first-class animation and sense of humor which occasionally shifts from kiddy-friendly to ribald.

From Spain, Tad, The Lost Explorer and the Secret of King Midas merges the dubious archeological skills of construction worker Tad Jones with the genuine ability of Sara Lavrof, as a renowned scientist and explorer. Imagine Indiana Jones and Lara Croft coming at their respective jobs from completely different skill levels. Two years after their last mission, Tad travels to Las Vegas to attend Sara’s presentation of her latest discovery: the papyrus that points to the existence and whereabouts of the Necklace of Midas. Their reunion will be clouded by an evil millionaire, who kidnaps Sara to find the necklace and gain infinite wealth. Along with his friends, the parrot (Belzoni) and his dog (Jeff), Tad will have to use his wit and limited stamina to rescue Sara, who could be anywhere. The animation isn’t bad. The story, however, sometimes gets bogged down attempting to balance elements designed to keep kids and adults interested.

Enzo d’Alo’s brilliantly colored take on Carlo Collodi’s classic novel, “Pinocchio,” finally arrives in the U.S., five years after it was nominated for top awards at the Annecy Cristal and European Film Awards ceremony. Reimagined for a new generation and bursting with songs, laughter and thrills, this witty adaptation includes new, rarely explored chapters of the story. Carved by the lonely woodcutter, Geppetto, who’s longing for a real son, playful Pinocchio is eager to do good and become human. Sadly, he keeps getting distracted from his quest. Constantly captured by con men, creatures and constables, he finds solace in the courtesy of the helpful souls who recognize the wooden puppet’s kind heart. Children already familiar with the Disney version might enjoy seeing how the rest of the world views the same lovable character.

PBS: Masterpiece: The Child in Time: UK Edition
Adapted from Ian McEwan’s Whitbread Award-winning novel, “The Child In Time” (1987), the 90-minute installment of “Masterpiece” provides a splendid opportunity to watch two of our finest actors work together under extremely difficult emotional circumstances. Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly Macdonald play Stephen and Julie Lewis, a highly accomplished British couple with few, if any dark clouds on their horizons. The sunshine disappears in an instant, when, while shopping, Stephen momentarily takes his eyes off their 4-year-old daughter, Kate, who’s sat down on the floor next to the checkout line to read a book. The very next thing he knows, Kate is gone for good. Julie is quick to accuse her husband of negligence, berating him mercilessly. Two years later, Kate is still missing, and her parents are completely estranged. They will both admit to catching sight of a little blond girl in a yellow coat, running behind a fence or vanishing in a crowd. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but, sadly, nothing completely out of the ordinary in our culture. Director Julian Farino (“Ballers”) and adapter Stephen Butchard (“The Last Kingdom”) throw the couple a lifeline, but it comes so late in the game that’s there’s no guarantee they’ll recognize it when it comes. I haven’t read the book, but it’s easy to see how other things that happen in the Lewis’ lives serve to undermine their stability even further. They include inexplicable changes in the personalities of close friends, coincidental apparitions and fractures in the time-space continuum. A potential girlfriend for Stephen is introduced, then ignored, and a potential sighting causes him to invade the classroom of an innocent little girl, who shares facial features with Kate. The mental breakdown of a longtime friend is well handled, but difficult to understand. Confused viewers may find their only recourse is to find a copy of the book and read it cover-to-cover, which isn’t the worst solution in the world.

As time runs out on a busy week of viewing DVDs, I’m only able to mention the titles of other fine shows newly available to those of us with broken VCRs. Also from PBS, they are “The New York Cantors”; “Understanding the Opioid Epidemic”; “The Last Rhino”; the “Secrets of the Dead” presentation, “Scanning the Pyramids”; from “NOVA,” “Black Hole Apocalypse” and “The Impossible Flight”; PBS Kids’s “WordWorld: Let’s Eat” and “Wild Kratts: Madagascar Madness”; and the Smithsonian Channel’s “Victorian Rebel: Marianne North.”

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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