MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Acrimony, Sheikh Jackson, El Sur, Endless, Back to Burgundy, Hamlet, Mimic, M:I 4K, Addiction, Vigil … More

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony: Blu-ray
To say that Melinda, Taraji P. Henson and Ajiona Alexus’s character in Tyler Perry’s Acrimony, has rage issues is like comparing the lava pouring from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano to the acid reflux one experiences after eating too much pizza. Both burn, but only one of them destroys everything in its path. Alexus’ Melinda is a college student who erupts when she catches her boyfriend, Robert (Antonio Madison), a chemical-engineering student, cheating on her. Instead of simply slapping the dude’s face and attempting to rip off her rival’s wig – as is what usually happens on “Cheaters” – Young Melinda rams her car into Robert’s mobile home, causing her to undergo an emergency hysterectomy. While Melinda is recovering, an apologetic Robert visits her in the hospital and they make plans to get married. At this point in Acrimony, Robert is, indeed, leeching on Melinda’s inheritance, primarily, though, to finance an invention he expects to make them both rich. Years later, Older Melinda is still supporting Robert’s dream of creating a self-charging battery. He even talks her into mortgaging her mother’s house, something that doesn’t endear him to his in-laws. A few years slide by and Robert re-connects with his old flame, Diana (Crystle Stewart), who just happens to be working in the same office as the venture capitalist Robert has been trying to impress. After Diana convinces her boss to check out the gizmo, he offers Robert $800,000 for all rights to it. When Robert turns it down, he receives a tongue-lashing from Melinda that could peel rust from wheelbarrow. She also demands a divorce.

While Melinda is working on getting her groove back, Robert is living in a shelter and washing dishes. Somehow, Diana gets the investor to reconsider his offer, and Robert is handed a multimillion-dollar deal that allows him maintain rights to the technology. Still pissed at her ex-husband for an affair she believes took place between him and Diana – it didn’t — Melinda refuses to accept his apology for spending her inheritance. She does, however, pocket the $10-million check he gives her, along with the keys her old house. After thinking it through a bit more closely, she goes to Robert’s new penthouse apartment and attempts to seduce him. She’s mortified when Diana enters the living room and introduces herself as Robert’s fiancé. It’s at this point that Melinda goes completely off her rocker and unsuccessfully sues Robert for half of his earnings. The rest of Acrimony depicts Melinda’s complete meltdown and final attempt to make him see things her way. As usual, there’s nothing subtle about Perry’s approach to his own material. Every movement is telegraphed well ahead of time and key plot twists lack credibility. The good news comes in knowing that Madea is nowhere in sight and the familiarity the mini-mogul feels with the cast members pays off in performances that are much better than those in his comedies. The R-rated Acrimony only grossed $2 million less than the PG-13 Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, which, I think, is saying something. It helps the bottom line, as well, that Perry tends to work with crew members who know exactly what he wants and gives it to him. Although Acrimony reportedly was shot in eight days, it looks as good as most pictures shot in four weeks and with a larger budget. A making-of featurette hosted by Perry offers a glimpse at how such a miracle occurs, while cast members extoll the virtues of working in an atmosphere of mutual trust and top-down encouragement.

Sheikh Jackson
Filmmakers around the world face far worse fates than being snubbed by an Academy Award nominating committee, not being certified “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes or not being recognized by the maître d’ at Spago. Dutch multi-hyphenate Theodoor “Theo” van Gogh was murdered for producing a short film that criticized the treatment of Islamic women. Award-winning movies by Iranian filmmakers Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi are routinely banned by the country’s censors, and the directors can’t leave the country. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ prompted violent attacks on theaters showing the film by Christian fundamentalists in France. Chinese censors not only banned Chen Kaige’s Palme d’Or-winning Farewell My Concubine, but Harvey Weinstein also demanded it be trimmed by14 minutes in its U.S. release; Zhang Yimou’s Oscar-nominated Raise the Red Lantern was banned from release in China for three years; Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview so infuriated the North Korean government that it threatened action against the United States if Columbia Pictures released the film, and, when it refused, Sony Pictures became the victim of a massive computer hack; Russian censors failed to see the humor in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and The Death of Stalin, and banned them; and, of course, in the United States, the MPAA does the government’s bidding by labeling controversial films NC-17, effectively forcing cuts be made to them or else run the risk of being excluded from multiplexes. The good news comes in knowing that 15 years after he was punished for Raise the Red Lantern, Zhang chosen to direct the Beijing portion of the closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics, in Athens, Greece, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics, in China. So, there is hope.

Last year, Egypt submitted the intriguingly titled Sheikh Jackson to AMPAS for consideration in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. Although it wasn’t nominated, Amr Salama’s provocative drama accomplished the next best thing, by being cleared and authorized for exhibition by Egypt’s censorship committee. That wasn’t the end of the story, though. According to an article entitled “Social Islamism in Egypt,” posted on Nervana Mahmoud’s current-affairs blog, Nervana, it faced an even larger hurdle. Egypt’s general prosecutor initiated an investigation against Salama after a “member of the public,” a Giza-based solicitor, accusing Sheikh Jackson and its director of “contempt of religion.” She explains, “Rather than dismissing the complaint as nonsense and discharging the accuser of wasting valuable time in the Egyptian legal system, the prosecutor opted to interrogate the movie director, Salama, and refer the film to Al-Azhar to provide a verdict on the charges. When film critic Tarek El-Shenawy defended the film, many Facebook readers responded with ugly insults and replies against him, the film and even art in general.” In some countries, this sort of attack might have assured long lines at the box office. In others, it can put a target on the backs of everyone involved in the project. Cleopatra Entertainment picked up Sheikh Jackson for theatrical distribution in early 2018, but I couldn’t find any indications that it was seen outside the Toronto and Cleveland film festivals and screenings arranged for Oscar nominators. It’s certainly possible that potential exhibitors not only feared upsetting Americans who blame Islam for everything that ails them, but also touching off protests by fundamentalists here. Niche distributor MVD Entertainment Group is releasing the film on DVD, and it’s well worth checking out.

In it, Omar Ayman Altounji and Ahmad El-Fishawi play the title character, Khaled Hani, as a child and adult, respectively. As a teenager, Khaled filled a void in his life by listening obsessively to the King of Pop’s music, dressing like him and attempting to moonwalk. His only friend at school is Sherine (Salma Abu-Deif), who turned Khaled on to Jackson, in the first place, and impresses him with her ability to effortlessly master different musical instruments. After his mother’s untimely death, the responsibility for raising Khaled is contested by his menacing macho-man father, Hani (Maged El Kedwany), and his deeply religious uncle (Mahmoud El-Bezzawy), neither of whom admire Jackson’s artistry. Flash forward several years, and Khaled has grown into a dedicated imam, with a family of his own. We sense that something is missing in his life, but don’t quite know what it is. Neither does he. That is, until he overhears the radio in nearby car, announcing Jackson’s death in Los Angeles. He’s so shocked by the news that he steers his car into a barricade, damaging its front end. Suddenly, too, Khaled is overtaken by an overwhelming crisis of faith that causes him to hallucinate visions of Jackson among the worshippers at his mosque and break into tears during services. The only way he’ll be able to get to the core of his malaise is to bore deep within himself and confront long unresolved issues. To this end, he benefits from the guidance of fellow imams, the advice of a psychiatrist, a chance meeting with a fully grown Sherine and an overdue visit with his aging father. Salama leaves enough loose ends untied at the end of the 93-minute drama to encourage viewers to debate what might happen to Khaled and his future as an imam. (If he had been obsessed with Elvis, Khaled could have moved to Memphis and opened a mosque in the shadow of Graceland.) I can see where Islamic fundamentalists might reject Khaled’s decision to put his trust, temporarily, in someone other than God … including a woman shrink, who dresses in western fashion. These days, movies in which priests, nuns, ministers and Mormon missionaries are rocked by things far more testing than a Michael Jackson fixation, are almost as commonplace as movies about zombies. In Egypt and throughout the Arab world, however, fundamentalists who wouldn’t otherwise step into a movie theater possess the power to ruin the fun for everyone.

El Sur: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Ten years after making his mark on Spanish cinema and habitués of the international festival circuit with The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Víctor Erice returned to filmmaking with his remarkable adaptation of a novella by Adelaida García Morales, “El Sur: Seguido De Bene.” Another decade would pass before Erice delivered his third and final feature, an acclaimed bio-doc of artist Antonio López, The Quince Tree Sun. He wouldn’t contribute anything more than segments to a few anthologies and shorts, until 2006, when the museum installation, “Víctor Erice/Abbas Kiarostami: Correspondence,” was launched in Barcelona for exhibition in institutions around the world. The Criterion Collection release of El Sur (“The South”), the second of his three acknowledged masterworks, recalls the anticipation shared by film buffs of every new Terrence Malick movie – five, in all – between 1973’s brilliant Badlands and 2011’s artistically ambitious and thoroughly enigmatic The Tree of Life. Malick hasn’t stopped working since, confounding critics and fans in equal measures. I mention Malick because what’s so noteworthy about both men’s work is their shared dedication to exquisitely framed images; a painterly use of light, shade and color; spare dialogue and voiceover narration; and an insistence on capturing artistic tableaus exactly as they were envisioned. El Sur expands upon the director’s fascination with childhood, fantasy and the legacy of his country’s horrible civil war. His daughter, Estrella, grows up on a rural estate in the north of Spain, captivated by her enigmatic father, a man who combines science and magic as a practicing doctor and diviner. Agustín Arenas (Omero Antonutti) was raised in the south of Spain, but he traveled north after disagreeing with his father on which sid to back in the divisive conflict.

He remained in the north, with his wife, Julia, Estrella, without shedding many vestiges of his southern upbringing or sharing the mysteries of his heart and soul with his family. Among the hidden secrets is an unexplained obsession with a B-movie starlet (Aurore Clement) that manifests itself in clandestine visits to a theater in the city and scribbling her name in notebooks hidden in his office. In El Sur, the adult voice of Estrella (María Massip) narrates the story of her childhood, especially her curious relationship with Agustin, during a period that roughly spans her First Holy Communion, at 8, to his disappearance from her life, at 15. She’s played by Sonsoles Aranguren and Icíar Bollaín, who look as if they’re sisters. The film ends abruptly, but satisfactorily, with her preparing to board a train for the Mythic South, where’s she’ll meet a different set of relatives – her grandmother and aunt traveled north for her First Communion — and discover clues to the mystery that was her father. Sadly, we may never know how Erice would have interpreted that segment of Morales’ book. That’s because, even as he was about to begin shooting the second half of El Sur, his producer delivered the bad news that financing had fallen through and the picture wouldn’t be completed as anticipated.

The abbreviated version of El Sur, on display in this Criterion Collection gem, debuted before an unsuspecting Cannes audience shortly after the plug was pulled on further production. Apparently, the director had no say in the decision, and the film was hailed as a finished product. Even at 95 minutes, El Sur is an amazing work for several reasons. Not the least of them was the ability of cinematographer José Luis Alcaine (Volver) and camera operator Alfredo Mayo (Burnt Money) to impeccably re-create the paintings of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Michelangelo that informed Erice’s longtime vision. (Stanley Kubrick accomplished much the same thing in Barry Lyndon.) As discussed in bonus featurette, his cinematic influences included a host of directorial giants, ranging from Renoir (The River) to Nicolas Ray. I don’t know if I’ve seen another movie that so precisely captures the intangible bond between fathers and daughters, even when it’s stretched to its limits. The Criterion package adds an almost unbearably sad interview with Erice, from 2003, in which he discusses what might have been, if he had been allowed to finish the film, and how Estrella’s visit to the south would have gone. Another piece reflects upon the creation of the film, featuring interviews, from 2012, with Antonutti, Aranguren, Bollaín, Alcaine and Mayo. There’s an episode of “¡Qué grande es el cine!,” from 1996, featuring film critics Miguel Marías, Miguel Rubio and Juan Cobos, all gushing over El Sur; an essay by novelist and critic Elvira Lindo; and a new edition of the novella, which reveals how the finished movie might have ended.

Manila in the Claws of Light: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
It’s entirely fitting that Martin Scorsese was asked to introduce the Criterion Collection edition of Lino Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light, not only for his tireless advocacy of movie restoration, but also because it fits so well alongside Mean Streets as an example of urban tragedy. The Philippine filmmaker’s life was cut short in 1991, at 52, by a fatal automobile accident in Quezon City. His career was divided between pictures expressively made for commercial purposes and those designed to call attention to the plight of society’s outsiders and misfits, especially the slum-dwellers, prostitutes, call boys and undocumented workers who make up the underclass of the country’s largest city. Like so many other Third World capitals, Manila is portrayed as being a mecca for poverty-stricken young people from the provinces, whose traditional livelihoods dried up a generation earlier and can’t afford to stay there anymore. (The same could be said about New York City, in the 1970-80s, when prostitution, porn, drug-dealing and squatting provided an alternative economy.) What they discover are “libertarian dystopias,” where the city’s poor grasp for the little wealth that has yet to be distributed through jobs and relief agencies. They are breeding grounds for the kind of poverty that creates its own victims and predators, and where every cop has his price and every public official is corrupt.

In Manila in the Claws of Light (1975), a young fisherman, Julio Madiaga, (Bembol Roco) arrives in the capital on a quest to track down his girlfriend, Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel), who was lured there earlier. She was promised an education and legitimate work, but no one had heard from her in months. After running out of money, Julio takes an extremely dangerous, low-wage job at a construction site. At night, he shares food and conversation with fellow laborers in a crowded space provided by the company. In between, Julio navigates far meaner streets than any in Little Italy, searching for a woman he suspects – correctly –is hidden behind locked doors in a brothel and doing the bidding of a man who claims he owns her. Death strikes without warning on the construction site, in the streets and in the garbage-strewn shacks that line the city’s toxic waterways. Corruption and exploitation are commonplace in all the layers of government and society. President Marcos has imposed martial law, in response to rising political tumult. His wife, Imelda, spends her time hobnobbing with celebrities and buying shoes.

When Julio’s job comes to end, a street hustler encourages him to turn tricks to finance his mission. It’s one of the few endeavors open to young men that pays well and affords them the luxury of upward mobility. It’s ironic that he agrees to enter the same world in which his lover is trapped, but hardly shocking. One needn’t be gay or a twink to make money, either. Being cute, empathetic and available normally will suffice. One of the things that makes the film so compelling is Brocka’s ability to shoot freely in the same squalid neighborhoods that Julio and Ligaya would have visited after their arrival in Manila. These include teeming streets and markets, rubbish-strewn slums, neon-lit bars and brothels, and a humungous garbage dump, where peasants attack each newly arrived truck as if it were delivering bags full of money. Manila in the Claws of Light may not be unique in its depiction of life under such horrid conditions — poverty and squalor are universal — but, as humanitarian melodrama, it stands out within the context of its time and place. The new 4K digital restoration was achieved by the Film Development Council of the Philippines and Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata, in association with the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, LVN, Cinema Artists Philippines, and cinematographer Mike De Leon. It adds “Signed: Lino Brocka” (1987), a feature-length documentary about the director, by Christian Blackwood; “Manila … a Filipino Film,” a 1975 documentary about the making of the film, featuring Brocka and actors Hilda Koronel and Rafael Roco Jr. (a.k.a., Bembol Roco); analysis with critic, filmmaker and festival programmer Tony Rayns; and an essay by film scholar José B. Capino.

Dogs of Democracy
Rome has its cats. Venice has its pigeons. San Francisco has its parrots. And, New York has its rats. Mary Zournazi’s compelling essay-documentary, Dogs of Democracy, describes the almost symbiotic relationship that has developed between the many stray dogs of Athens and a citizenry beleaguered by an unending series of demands for financial sacrifices and government austerity. Zournazi, who grew up in Australia, explores life on the streets of the capital through the eyes of the dogs — many of them old and infirm — and the people, many of them crippled by layoffs and cutbacks, who are dedicated to keeping them fed. Among the dogs and Athenians we meet are a mutt named Loukanikos – after the sausage — and several political activists, who adopted him as a mascot for their anti-austerity protests. Loukanikos’ health was “severely burdened” by the inhaling of tear gas and other chemicals during the many riots and march in which he participated, and died during the film’s production at the home of an activist who cared for him. Just short of an hour in length, Dogs of Democracy tells a universal story about love and loyalty even cat people should enjoy.

The Endless: Blu-ray
The filmmaking team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead may not be a brother act, but their first three pictures suggest that they might have dipped their toes in the same gene pool at some point in their lives. The Endless followed Spring and Resolution onto the festival circuit, where they won approval from critics, many of whom weren’t necessarily tied to genre flicks. They also collaborated on a segment in the horror anthology, “V/H/S: Viral.” If their names don’t ring a bell, it’s only because none of the studios have looked below the radar to find them. A perusal of the reviews that have greeted Benson and Moorhead’s films reveals a consensus on their place in the meta-genre subgenre. The working definition of the term is, “horror movies that make statements on horror movies,” typically as parody or homage. A quote that opens The Endless confirms the debt they owe H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” I’m not sure where the “meta-” fits in any consideration of The Endless, but, as was the case with Lovecraft’s writing, it straddles the boundaries separating pulpy horror, sci-fi, suspense and “weird fiction.” Its plot recalls an era when the American public and media were simultaneously fascinated and horrified by cults, based on the shared religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs of their members. Among the best known are those associated with mass suicides and/or a willingness to die at the hands of government agents for the beliefs of charismatic males, including Jim Jones (Jonestown), David Koresh (Branch Davidians), Marshall Applewhite (Heaven’s Gate), Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinrikyo) and Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro (Order of the Solar Temple).

In The Endless, the Doomsday Cult in question more closely resembles a summer camp for societal misfits. Moorhead and Benson co-star as brothers, Aaron and Justin, who receive a cryptic video message inspiring them to revisit the UFO death cult they escaped a decade earlier. Besides anticipating the Kool-Aid they’d be required to drink when the alien ship arrived, the brothers feared being castrated, as was the custom. It’s with much trepidation that they drive to the mountain retreat and pass a couple of residents, who look as if they’d stared into the sun for too long a time, looking for spaceships. Once inside the gates of Camp Arcadia, however, it’s Old Home Week. They’re warmly greeted by people they knew before they left the camp and invited to join in meals, campfires and other outdoors activities. The campers, who don’t appear to have aged in a decade, drink and sell homemade beer and smoke killer grass, which endears them to Aaron and Justin. Things begin to get weird, however, when multiple moons rise in the sky and the brothers are invited to play tug-of-war with an opponent that’s lurking in the shadows. The next day, they encounter places on the compound where time reversed itself every 10 minutes or so and an invisible force shield. As the members prepare for the coming of a mysterious event, the brothers race to unravel the seemingly impossible truth before their lives become permanently entangled with the cult. Because some of the characters are further out than others, the narrative occasionally gets a bit murky. Moorhead and Benson share an easy rapport that smooths the story’s wrinkles. The Blu-ray adds several making-of featurettes, interviews, commentary with the directors and producer, deleted scenes and “ridiculous extras.”

Spinning Man: Blu-ray
The twisty American procedural, Spinning Man, is helmed by a Swedish director (Simon Kaijser), who oversees an award-winning cast that includes a Brit, who was raised in Barbados (Minnie Driver); an Irishman, who now calls Malibu home (Pierce Brosnan); another Brit, successfully transplanted into Australian soil (Guy Pearce); and an Israeli actress (Odeya Rush), around whom the movie’s central mystery is built. The other key role is filled by the Phoenix-born Alexandra Shipp, whose father is African-American and her mother Caucasian. The story was adapted from George Harrar’s 2003 thriller by Matthew Aldrich, who co-wrote the story and screenplay for Coco, a movie that celebrates Mexican folk traditions. Who says Hollywood doesn’t celebrate diversity? Spinning Man was shot in and around Los Angeles, which any good locations scout can make look like a mid-sized college town in the Midwest. Pearce plays a philosophy professor, Evan Birch, suspected in the abduction and possible murder of a teenage clerk (Rush), who works at an equipment-rental stand at a local lake. Although he can’t remember being there, an inspection of his car produces evidence that could be linked to the crime. When confronted by police in front of wife (Driver) and daughter, the professor makes the mistake of thinking he can outsmart the cool and calculated detective, Malloy (Brosnan), whether or not he’s guilty. His wife has been through the drill before, when her husband was accused of seducing a student at a different school.

Indeed, Birch is set up like a bowling pin throughout most of Spinning Man. Viewers must consider several options: that he’s guilty, but too smart to be charged with a crime he’s already dodged once before; that he’s guilty and Mallory trips him up by picking an obscure philosophical nit; he’s innocent, but convicted on circumstantial evidence and the jury’s disdain for his arrogance; or he’s set free when the teenager returns from an unscheduled trip to Disneyland with her boyfriend. That’s two more options than we usually get. You can take your pick, because all the choices are valid in their own way. Personally, I would have preferred to see Mallory stack the circumstantial evidence against Birch and run off with poor Minnie Driver, whose character is sick of competing with teenage girls for her husband’s attention and could easily see herself living on the handsome cop’s pension for a while. Fans of the principle actors should find enough to like here to forgive lapses in narrative logic that mystery buffs won’t be able to overlook.  The extras include commentary by Kaijser, an “Inside Spinning Man” and deleted scenes.

Back to Burgundy
Cédric Klapisch’s picturesque family drama, Back to Burgundy, joins a growing list of movies designed to appeal to oenophiles and Francophiles, alike. After a decade abroad, Jean (Pio Marmal) learns of his estranged father’s failing health and returns to his hometown in Burgundy. He arrives in time to say goodbye to the man he blames for making his life intolerable as a teenager and unwilling to rejoin the family business since then. Jean still makes wine, with his wife, more than half a world away, in Australia. Having missed his mother’s funeral, for reasons he didn’t explain, Joel isn’t greeted with open arms by his strong-willed sister, Juliette (Ana Girardot), and responsible brother, Jérémie (François Civil). They’re happy to see him, but they fear how he will react to an inheritance that’s written in red ink and could cost them their legacy. France’s wine economy isn’t what it once was, and family-owned vineyards no longer are able to compete with corporations and growers less interested in high-quality reserves than more lucrative blends. As four seasons and two harvests fly by in picturesque Burgundy, the siblings are forced to reinvent their relationship to each other and balance tradition with reality. The younger siblings must also decide whether they’ll kowtow to Jean for the short period of time he plans to stay or stand up for themselves. Complicating matters is Jérémie’s marriage to the daughter of the landowner who expects to purchase part of his neighbor’s estate, for a song, and Jean’s increasingly fragile bond with his Aussie wife and son. On the plus side, though, Klapisch provides viewers plenty of opportunity to savor the process of making great wine and camaraderie that accompanies a rich harvest and successful first tasting. Bonus features include features “Shooting Back to Burgundy” and “The Wine of Burgundy”; the director’s commentary by director; more than 45 Minutes of additional scenes; and a blooper reel.

Escape Plan 2: Hades: Blu-Ray
Despite the pairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the original 2013 version of Escape Plan pretty much stiffed in its domestic release. It did more than four times more business overseas, however, bringing the grand total to $137.3 million. Those kinds of numbers pretty much guaranteed a repeat performance – if only on DVD/Blu-Ray/VOD — but only if Escape Plan 2: Hades retained some of the talent from the first picture. Stallone and 50 Cent are the only actors who obliged, but that’s probably sufficient cause for action junkies to rejoice. Sly’s co-stars here are former WWE “superstar” Dave Bautista and Chinese kung-fu artist Huang Xiaoming, who, besides being married to Hong Kong superstar Angelababy, is a high-profile television star on the mainland … and that’s where the action is these days, folks. (Chinese film production company, Leomus Pictures, co-financed the film.) Otherwise, writer Miles Chapman helped save money by practically Xeroxing his script for the original and, presumably, the already in production triquel, “Devil’s Station,” with most of the other actors in place. The Hades Prison set looks as if it might have been created on the site of an abandoned laser-tag facility or vacant warehouse. That’s not a knock on the movie, because budget-minded remakes keep talented people working and foreign money in this direction. The Blu-ray adds several making-of featurettes and interviews.

The Escape of Prisoner 614
If the reincarnated spirit of Barney Fife reappeared unexpectedly in a contemporary police comedy, he might look and behave a lot like Martin Starr’s hapless sheriff’s deputy, Jim Doyle, in the (almost) direct-to-DVD The Escape of Prisoner 614. Not nearly as tightly wound as Barney was when confronted with actual police work in “The Andy Griffith Show” – or in the company of an overly amorous Thelma Lou – Doyle is the dimwitted sidekick of a more formidable deputy, Thurman Hayford (Jake McDorman). The deputies answer to Ron Perlman’s hard-ass sheriff, a.k.a., Sheriff, who doesn’t resemble Andy Taylor in any significant way and doesn’t think much of either one of them. When Sheriff questions Thurman about the lack of crimes reported to him under their watch, he credits good police work and the unwillingness of would-be criminals to test the deputies. Instead of praising the goofballs, he calls their bluff by firing them for eliminating the crime they were hired to prevent. No sooner does Sheriff depart for the county seat than Thurman fields a call from the warden of the local penitentiary, reporting the escape of a convicted cop killer, Prisoner 614 (George Sample III). Although Jim and Thurman no longer are authorized to do so, they decide to pursue the escapee to get back in the good graces of their boss. And, sure enough, the deputies somehow manage to overcome their strategic weakness – they waste their bullets shooting at tin cans — by capturing Prisoner 614, an African-American who professes his innocence of the crime for which he’s been convicted. In the two days that it takes for them to return to the station, where Sheriff’s been impatiently waiting, they come to believe the prisoner is telling the truth. Sheriff, who routinely refers to the prisoner as “boy,” can’t be bothered with anything except taking credit for his department’s solid police work. Before he can be returned to the prison, where he faces the death penalty, the deputies conspire with a waitress at the local diner to prevent such a travesty of justice from occurring. While in no way credible, Zach Golden’s debut is just entertaining enough to recommend to fans of “Hap and Leonard,” “Memphis Beat” and, perhaps, even, the TV version of “Fargo,” although it’s far less dark and far more competently made. With some work, The Escape of Prisoner 614 could serve as a pilot for a show on one of the off-brand cable networks.

Edward II: Blu-ray
It would be presumptuous of me to argue for putting a temporary hold on movies based on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” or any one of a half-dozen other plays that filmmakers can’t resist recycling, simply because I feel obligated to watch them in their entirety and review them. Still, I would gladly wait patiently for as long as it takes for someone with something new to say to add their name to the seemingly endless list of adaptors on … or, like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), successfully mine a new audience. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the Royal Exchange Theater’s production of Hamlet (2015), which finds the estimable British actress Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything) in the title role and, at least, looks different than previous productions. Sarah Frankcom and Margaret Williams’ innovative adaptation was captured live in Manchester and beamed live to cinemas, before making the transition to disc. This is a Hamlet for audiences that don’t mind in-the-round presentations, color- and gender-blind casting, modern dress and props, and the lack of a proscenium arch or apron stage, just as long as the director doesn’t tinker with the text. The Bard’s immortal words remain intact here, and they fit neatly within the disc’s 184-minute length.

It’s primarily for that reason that it took very little time for me to get used to the choice of a woman to the Prince of Denmark. Peake plays him straight, according the book, and without a feminist agenda informing the performance. Neither, as far as I can tell, were the casting choices made for the sake of novelty or irony. Peake’s blond hair is shorn to unisex length and she wears pants and a tailored white shirt. Her delivery is strong and gender-neutral. By the time Hamlet locks lips with fair Ophelia (Katie West), nothing seems out of the ordinary, which is as it should be. My hope is that people new to Shakespeare – on the stage or film – don’t watch one of these revisionist adaptations and skip more formal productions. Also released into theaters in 2015 was the National Theater Live’s Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Sian Brooke – also paired in PBS/BBC’s “Sherlock” – but the DVD has yet to cross the pond. It is 16 minutes longer and the actors wear clothes from the early in the 20th Century. My favorite version is Grigori Kozintsev’s Hamlet, with medieval Ivangorod Fortress, in Estonia, standing in for Elsinore, and a slate-gray sky reflecting the brooding nature of the text, which is Russian (with subtitles). It is further enhanced by Dmitri Shostakovich’s original symphonic score and a lively translation by Russian novelist and dissident Boris Pasternak. Seven years later, Kozintsev worked the same magic with King Lear. But, I digress. Film Movement’s release of the 2015 Hamlet can is tailored for students of the theater students and those whose hunger for Shakespeare can’t be sated.

Derek Jarman’s post-modern version of Christopher Marlowe’s classic Elizabethan tragedy, Edward II (1991), has been deemed an exemplar of the New Queer Cinema. The movement emerged in the early 1990s with an explosion of independently produced films that featured gay and lesbian protagonists and subjects; explicit and unapologetic depictions of gay sex; and a confrontational and often antagonistic approach towards heterosexual culture. Given the relative invisibility of references to AIDS in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, these films were hailed within the gay/lesbian community as a welcome correction to a history of under-representation and stereotyping of LGBTQ characters and situations. The AIDS epidemic was far from over and conservative governments in Washington and London had yet to commit to finding a cure. Even the most liberal Democratic candidates for higher offices demonstrated a reluctance to putting too much of an emphasis on issues, like allowing gays in the military and same-sex marriage. The plot revolves around Edward II’s (Steven Waddington) infatuation with Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) and his bestowing of favors on the nobleman. It proves to be the downfall of both men, thanks to the machinations of the hugely ambitious nobleman, Roger Mortimer (Nigel Terry), lover to Queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton). The play telescopes most of Edward II’s reign into a single narrative, beginning with the recall of Gaveston, from exile, and ending with his son, Edward III, executing Mortimer the Younger for the king’s murder. Although historians disagree on the relationship between the king and Gaveston, Marlowe doesn’t disguise his belief that they were sexually and politically entwined. Jarman, who would die three years later of an AIDS-related illness, infused his adaptation with large dollops of male nudity, sexual writhing and depictions of Edward’s army as gay-rights protesters, played by gay-rights activists. It features a splendid performance by Swinton, who, in 1991, was widely considered to be Jarman’s muse. A post-Eurythmics Annie Lennox makes a cameo as the Singer. The new 2K restoration of the film adds the featurette, “Derek’s Edward” and “Queenie Queens on Top,” a new essay by filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, with a prologue by Swinton.

The Mimic: Blu-ray
Korean writer/director Huh Jung returns here for the first time since his 2013 thriller, Hide and Seek. Combining ghostly elements of 1990s J-horror and regional superstitions prevalent throughout Asian cinema, The Mimic crosses borders a little too often to be consistently suspenseful. When the key elements gel, however, The Mimic offers plenty of genuinely creepy moments, roughly divided by things that go bump in broad daylight and those that go bump in the night. It focuses on Hee-yeon (Yum Jung-ah) and Mi-ho (Park Hyuk-kwon), a married couple moving to a small town at the foot of Busan’s Mount Jang, with their young daughter, to get past the disappearance of their son, five years earlier. They also plan to include Mi-ho’s mentally ill mother to the household. The location is significant because of its proximity to the Jangsanbum, an evil tiger spirit with the power to imitate human voices. Mysterious things begin to happen after a dog from the couple’s kennel disappears into a hole in the cave’s entrance and a malevolent presence makes its presence known. It’s at this point when a practically feral little girl (Shin Rin-a) shows up out of nowhere and Hee-yeon takes her home with her, possibly as a substitute for her missing son. Before long, the otherwise mute tot begins to mimic the voice of her daughter and other inexplicable things begin to occur, sucking Hee-yeon deeper into her emotional morass. It begs the question as to whether Hee-yeon is going nuts or objectively bizarre things are causing her to react to them in ways that only seem crazed. When Mi-ho begins to transform himself into a ghoulish monster — whenever the mood hits, it seems – it sets up a climax that can only be satisfactorily resolved within the winding bowels of the cave. By this time, viewers will either by totally hooked on the hocus-pocus or hopelessly confused about where The Mimic is heading. To his credit, though, Huh helps maintain viewers’ attention with lovely mountain scenery and trippy special effects. The Blu-ray adds a pair of short EPK featurettes.

China Salesman: Blu-ray
Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson must be an extremely popular dude in China, Southeast Asia and other foreign markets. He’s starred in a half-dozen mostly action movies filmed abroad, including  Girls vs Gangsters (Vietnam), Ip Man 3 (China), Gates of the Sun (Algeria), Kickboxer: Retaliation (Thailand) and China Salesman (China/Africa). Steven Seagal, who’s probably more popular overseas than here, also plays a featured character, albeit one who’s second fiddle to Iron Mike. Eriq Ebouaney (France), Janicke Askevold (Norway), Marc Philip Goodman (Mexico) and Li Dong-xue (China) add their own international flavors to the PRC-financed actioner. Supposedly based on a true story of a corporate intrigue, China Salesman appears to tread some of the same fictional African settings as the immensely popular Wolf Warrior II, which also was financed by Chinese investors and describes how Chinese ingenuity, technology and persistence is conquering the hearts, minds and wallets of sub-Saharan Africa. Any resemblance between the two movies beyond that are purely coincidental. Where Wolf Warrior II sold millions of tickets worldwide and received decent, if not ecstatic reviews, China Salesman stiffed in its theatrical release and was greeted by some of the snarkiest reviews I’ve read in quite a while. The trash-talking started when critics deduced that Seagal was using a stunt double in a fight with Tyson, staged inside a bar in a country in which alcoholic beverages are illegal. One suggested that Tyson used a stunt double, as well, with close-ups and grimaces provided by the co-stars afterwards. The convoluted storyline, along with a lack of character development and internal logic, also gave critics an easy target for their barbs. In it, a pair of global-telecom conglomerates, DH and MTM, are involved in a bidding war to become the primary mobile-network provider of an African country. When a civil war erupts, however, with insurgents led by mercenary Kabbah (Tyson), who is in cahoots with MTM, it’s left to Yan Jian (Li), DH’s chief engineer and salesman, to help the president secure a line of communication throughout the country and restore peace. Seagal’s Lauder owns the joint in which the fight occurred – he ordered the bartender to pee in a carafe and give it to the abstinent Kabba – and will take money from anyone willing to accept his terms. The action sequences might appeal to VOD audiences drawn by the stars’ reputations, but, except for the novelty of watching Tyson do something besides break walls and barrels with his fists, China Salesman is pretty weak stuff.

Mission: Impossible: 5-Movie Collection: Blu-ray, 4K UHD/HDR
Jack Reacher: Blu-ray, 4K UHD/HDR
With Mission: Impossible 6: Fallout about to open worldwide on July 26, or thereabouts, dedicated fans of the series have plenty of time to purchase an affordable 4K UHD/HDR system and binge on the newly reformated movies contained in the “Mission: Impossible: 5-Movie Collection.” Blu-ray owners can do the same thing, sans the bragging rights that come with all new technology. Frankly, I’ve become so used to watching big-budget action flicks on 4K that it isn’t until I catch up to the standard Blu-ray bonus features that I can tell the difference, anymore. While, in some instances, the audio/video presentations are less than transcendent, the difference is always noticeable and welcome. In the case of the first two installments of the “M:I” franchise collected here, the improvement from the 2007 Blu-ray releases is pronounced and can be appreciated, as well, by anyone disappointed at the time. The improvements in “M:I 3” are more incremental. And, while the Blu-ray editions of “M:I 4” and “M:I 5” were well done, the 4K upgrades are even better. That’s saying something. Because, presumably, I’m preaching to the Mission:Impossible faithful here, there’s no need to recap the individual stories. It should be noted, however, that three of the five have dialed the audio up a notch from Dolby Digital 5.1, to a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Ghost Protocol recycles the same 7.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless presentation from the 2012 Blu-ray, which is OK, too. The most-recent episode, Rogue Nation, carries over the powerful Dolby Atmos soundtrack, while upgrading the visual presentation to 2160p/Dolby Vision. In another nice touch, No. 5 adds fresh bonus features to the package, split between two of the three discs. The other chapters retain the original supplemental material.

The first entry in Tom Cruise’s alternate stand-alone action franchise, Jack Reacher, finally makes the leap to 4K UHD/HDR, a full 15 months after the sequel, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, was introduced in the format. It adds some 4K/Dolby Vision oomph to the 2013 Blu-ray, which already was pretty decent, while porting over the preexisting 7.1-channel lossless soundtrack and all of the previously released supplements, which includes a pair of audio commentaries and a trio of featurettes. Lest we forget, a military sniper is severely beaten after his arrest for killing five random people. Before he slips into unconsciousness, he asks for Reacher (Cruise). Jack arrives and notices that things don’t add up. The evidence is too easily found. Someone is following him and, when hired goons try to get rid of him, he knows something bigger is going on.

The Curse of the Cat People: Blu-ray
The title may be more than a tad misleading, but fans of Val Lewton’s original Cat People (1942) shouldn’t find it difficult to enjoy The Curse of the Cat People for what it is: more of a continuation than a sequel. According to Hollywood legend, producer Val Lewton intended for the film to be a stand-alone portrait of dysfunction in a seemingly normal middle-class couple and how it affects their impressionable daughter. The story mirrored episodes in Lewton’s own upbringing and that of his daughter. There are ghosts aplenty in The Curse of the Cat People, if not as many cats of the humanoid or strictly feline variety. After recruiting the returning writer DeWitt Bodeen, composer Roy Webb, DP Nicholas Musuraca and actors Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph, all Lewton needed to create an instant sequel was a better title than “Amy and Her Friend.” Because of the typically skimpy budget handed Lewton by RKO, sets from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) reportedly were re-purposed. Little Amy Reed (Ann Carter) is the daughter of Oliver (Smith) and Irena (Simon) Reed, who died at the end of Cat People. After the tumultuous events in the original, Reed decided to move upstate with Amy and his new wife, Alice (Randolph). When Amy begins to act out her dreams, hallucinations and fantasies, Alice blames it on her mother’s genetic influence. Extremely inquisitive and precocious, the 6-year-old is welcomed into a spooky old house, inhabited by an ancient actress, Julia Farren (Julia Dean), her estranged daughter (Elizabeth Russell) and Irene’s ghost, who resembles a fairy princess and is only visible to Amy. Things come to a head when the girl begins to disappear into her fantasies, possibly with the intention of joining her birth mother in the hereafter. In his first directorial assignment – filling in for an out-of-his-element Gunther von Fritsch — Robert Wise turned Mrs. Farren’s backyard into a magical setting for a mother/daughter reunion, as well as a place where local superstitions, including Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman, added a nightmarish touch to the proceedings. The Shout Factory release adds new commentary with author/historian Steve Haberman; a previously recorded track with historian Greg Mank and audio interview excerpts with Simone Simon; the new “Lewton’s Muse: The Dark Eyes of Simone Simon,” a video essay by filmmaker Constantine Nasr (“Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy”); and an audio interview with Ann Carter, moderated by Tom Weaver.

The Addiction: Special Edition: Blu-ray
What the 2000s have been for zombies, the 1990s were for vampires, and, while horror buffs might not recognize the fiends in Abel Ferrara and Nicholas St. John’s The Addiction (1995), they’re as legitimate as any played by Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Catherine Deneuve. Set in a decidedly ungentrified Manhattan and shot in black-and-white – the chiarascuro greatly enhanced by Arrow Films’ 4K scan of the original camera negative – The Addiction uses blood lust as a metaphor for drug addiction, just it served as a metaphor for unbridled sexuality in hundreds of other vampire movies in the last 100 years. After being seduced by the euphoria associated with substance abuse, addicts become imprisoned within their own bodies, by a constant need for more drugs. In traditional vampire movies – and, of course, such revisionist sagas as “True Blood” and “Twilight” – victims are frequently lured into their addiction for blood by sexually alluring partners. In horror movies in which HIV/AIDS plays a role in a lover’s demise, it frequently is the result of a craving for sexual release so powerful that caution was thrown to the wind. Again, intense pleasure is followed by excruciating pain, and, in some cases, the fanged host lacks the ability to feel remorse for infecting the victim with his curse. The same sociopathic absence of guilt applies to junkies and alcoholics, who turn their lovers into addicts in exchange for the pleasure of their depleted company. Those are two of the things found lurking in the shadows of The Addiction, although a second or third viewing may be necessary to find them.

The perfectly cast film stars Lili Taylor as graduate philosophy student Kathleen Conklin. On her way home one night, she’s is assaulted by the aggressively vampish beauty, Cleopatra (Annabella Sciorra), who drags Kathleen into a darkened stairway and sinks her teeth into her. Soon, she can feel herself spiraling into a nightmarish world of blood addiction and existential angst. Driven by her merciless condition, she preys on friends, classmates and, even, her professor. Emboldened by her ability to stay reasonably healthy, Kathleen is waylaid by a far more urbane and sophisticated vampire, Peina (Christopher Walken), who controls his own addiction through fasting and meditation. (The hang out in artist Julian Schnabel’s high-ceiling pad.) He references Husserl, Nietzsche, Feuerbach and Descartes, while urging her to read William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” to understand her condition. The advice helps her achieve her goal of completing her graduate thesis, but the party she throws to celebrate turns into violent and blood-drenched group grope.

Ferrara leaves what happens next open to interpretation and contemplation, especially as it pertains to the notion that remorse and redemption can overwhelm sin. If this makes The Addiction sound too arty, pretentious or unappetizing, it’s worth noting that many mainstream critics have found it to be the most accessible and entertaining of Ferrara’s films, which are anything but mainstream. The Blu-ray adds worthwhile commentary by Ferrara, moderated by critic and biographer Brad Stevens; a new and lively featurette, “Talking with the Vampires,” featuring Walken and Lili Taylor, composer Joe Delia, cinematographer Ken Kelsch and the director; fresh interviews with Ferrara and Brad Stevens; the archival “Abel Ferrara Edits The Addiction,” from the time of production; a reversible sleeve, with original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain; and an illustrated collector’s booklet, containing new writing on the film by critic Michael Ewins. Keep an eye out for appearances, some very brief, by such New York-based, pre-fame actors as Edie Falco, Paul Calderon, Fredro Starr, Kathryn Erbe and Michael Imperioli.

Vigil: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Typically, when the words “new wave” and “New Zealand” are used in the same sentence, it’s in reference to surfing and the occasional tsunami-sized swells that only a handful of Kiwis are capable of riding. Add the names Roger Donaldson and Geoff Murphy to the sentence and the discussion turns to a nascent cinematic movement, which wouldn’t fully blossom until a decade later, when Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures), Jane Campion (The Piano) and Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) picked up the baton. When Jackson committed to produce The Lord of the Rings on his home turf and foreign producers liked what they saw of the countryside and heard about the production crews, the dream of a sustainable industry became reality. The planes that once transported local actors and directors from Wellington, to new careers in London and Hollywood, now were returning with cabins full of artists from UpOver. This spring, Arrow Academy released shiny new editions of Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs and Smash Palace on Blu-ray. This week, Vincent Ward’s visually stunning coming-of-age drama, Vigil (1984), has been accorded the same treatment. Next month, Arrow will send out his time-travel fantasy, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988). In Vigil, the first New Zealand film to be invited to compete at Cannes, a stranger appears in the fog-shrouded cliffs overlooking an isolated farm at the same time as the man of the house accidentally falls to his death, rescuing a ram. After carrying the dead man’s body home, the stranger, Ethan Ruir (Frank Whitten), is asked by his wife’s crusty old father, Birdie (Bill Kerr), to stick around and help with chores that might otherwise have gone unfinished. The 12-year-old daughter, Toss (Fiona Kerr), who witnessed the accident, sees Ethan as a dark presence with nefarious intentions. Her mother, Elizabeth Peers (Penelope Stewart), is every bit as mistrustful of the intruder, but, as a former ballet dancer, is more put off by his brutish demeanor.

Considering how far off the beaten path the farm is, it should come as no surprise that Mom eventually finds relief for her sexual longing in the tall and muscular man’s company. What does come as something of a surprise is the unscheduled arrival of puberty, which causes Toss to wonder why she’s seeing something in Ethan that wasn’t there a few weeks earlier. Blessedly, it never gets to the point where viewers will want to turn their heads from the screen. Still, with an absence of friends and the loss of her father, it’s no wonder the precocious farmgirl has begun to experience growing pains. Kay’s performance is nothing short of remarkable. She handles Toss’ emotional transformations in ways that are completely credible and heart-churning, while also easing the character’s occasional flights into the realm of fantasy. Vigil was shot in the geologically diverse western section of New Zealand’s northern island.  Its main geographical feature is the stratovolcano of Mount Taranaki, whose base appears to be surrounded by brilliantly green and lush rain forests. The misty mountains are like something out of a fairy tale. Toss’ grandfather is too unsteady to work the land and Elizabeth is ready to head back to civilization, while there’s still time for Toss to make an easy transition into womanhood. Not all of things that happen in the final sequences make complete sense, but there’s no mistaking Ward’s ability to extract great performances from his actors and frame them against a backdrop of spectacular scenery. The pristine Blu-ray presentation adds a recently recorded appreciation by film critic Nick Roddick; an on-set report from the long-running New Zealand television program “Country Calendar”; an extract from a 1987 “Kaleidoscope” television documentary on New Zealand cinema, focusing on Vigil and Vincent Ward, who would go on to make Map of the Human Heart (1993) and What Dreams May Come (1998).

Puppet Master: Retro Limited Edition: Blu-ray
No proverb sums up the evolution of genre filmmaking in recent Hollywood history better than, “From little acorns do mighty oaks grow.” Substitute “wooden-headed monsters” for “acorns,” and “franchises” for “oaks,” and you’ve encapsulated the history of Charles Band’s horror empire and the rise of the direct-to-video market that flourished in the 1980s and continues to evolve in the age of YouTube, streaming and DIY filmmaking. After the collapse of his mini-studio, Empire Pictures, in 1988, Band relocated to the United States from Rome and opened Full Moon Productions. His goal was to create low-budget horror, sci-fi and fantasy films, while retaining a somewhat “big-budget” look. After partnering with Paramount Pictures and Pioneer Home Entertainment, Full Moon began production on its first feature film, Puppet Master, which enjoyed a direct-to-video release on October 12, 1989, sidestepping high costs for marketing, prints and distribution. It has spawned 10 sequels; a crossover project, with characters from Demonic Toys; an upcoming 2018 reboot, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, two comic-book mini-series; an ongoing comic-book series; and numerous collector’s items. Today, Full Moon Streaming adds yet another way for subscribers to watch the company’s growing inventory of genre titles. For the uninitiated, Puppet Master opens in 1939, in Bodega Bay, California, where an elderly puppeteer, André Toulon (William Hickey), is putting the finishing touches on a living puppet named Jester. A living Asian puppet, named Shredder Khan, stares out of the window, searching for his leader, Blade, who’s on a recon mission around the hotel. After Blade spots a pair of Nazi spies on their way to Andre’s room, he races ahead of them to warn his friends of the sneak attack.

André puts Blade, Jester and Shredder Khan into a chest with an Indian puppet, Gengie, before hiding the box in a wall panel. As the Nazis prepare to break down the door, Toulon shoots himself in the mouth with a pistol. Flash ahead 50 years, as psychics Alex Whitaker (Paul Le Mat), Dana Hadley (Irene Miracle), Frank Forrester (Matt Roe) and Carissa Stamford (Kathryn O’Reilly) descend on Bodega Bay with an old colleague of theirs, Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs), who resides at the inn. They expect to find clues to the secret of life, discovered by ancient Egyptians, but, instead, encounter killer puppets, each one uniquely equipped for murder and mayhem. In anticipation of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, Full Moon released the original both on Blu-ray and a limited-edition “Vintage VHS Collection,” with the latter having only 3,000 units produced, and the first 300 being signed and numbered by Band. The more affordable set includes the uncut, remastered Blu-ray and a Blade figurine, contained in mock VHS box. Also from Full Moon comes the $299.95 (full retail) “Puppet Master Collection: Toulon’s Ultimate Collectible Trunk Set: Limited Edition: Blu-ray.” It’s housed in a detailed replica of Toulon’s travelling case, in a wood and metal-forged box set, containing all 11 official Puppet Master films re-mastered on Blu-ray, a 12th behind-the-scenes bonus disc, with more than six hours of behind-the-scenes footage; a mini Blade figure; collectible booklet; and new cover art for each film.

Searching for Victor ‘Young’ Perez: The Boxer of Auschwitz
Ascent of Evil: The Story of Mein Kampf
Who knows how many stories remain to be told about the millions of victims of the Holocaust, whose names are engraved on walls throughout Europe and Israel? While the Germans were meticulous in their recording of names, numbers and details about their prisoners’ transport, too much of what made each person special has been lost or left unrecalled by survivors. Until recently, that appears to have been the case with Victor “Young” Perez, a Tunisian Jew, who, in 1931, became the youngest world champion in boxing history. Twelve years later, he was deported to Auschwitz, where he was forced to box for the amusement of the camp guards. He died on the “death march” that left the camp on January 18, 1945. It wasn’t until 2013, when co-writer/director Jacques Ouaniche and Yoni Darmon completed their biopic about the hard-hitting flyweight, Victor “Young” Perez, that his story was disseminated. How widely, I can only guess. The film’s page on only shows one stop in the U.S. – the 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival – and two reviews, in French. The news may not have reached actor Tomer Sisley (The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch), who, a couple of years later, began taking boxing lessons for what he hoped to be a biopic about the same boxer. In Searching for Victor ‘Young’ Perez: The Boxer of Auschwitz, director Sophie Nahum follows Sisley as he conducts research with elderly Holocaust survivors who remember Perez and boxers who trained with him. One attempts to locate the Paris gym in which they sparred, while another shows Sisley the numerical I.D. tattooed on his arm, at Auschwitz. According to camp records, it was only two numbers away from those given Perez. They also uncovered a trove of photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia pertaining to his boxing career. Not having seen the previous movie, I found it fascinating. The second half of the documentary takes place inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and Memorial and remnants of other nearby death camps, with a different survivor escorting Sisley around some of the same quarters that housed prisoners. It’s heartbreaking, of course, but a little more research on Perez’ ordeal might have helped.

Left unspoken is the very real possibility that Perez was pitted against the Jewish-Greek middleweight, Salamo Arouch, portrayed by Willem Dafoe in Triumph of the Spirit (1989).  Arouch was able to survive the ordeal, likely through his participation in the exhibition bout. He died, in Israel, in 2009. Family members who were transported to Auschwitz with Arouch and Perez perished in the gas chambers. In an obituary published in the Washington Post after Arouch’s death, at 89, he’s quoted as saying his toughest opponent was a German-Jewish boxer, Klaus Silber, who had been an undefeated amateur boxer. He recalls that they sent each other sprawling out of the ring before Arouch recovered and knocked out his opponent. He never saw Silber again. After the release of Triumph of the Spirit, another Jewish-Greek middleweight champion, Jacques “Jacko” Razon, sued Arouch and the filmmakers for more than $20 million, claiming they had stolen his story and that Arouch had exaggerated his exploits. Razon clearly remembers boxing and working in the camp’s kitchens alongside Perez, as well as being forced on the same death march to Gleiwitz. According to the same obit, the case was later settled for $30,000. After the Allied victory, both the Greek sboxers emigrated to Palestine, where they fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. In case Sisley is still interested in pursuing his project, it appears as if Razon is still alive and living in Israel. The documentary includes a study guide.

Ascent of Evil: The Story of Mein Kampf describes how Adolph Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, written while imprisoned for his failed 1923 coup attempt in Munich, became a default bible for millions of Germans in the leadup to World War II. Frédéric Monteil’s instructive documentary explains exactly how the 720-page, two-volume “Mein Kampf” evolved from a clumsy screed, dismissed as the ravings  of a mad man, to an international best-seller, whose sales continued after the war. Indeed, in the Internet Age, its circulation is wider than its ever been. Even so, much of the book’s history has been forgotten. Monteil uses historical footage, photographs and interviews with scholars to make the case that the blueprint for Hitler’s rise to power and everything that transpired afterward is on full display in “Mein Kampf,” which found an audience, despite condemnation by editorial writers, politicians and world leaders. It’s described as a simple book of paradoxes: famous, but unknown, fascinating and repulsive. Anyone who can watch “Ascent of Evil,” without reconsidering Donald Trump’s ghost-written tome, “The Art of the Deal,” isn’t paying attention.

Turtle Tale
Too many of the movies I’ve seen recently, featuring anthropomorphic animals to reach family audiences, have resorted to having dialogue emerge from the non-moving lips of the furred and feathered characters. The stories are trite and special effects are cheesy. It helps explain why the animated, live-action and hybrid features from Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Studio Ghibli, Aardman and other major companies continue to find successful in theaters, VOD and check-out counters, presumably around the world. At first glance, the cover of Liongate’s live-action/animation comedy, Turtle Tale, promised more of the same old thing. The first indication that it wasn’t came with the welcome sight of animal actors, who actually look as if they might be sharing dialogue with each other’s characters, moving their lips, beaks and jaws to simulate talking. It allowed me to focus on the story, instead the feeling that I was destroying brain cells with every passing moment. Here, though, the animal and human characters weren’t working at cross-purposes to each other. Turtle Tale is inspired by events that took place at the George C. McGough Nature Park, in Largo, Florida, which includes 15 acres of mangroves and submerged areas, as well as 20 acres of upland. It’s populated by several different varieties of indigenous turtles and tortoises, owls, raptors, snakes and lizards, several of which have speaking roles in the movie. There’s also a rehabilitation facility on the premises. Noah Schnacky (“In Sanity, Florida”) plays a locbal juvenile delinquent, who take the fall for an act of mindless vandalism. He’s sentenced to dozens of hours of community service at the nature park, where he meets a pretty, red-headed docent (Lily Cardone) and dedicated naturalist (Mary Rachel Quinn), who prove to be perfect role models for him. He befriends the critters, who talk about him behind his back, turns his life around. After some of his hoodlum buddies invade the park and endanger the animals, Calvin knows exactly where to find the culprits. Locating the animals is a tougher assignment, though.

PBS: NOVA: Decoding the Weather Machine
At a time when the President of the United States and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency wear their ignorance on their sleeves as climate deniers, it’s important that scientists, activists and documentary makers continue to bang the drum for the truth. The two-hour “NOVA” presentation, “Decoding the Weather Machine,” may be seen as preaching to he converted, but it’s important to keep people still sitting on the fence from falling for the propaganda spewed by bought-and-paid-for legislators, giant corporations and the pollution lobby. On the plus side, nothing makes for more exciting television than disastrous hurricanes. widespread droughts and wildfire, extreme floods and withering heat. Extreme rainfall. It is hard not to conclude that something’s up with the weather, and many scientists agree. It’s the result of the weather machine itself—our climate—changing, becoming hotter and more erratic. In this 2-hour documentary, NOVA will cut through the confusion around climate change. Join scientists on a quest to better understand the weather and climate machine we call Earth. Why do scientists overwhelmingly agree that our climate is changing, and how can we be resilient – even thrive -in the face of enormous change?

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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