MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Goldstone, Westwood, That Summer, Irish Surf, Wyeth, Barbershop, Jess Franco, Mambo Cool, Watcher, Rolling Stone at 50 … More

Goldstone: Blu-ray
When a movie is set in the Australian Outback, it tends to take on the characteristics of an American Western. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t a horse or steer in sight, because the usual laws don’t apply in a land where kangaroos outnumber human beings and, it’s said, everything else wants to kill you. That includes a terrain as austere, unforgiving and treacherous as Death Valley or, if one knows where to look, as serene and majestic as Monument Valley. The contrasts were cogently observed in the recent PBS documentary series, “Outback,” which surveyed North West Australia’s sparsely populated Kimberley region. It includes pristine beaches, where the saltwater crocodiles roam; rugged ranges, where cowboys herd cattle by helicopter; thundering waterfalls; hidden gorges; dazzling sunrises and sunsets; and, of course, vast expanses of sand, dirt and rock. If John Ford were still alive, he might have found Australia the ideal location for his epic Westerns, although European invaders used far different methods to control the indigenous population than those he depicted in Cheyenne Autumn and The Searchers. Among the revisionist dramas in which the divergent Australian terrain is employed as a character, with its own personality and demands, are Ned Kelly (1970) The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) Quigley Down Under (1990) Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) The Proposition (2005) Mystery Road (2013), Strangerland (2015), Sweet Country (2017) and, newly released on DVD/Blu-ray, Goldstone (2015).

In Ivan Sen’s follow-up to the award-winning thriller, Mystery Road, aboriginal police detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) arrives in the frontier town of Goldstone on a missing-person inquiry. What seems like a simple investigation opens a web of crime, corruption, trampling of indigenous people’s land rights and human trafficking. Apparently, everything that happens in the flyspeck town is monitored by the boss (David Wenham) of the monstrous open-pit mining operation, whose fences were built to keep secrets in, as much as to keep trespassers out. As was the case in the Old West, the men who owned the biggest ranch or mine controlled everything that went on in town, and everyone who did business there. Typically, it took the arrival of an incorruptible outsider to change the balance of power. It doesn’t take long for Swan to figure out that young women from Southeast Asia are being flown to an airstrip on the mine’s property and driven to a tavern/brothel just outside its barbed-wire perimeter. The girls cooperate because they owe money to their madam, Mrs. Leo (Cheng Pei-Pei), and must pay her back, before she’ll return their passports. The brothel is located so far away from what passes for civilization that the intense heat, lack of cover, poisonous critters and, of course, lack of water make escape nearly impossible.

The missing girl’s connection to the brothel and, by extension, the mining operation, is so obvious that no one in town is much interested in helping Swann. And, yes, that includes the district’s wet-behind-the-ears constable, Josh Waters (Alex Russell); the town’s self-serving mayor, Maureen (Jackie Weaver); and the most influential member of the aboriginal community (Tommy Lewis). The latter is important because the mine owner hopes to expand into tribal territory. Naturally, the tribe’s spiritual leader, Jimmy (David Gulpilil), doesn’t want to see any more of his ancestors’ legacy despoiled and voices his displeasure with the plan. It isn’t until Jimmy takes Swann on a bit of a walkabout to a hidden ancestral holy place – a “row-about” would be more accurate – that the detective understands what’s at stake here and why he’s been called to Goldstone. The next day, Jimmy is found hanged. If Swann doesn’t get Josh to change sides and convince one of the working girls, Mei (Michelle Lim Davidson), to talk, he won’t last much longer, either. Not only was Sen responsible for writing and directing Goldstone, but he also is single-credited as cinematographer, editor and composer. The Blu-ray adds way-too-short interviews with cast and crew members.

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
Like too many other creative people, Dame Vivienne Westwood will forever be known for things she accomplished when she was a mere sapling, looking for attention. Obituary writers will be quick to point out that as a British fashion designer and boutique owner, she was largely responsible for dressing such rabble as the Sex Pistols and, with the band’s manager, Malcolm McClaren, bringing punk and new-wave fashions into the mainstream. In effect, Westwood picked up the torch carried, 10 years earlier, by Mary Quant. Instead of mini-skirts and hot pants, though, Westwood became famous for turning an everyday object, used by the musicians to keep their clothes from falling off their scrawny bodies, into a fashion statement. If the safety pins, studs, spikes, tears and graffiti gave her designs an improvisational look, her creations were anything but accidental. Before long, modified versions of the punks’ loudly ridiculed attire found its way into the closets of socialites, celebrities and wannabes. Twenty years later, Gianni Versace would famously reinvent the look for Elizabeth Hurley, whose red-carpet gown literally was held together by large, golden and presumably expensive safety pins. It might have been the only thing, besides British citizenship, she’d ever share with Johnny Rotten.

Lorna Tucker’s debut documentary, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, does a nice job describing how Vivienne met Malcom and collaborated on a series of Kings Road boutiques that set the tone for bands hoping to create brands for themselves. It goes on to show what Westwood’s been up to since their partnership broke up, in the early-1980s. In addition to being awarded an OBE – sans knickers — Westwood, then 50, met and married her third husband, Andreas Kronthaler, an Austrian who is 25 years her junior. Their creative partnership is fully documented in Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist. In the 2006 New Year’s Honors List, Westwood advanced from OBE to DOE, “for services to fashion,” and has twice earned the award for British Designer of the Year. Much of the film is dedicated, as well, to the designer’s commitment to social and environmentalist causes, to which she’s contributed large sums of money, countless hours of time and publicity material. If, at times, it bogs down in the ephemera of fashion-industry nonsense, “Westwood” benefits from her firebrand personality, still-vibrant fashion sense and abhorrence of things that bore her, including sitting for interviews.

That Summer
In 1972, photographer Peter Beard and former First Sister-in-Law Lee Radziwill came up with the idea of making a documentary about the “rapid vulgarization” of East Hampton, Long Island. This was before the Hamptons became the summer-spot-to-be for free-spending New York scenesters, their nannies and dogs. Gridlock on the two-lane Montauk Highway had yet to become a weekly predicament for visitors and locals, alike, and middle-class beachgoers still could afford an occasional trip to the beach. Göran Hugo Olsson’s That Summer opens four decades later with Beard and Radziwill recalling that season in the sun, largely spent at far eastern tip of Long Island in a retreat owned by that renowned outdoorsman, Andy Warhol. The photographs capture the leisure-time activities of a motley crew of celebrities, including Warhol and the Factory crew, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Truman Capote and other luminaries. The scene shifts to Grey Gardens, where Radziwill hoped to get her Aunt Edith “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and cousin Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale to provide memories of Lee and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s father, John Bouvier III. A successful Wall Street financier and notorious playboy, “Black Jack ” treated East Hampton as his personal playground for many years. The Beales weren’t terribly interested in talking about anyone except themselves, however, even if the cameras were manned by Beard, Albert and David Maysles (Salesman) and Jonas Mekas (The Brig). Apart from its occupants no one had been inside the 28-room house for five years and even the garbage collectors refused to brave the overgrown shrubbery and ruined furniture. Once Radziwill convinced them that no harm would come to them, Big Edie and Little Edie utilized their on-camera time squabbling, exchanging bon mots, performing impromptu musical numbers, gushing over their cats and resident raccoons, and complaining about the legal actions being taken by county health and housing officials to have the estate condemned. Aristotle Onassis had already poured money into refurbishing the mansion, but it’s difficult to see where the it went.

Long story short, Radziwill and Beard abandoned the project shortly thereafter, with the 16mm film being lost until only recently. (It’s believed that Radziwill confiscated it.) In 1975, the Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer returned to East Hampton to expand on their previous visits with the Beales, this time without any intention of focusing on how the various Bouviers spent the summers of their youths. Grey Gardens was greeted by extremely positive reviews, but very little exposure. It was seen by many as a freak show, in which two women with borderline personalities were encouraged to show off their eccentricities as a symbol of upper-crust rot or simply to amuse viewers. (Today, of course, anyone with the same royal lineage would host their own reality show, staged on the rotting veranda of their ocean-view home.) Perceptions began to change, however, when, in 2006, a full-length musical adaptation of Grey Gardens opened on Broadway, winning several Tony awards. In 2009, an HBO film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore used flashbacks to recall Little Edie’s life as a young woman of promise and describe the actual filming/premiere of the 1975 documentary. In 2006, the Maysles made available previously unreleased footage for a special two-disc edition of Grey Gardens for the Criterion Collection, which included a new feature, The Beales of Grey Gardens. The Beales have ben referenced, as well, in dozens of television shows (“RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Sex and the City”), fashion spreads, record albums (Rufus Wainwright’s “Poses”) and, even, “The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers,” which featured a joke by comic Mario Cantone about Joan and her daughter, Melissa, starring together in a TV-movie version of “Grey Gardens.” That would have been a hoot.

Between Land & Sea
If Brian Wilson and Mike Love sat down today to update the Beach Boys’ breakout single, “Surfin’ Safari,” they would have to consider revising the lyrics to include a few spots unknown to surfers in 1962. Portugal’s Nazaré break, Tahiti’s Teahupo’o, Tasmania’s Shipstern’s Bluff, the mid-ocean Cortes Bank, Half Moon Bay’s Mavericks and Maui’s Jaws have replaced Huntington, Malibu, Rincon, Laguna, Cerro Azul and Doheny as meccas for world-class surfers looking for waves less ridden. Bruce Brown’s seminal documentary, Endless Summer (1966), introduced the sport to barneys, bennys and hodads around the world, causing traffic jams on waves immortalized in “Surfin’ Safari.” Brown revisited many of the same spots in The Endless Summer II (1994) and other 16mm docs . Extreme surfing didn’t enter the sports lexicon until the release of Dana Brown’s Step Into Liquid (2003) and Stacy Peralta’s Riding Giants (2004), both of which added tow-in surfing to the mix. They were followed by Sunny Abberton’s quasi-sociological, Bra Boys (2007); and Rory Kennedy’s Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton (2017). In the recent tradition of Half Life Scotland (2008) and North of the Sun (2014), Ross Whitaker’s intriguing year-in-the-life documentary, Between Land and Sea, takes viewers to a place where wet suits are tested by conditions that will make viewers’ teeth chatter.

Whitaker’s film was shot in and around Lahinch, in County Clare, near the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, on Ireland’s rugged western coast. It explains how such an unlikely spot evolved into a prime surfing destination and how the sport has revived the sleepy beach town’s economy and spirits of inhabitants. It’s possible that some of the same Irish children we met in Step Into Liquid, being taught to ride by a three American brothers, grew up to become the big-wave surfers, teachers and entrepreneurs to whom we’re introduced in Between Land and Sea. Surfing in Ireland no longer qualifies as a novelty. The big waves attract pros from around the world and the locals are as dedicated to surfing as anyone else on the planet. The film also takes into account what happens to surfers as they raise families and approach middle age as citizens of a larger community. Kennedy’s profile of top pro Laird Hamilton does much the same thing, focusing, as well, on his twisty business affairs and the toll that unprecedented success has taken on a former beach bum. Here, the surfers interviewed have side jobs that include farming and selling paraphernalia to tourists. Besides some terrific wave-level cinematography, Between Land and Sea benefits from the lovely countryside and openness of the Lahinch residents.

Revolution: New Art for a New World
PBS: American Masters: Wyeth
Artists, filmmakers, musicians and other creative types have historically considered themselves to be in the vanguard of revolutionary movements and campaigns for social change. Unfortunately, once they’ve exhausted their usefulness to the new regimes and begun to demand freedoms promised them, they’re among the first to be harnessed, harassed and purged. Tyrants on both sides of the political fence are as guilty of repressing artists as the leaders they deposed. No better example of this hypocrisy can be found than in the rise of 20th Century communist dictatorships in Russia, China, North Korea and Cuba. Adolph Hitler, who fancied himself to be a painter of substance, didn’t worry much about offending his critics in the arts. He simply labeled their work “degenerate” and had it stolen, destroyed or hidden from view. He and Stalin shared many of the same tastes in art that glorified the state, while condemning anything that portrayed their political views in a negative light. Directed by Margy Kinmonth (Hermitage Revealed), the feature-length documentary, Revolution: New Art for a New World, encapsulates a momentous period in the history of the fledgling USSR and the Russian Avant-Garde, beginning with the Bolshevik uprising of 1917. Drawing on the collections of major Russian institutions, contributions from contemporary artists, curators, performers and personal testimony from the descendants of those involved, the film brings the artists of the Russian Avant-Garde to life. The film discusses all aspects of visual art, including photography, painting, propaganda posters, graphic design, sculpture, cinema, dance and theater, while covering artists as diverse as Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Dziga Vertov, Pavel Filonov, Petrov Vodkin, Marc Chagall, Varvar Stepanova, and Gustav Kluzis. Kinmonth describes how these artists contributed to the utopian vision of the revolutionaries, but soon would be ordered to conform with the one-party state and Lenin’s belief that art should conform to “monumental propaganda.” After Stalin rose to power, artists who didn’t buy into the party’s bias toward Socialist Realism either were given a one-way ticket to Gulag labor camps or chose to leave the country. “Revolution” also describes how curators risked their careers by hiding works of art that offended Stalin and now can be viewed in Russian museums. Bonus features includes more than 20 minutes of additional bonus footage and deleted scenes.

In the so-called free world, we know that censorship, condemnation and authorization take different forms, most of them dictated by the whims of the marketplace. Those whims include the opinions of critics, the appeal to celebrities and socialites, and flavor-of-the-month trends. One day, a painting might only be worth the price of a meal or carafe of wine. A few years later, the same work of art – and everything else in the artist’s studio – would bring a small fortune, with lines forming outside museums and galleries to see those pieces not in private hands. As we learn in PBS’ provocative bio-doc, Wyeth, the process sometimes reverses itself. This happens when an artist’s work is deemed “too popular” and some of the same critics and trend-setters who brought it to the attention of the masses turn on the artists and their collectors. That in a very small nutshell describes the public fate of painter/illustrator Andrew Wyeth, one of four subjects in the “American Masters” series for PBS, “Artists Flight.” (The others are sculptor-painter Eva Hesse, painter Elizabeth Murray and painter-illustrator Jean-Michel Basquiat.) Unlike most other artists, Wyeth was encouraged to join the family business – creating art – by his father, N.C. Wyeth. According to his grandson, Jamie Wyeth, himself a successful artist, “N.C. [was] an illustrator who was sort of the flagship of illustration back in the mid-century.” His father’s favorite subjects were the land and people around him, both in his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his summer home in Cushing, Maine. “I paint my life,” he was fond of saying. One of the best-known images in 20th Century American art is his painting “Christina’s World” (1948), which depicts a woman lying on the ground in a treeless field, looking up at a gray farm house on the horizon. When it was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, Wyeth was only 31 years old. The model’s enigmatic presence prompted critics to describe it as an example of “magical realism,” a characterization markedly hipper than ordinary “realism.” This and other well-publicized sales served to sour his reputation among his peers and patrons of the arts. Abstractionisms was in vogue in the 1950s and there was no room left for “illustrators,” “regionalist” and mere realists. Having one’s work compared to that of Norman Rockwell, I supposed, was the ultimate insult. The documentary also covers the other great controversy in his life: the “Helga Pictures,” a series of more than 240 paintings and drawings of German model/muse/neighbor Helga Testorf, created between 1971 and 1985. The voyeuristic portraits supposedly were kept secret from their spouses, friends and curators, and Testort was promised her nude body wouldn’t be put on public display. That pledge didn’t last long. Still spry, Testorf is interviewed in “Wyeth,” which takes full advantage of the beautiful places that inspired the artist and his family.

Cholesterol: The Great Bluff
The other documentary on this week’s list of new releases represents a sub-genre of non-fiction films, in which everything we’ve been led to believe about advances in medicine, nutrition and science is fair game for members of the denial community. It’s nothing new, certainly, but the media’s demand for controversial content – however, unreliable and untested – has overwhelmed the ability of the scientific community to keep up with it. The most prominent example, of course, is the debate over global warming. Anti-vaccine campaigners have also stated their cases to parents afraid that their child will beat the odds by being damaged by active agents in the immunization process. By relying on the testimony of celebrities and anecdotal evidence, anti-vaxxers have scared enough parents to cause headaches for school and public-health administrators. The result has been outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and polio, diseases once assumed to be under control. It would be a lot easier to write off the activists if the government, pharmaceutical, medical and insurance establishment didn’t make it easy for them to flourish. “60 Minutes” wouldn’t have five years, let alone 50, if all it presented were celebrity puff pieces and author interviews. Its bread and butter derive from investigative pieces that betray the greed of corporate executives and willingness of government officials to accept money from lobbyists whose ethical restraints are non-existent.

Cholesterol: The Great Bluff is one of those documentaries whose arguments sound valid, but whose veracity is questionable, based on most journalistic standards. Anne Georget’s film argues that the widely accepted link between cholesterol and heart disease is tenuous and that its persistence results from a mix of bad science, entrenched interests and pharmaceutical profits. If the film hasn’t found much traction apart from an airing on Canadian television, and the reaction to it has been minimal, the same can’t be said about the debate over the demonization of saturated fats, the rise and fall of hydrogenated oils, and the introduction of several generations of miracle drugs, not all of which have panned out as expected. Who to believe? The best place to start, of course, is by asking your family doctor and pharmacist about the questions you’ve heard about prescription drugs. The problem here is the willingness of doctors, researchers and med-school administrators to accept money from industry reps to support research, or to participate in expenses-paid junkets to gatherings at luxury resorts, in return for listening to sales pitches. (Just like time-share hustlers.) There’s plenty of reliable – and suspect – information on the Internet to survey, as well. I take statins and other pharmaceuticals to reduce my blood pressure, and they appear to work. I’m not ready, yet, to go against my doctor’s advice simply because the makers of a documentary encourage me to do so.

The Seventh Sign: Blu-ray
It’s been a while since the only thing standing between mankind and the Apocalypse – the real one, not the zombie version – was the determination of Demi Moore to bring a child into the world. Whether the baby is the demon-seed of Satan or the re-arrival of Jesus Christ remains open to question throughout most of The Seventh Sign’s 97-minute runtime. The 1988 thriller might have been better served if it had been titled “The Seventh Seal,” but someone in an executive office probably thought audiences would confuse it with Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 drama, starring a medieval knight played by Max von Sydow and Death, portrayed by Bengt Ekerot. While both movies are informed by passages from the Book of Revelation, they are otherwise quite different from each other. (I’m trying to imagine Moore engaged in a fateful chess match against the pale, black-cowled personification of Death.) Carl Schultz’ film opens with manifestations of the plagues some theologians believe will precede the Second Coming. A mass death of fish and crustaceans occurs in the waters off Haiti; a freak freeze devastates an ancient village in the Middle East; and earthquakes are felt around the globe. At each location, a mysterious traveler, David Bannon (Jürgen Prochnow) appears, carrying a sealed envelope.

The Vatican tasks Father Lucci (Peter Friedman) with investigating these events, though he’s cautioned that they are all either hoaxes or have other explanations. Meanwhile, Moore’s Abby Quinn is eight months pregnant and afraid of experiencing another miscarriage. Her husband, Russell (Michael Biehn), is the defense lawyer representing Jimmy Szaragosa (John Taylor), a mentally handicapped man dubbed the “Word of God Killer,” after claiming he killed his incestuous parents because they disobeyed God’s law. His scheduled execution would coincide with the birth of Abby’s baby … so, you figure it out. In another case of incredible timing, Bannon arrives in California during the final weeks of her pregnancy, moving into a spare room at the Quinn’s abode. Abby, who can’t help but stick her nose into her tenant’s belongings, becomes suspicious when she comes across some ancient Hebrew writing and one of the seals. Her curiosity leads her to a local rabbi, whose son not only can translate the text, but also is game for some adventure. The rest I can safely leave to your imaginations. Moore, who, at the time, was a rising superstar in Hollywood, may be completely unsuited for the role of Mother of God/Satan, but she’s the only actor who stands out here as someone worth our time. Otherwise, The Seventh Sign is crumbly around the edges of Clifford and Ellen Green’s flaky narrative and Schultz’ paint-by-numbers direction. The Scream!Factory Blu-ray includes fresh interviews with actors Biehn, Friedman and Taylor, Schultz and the Greens.

Barbershop: Blu-ray
Barbershop 2: Back in Business: Blu-ray
Beauty Shop: Blu-ray
MVD adds three irresistible titles to its recently launched Marquee Collection, with Blu-ray editions of Barbershop, Barbershop 2 and Beauty Shop, all produced by Chicagoans Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr. Even with the success of Soul Food behind them, Teitel and Tillman found it difficult to court studio money for Barbershop, which, in hindsight, seems like the ultimate no-brainer. In 2002, studios were reluctant to finance pictures targeted at primarily African-American audiences, with predominantly male actors and minority production teams. Despite the success of Waiting to Exhale (1995), Set It Off (1996), How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), The Wood (1999) and The Brothers (2000), Hollywood economics argued against expecting big returns, even on budgets that rarely crossed the $10-million barrier. While limited to $7.5 million (Soul Food) and $12 million (Barbershop), the pictures returned $43.5 million and $75.8 million, respectively. Unlike today, the foreign box-office was written off before anyone bothered to try selling it overseas. Perseverance paid off for Teitel and Tillman in the form of a legitimate franchise comprised of three Barbershop films, Beauty Shop and a television series … two, if you include Showtime’s “Soul Food,” which ran from 2000-2004.

In the original, Calvin (Ice Cube) decides to sell the Chicago barbershop he inherited from his father. He and his friends spend the rest of the movie trying to raise the money to buy it back. In the sequel, Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy and Leonard Earl Howze are joined by Queen Latifah, a stylist at the beauty shop next door. In Beauty Shop, Latifah’s Gina Norris has moved to Atlanta, where she hopes to sell cutting-edge hairstyles to Southerners with conservative tastes. When her egotistical boss (Kevin Bacon) delivers one criticism too many, Gina leaves his salon to open a shop of her own, taking the shampoo girl (Alicia Silverstone) and a few key clients (Andie MacDowell, Mena Suvari) with her. Gina buys a rundown salon and inherits an opinionated group of headstrong stylists (including Alfre Woodard), a colorful clientele and a sexy upstairs neighbor (Djimon Hounsou). The individual Blu-rays add several featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries, outtakes, bloopers and vintage marketing material.

Diamonds of Kilimandjaro: Blu-ray
Golden Temple Amazons: Blu-ray
In the nearly 60 years that Jesús “Jess” Franco wrote and directed movies, it’s unlikely that he allowed his name to be attached to two pictures more ineptly conceived and produced than Diamonds of Kilimandjaro and Golden Temple Amazons, although it remains unclear where his contributions began and ended. Both pictures are set in dense jungles, where Amazonian and native African warriors, compete with European plunderers for gold, diamonds and the soul of a topless orphan girl, who swings from vine to vine, but can barely muster a passable imitation of Tarzan’s yell. In fact, most of the women featured in the film – white and black – perform without the benefit of pectoral support, even when riding into action on horses. Clearly, this was vintage Franco … even if everything was suspect. This includes the stock shots of elephants and hippos, and a monkey named Rocky who couldn’t act if its supply of bananas depended on it. Both movies argue that they were made in the mid-’60s by college freshmen who couldn’t see beyond the parade of breasts and occasional glimpse of female pubic hair. Their official release dates were in the mid-’80s, when more was expected of exploitation flicks. That said, Diamonds of Kilimandjaro and Golden Temple Amazons can be enjoyed by people whose search for the ultimate Movie So Bad It’s Good never ends. Both appear on Blu-ray for the first time.

Mambo Cool
There’s nothing remotely glamorous, cool or intriguing about the drug addicts we meet in Chris Gude’s morbidly fascinating Mambo Cool. Over the course of 62 minutes, he introduces viewers to lumpen junkies and small-time crooks living in prisons of their own making. It’s set in the back alleys of Medellin, where some of them once dealt the drugs whose residue they now scrape from the floor and keep their minds occupied with new ways to trap rats that are smarter than they’ll ever be, again. The only time the lead characters come to life is when they’re allowed to partake in their other drug of choice: the mambo, which is provided by Cuban musician David Oquendo. Jose Ignacio Pardo and Felipe Loaiza’s artistically dark and forbidding cinematography disguises the likelihood of Mambo Cool having originally played out on the cramped, compartmentalized stage of a theater. The interaction between the addicts – or, lack thereof – reminded me of the junkie jazz musicians waiting listlessly for their man, Cowboy, in Shirley Clarke’s The Connection (1962). It’s difficult to recommend either movie to mainstream audiences, but anyone looking for a walk on the wild side might want to check them out.

Lifetime: Watcher in the Woods
HBO: Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge: Blu-ray
BBC/PBS: The Great British Baking Show, Season 5 UK Season 3
PBS: NOVA: Animal Mummies
PBS: NOVA: Rise of the Superstorms
Nickelodeon: SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom
Nickelodeon: PAW Patrol: Halloween Heroes/Mighty Pups
Melissa Joan Hart’s re-adaptation of Florence Engel Randall’s 1976 novel, “The Watcher in the Woods” – previously filmed, by Disney, in 1980 – appears, at first glance, to be a curious choice for Lifetime, unless one considers that the former star of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and her mother, Paula,  had already directed/produced the holiday-themed “Santa Con” for the network and Anjelica Huston would fill in for Bette Davis as the creepy Mrs. Aylwood. The story involves a family moving into a large country home, lorded over by a woman harboring a deep, dark decades-old secret. Although suspense is built into the narrative, Hart fails to take advantage of it. Reportedly, the Harts ran out of money before the scary stuff could be souped-up on CGI, allowing the “watcher” to deliver the goods. Instead, the special-effects are less effective than the first-love through-line involving Tallulah Evans (Son of Rambow) and Nicholas Galitzine (The Beat Beneath My Feet), who plays the son of the house’s caretaker. The production benefits from its Welsh location and a home in which Agatha Christie once penned her mysteries. As tame as it might be for hard-core fans of Halloween fare, “The Watcher in the Woods” could very well appeal to younger teens, whose taste in horror isn’t set in stone.

I’d feel better about HBO’s eight-part documentary series, “Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge,” if it hadn’t been commissioned, in part, by magazine founder Jann Wenner as a 50th-anniversary present to himself. To one degree or another, Rolling Stone has been a fixture in the lives of Boomers, Boomlets, Gen X’ers and millennials, ever since it committed its resources not only to coverage of rock-’n’-roll, but also politics, race and sex. “Stories From the Edge,” which was directed by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Emmy-winner Blair Foster (“George Harrison: Living in the Material World”), combines a plethora of archival photos, film and graphics, with the recollections of past and current journalists. They include Ralph J. Gleason, Baron Wolman, Annie Liebovitz, Jon Landau, Ben Fong-Torres, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Greil Marcus, William Greider, P.J. O’Rourke and Cameron Crowe, all of whom provide entertaining anecdotes and much-needed context. It goes deep on Howard Kohn and David Weir’s exclusive inside report on the Patty Hearst’s kidnapping; Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman’s coverage of 1970s politics and personalities; Michael Hastings’ brutally candid profile of “Runaway General” Stanley McChrystal; and the magazine’s tentative embrace of punk, boy bands, rap and hip-hop. Like Wenner, the film is obsessed with such gods and goddesses of midcentury rock as John Lennon, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Rolling Stones. The final chapter discusses the negative impact of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s discredited article on a gang rape at the University of Virginia that never happened. In the canonization process, Gibney and Foster make excuses for or completely ignore Wenner’s transition from San Francisco-based scene-maker to New York media mogul; his willingness to kill negative reviews of his friends’ albums; the disappearance of his wife and business partner, Jane, after the first two chapters; the dramatic drop in circulation and cheesy strategies for regaining teen readers; later plans to sell the magazine; a marketing campaign that denigrated the magazine’s bedrock audience; and his divorce and coming-out as gay in 1995. Still, there’s enough solid material here to keep cross-generational audiences interested during most of the doc’s four hours. Boomer parents and grandparents probably will dose off occasionally, however.

After “The Great British Baking Show” (a.k.a., “The Great British Bake Off”) developed a cult following in the United States, it became necessary for distributors of DVD compilations to square what exactly constitutes a season on British television and a season here. It explains why the new Season Five collection, carries the caveat of representing Season Three (U.S.) I once tried to explain the math, but got lost in the different configurations of episodes, spin-offs, contestants and judges. This time around, 12 amateur bakers head for the competition tent in the British countryside, hoping to be named the best by judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, alongside hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Each episode has a Signature Bake, to test creativity and baking ability; a Technical Challenge, to make basic recipes with minimal instruction; and the Showstopper Bake, to display depth of skill and talent. It’s possible that the season’s final episode didn’t make it into the DVD package – and, no, I don’t know why – so fans of the show might want to check out the streaming versions, if they think they’ve missed something.

Anyone who thinks that people only recently began traveling on public transportation with “comfort animals” owes it to themselves to watch the “NOVA” presentation, “Animal Mummies.” It describes how ancient Egyptians prepared for their journeys to the afterlife by having their pets and other animals mummified and placed next to them in their tombs. Hi-tech imaging is now revealing what’s inside the bundles that archeologists previously believed contained the remains of children who died at birth. In addition to the usual arrays of dogs and cats, they’ve discovered mummies of baboons, bulls, crocodiles and cows, in the tens of thousands, buried in Egyptian catacombs.

With Hurricane Florence lurking off the North Carolina coast, there’s hardly a better time to check out the “NOVA” report, “Rise of the Superstorms.” It revisits summer 2017, when three monster hurricanes swept in from the Atlantic, one after another, shattering storm records and killing hundreds of people. The shows dives into the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. How can scientists better predict the severity of such storms, and what does the 2017 season tell us about the likelihood of similar storms in the future?

Last Halloween, Nickelodeon offered fans of “SpongeBob SquarePants” something a bit different from the usual undersea fun. “The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom” adopted the stop-musician visual style of such classic Rankin/Bass TV specials as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964) and “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” (1985). I don’t know why the company decided on a such a seemingly primitive technique, but it probably was something new to the show’s pre-teen audience. In it, the infamous Flying Dutchman (Brian Doyle Murray) returns to town, bent on scaring the square-pants of its residents. This includes SpongeBob, who thinks scary things are funny. The Flying Dutchman, named after the ghost ship of the same name, is a green-glowing spook who haunts the seven seas, ostensibly because his unburied corpse was used as a window display. The special finds Bikini Bottom decked out for Halloween: Sandy’s tree dome is a mad scientist’s lab, with a giant remotely operated Acorn Monster; Mr. Krabs’ restaurant is “The Horrors of the Chum Bucket,” displaying scenes of Plankton torturing food; and Plankton’s restaurant is “The Horrors of the Krusty Krab.” It only takes 23 minutes to find out how many souls the Flying Dutchman can deliver to Davy Jones’ Locker. I would have expected something a bit longer.

Nickelodeon’s “PAW Patrol: Halloween Heroes” is comprised of seven vintage episodes, all based on a holiday or seasonal theme: “Pups and the Ghost Pirate,” “Pups Save a Ghost,” “Pups and the Ghost Cabin,” “Pups Save a Bat,” “Pups Fall Festival,” “Pups Save the Corn Roast” and “Pups Save a Show.” The animated children’s series follows the PAW Patrol, a group of hero pups who go around solving the problems that the people of Adventure Bay face daily. “Mighty Pups” previews an upcoming 44-minute special episode of “PAW Patrol,” now in its fifth stanza. For the time being, it’s only available at Walmart stores, otherwise the release date is October 4. The pups gain superpowers after a meteor lands in Adventure Bay. When Mayor Humdinger and his nephew attempt to steal the meteor and gain control over the city, the pups use their new powers to save the day.

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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