MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Hereditary, Ghost Stories, Found Footage 3D, Beast, Venus, This Is Our Land, The Big Take, Brothers, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, Sid Caesar, Good Karma Hospital … More

Hereditary: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Ghost Stories: Blu-ray
Found Footage 3D: Blu-ray
Truth or Dare
With another new awards season always around the corner, it will be interesting to see if Avi Aster’s widely acclaimed debut thriller, Hereditary, gets the same respect accorded Jordan Peele’s freshman flick, Get Out, in last year’s campaigns. Both films merge suspense with family drama, relying much less on jump scares than the horror of thoroughly dysfunctional human relations. Get Out caught the attention of Oscar voters with its hyperextension of race-related preconceptions and prejudices – guess who’s coming to dinner, indeed – and boffo box-office results. Hereditary would have to get by solely on the usual attributes: wonderful acting, a terrific story, genuine scares, excellent production values and highly positive reviews. It also made some money. In AFI graduate Ari Aster’s slow-burn debut as writer/director, a seemingly normal family falls under the curse of its recently deceased matriarch, who, unbeknownst to them, was the leader of a demonic backyard cabal. Sounds far-fetched, sure, but the patiently rendered drama benefits from not having to rely on jump scares and grotesque visual effects. In an extreme example of either creative or coincidental casting, Toni Collette plays Annie, the daughter of a woman who suffered from the same dissociative-identity disorder as her character in Showtime’s “United States of Tara.” Her son, Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), will be affected by mysterious life-threatening occurrences, as well. Meanwhile, Annie’s husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), is forced to put himself in harm’s way by serving as a buffer between his increasingly unpredictable wife and the children. One of the ways Annie’s madness manifests itself here is in her inability to focus on her art, creating miniature replications of her home and other sites. The first indication that something is wrong is when characters in the models appear to take on a life of their own. The tension rises exponentially as the fragments of her mother’s cursed legacy begin to fall into place. While it isn’t easy watching children suffer for things they can’t possibly understand or control, it forces us to share the pain. Hereditary has been characterized as a merger of “arthouse horror” (The Witch, The Babadook), classic psychological horror (Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now) and intense family drama (Ordinary People, In the Bedroom), while also eliciting edge-of-your-seat thrills. The 4K UHD presentation dials up the excitement by adding another layer of audio/visual thrills, via 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Vision HDR, as well as deleted scenes, the featurette, “Cursed: The True Nature of Hereditary,” and a photo gallery.

Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s similarly effective Ghost Stories began its life on London’s West End, where it must have looked extremely different than the movie version. Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, a lecturer, TV celebrity and paranormal debunker, as well as an atheist and rationalist, driven to expose hoaxes and frauds. His motivation, in part, stems from his father’s fundamentalist religious beliefs, which were used as implements of psychological torture. The film’s basic conceit was spelled out, literally, in the UK marketing campaign, where the title of the film contained a curious typo: “Ghost Storeis.” The tagline, “The brain sees what it wants to see,” was added for readers whose built-in auto-correct function caused them to rejigger the letters. One day, out of the blue, Goodman receives a letter from a famous debunker – long believed dead – inviting him to his caravan. Even though the old man doesn’t have many good things to say about Goodman’s work, he asks him to investigate three cases that have perplexed him for years. The first involves a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) at a facility that once served as a facility for mentally ill women and now actually appears to be infested with their malevolent spirits. In the second, a young man (Alex Lawther), who survived a terrible vehicular accident, lives in what can easily be described as a haunted house, complete with waxen facsimiles of his parents. He then travels to a seaside estate to meet a filthy rich banker (Martin Freeman) plagued by encounters a poltergeist, which he identifies as the spirit of his unborn child. Upon his return to the old man’s caravan, Goodman is visibly shaken by what he’s witnessed and how it might relate to his own life. One last surprise is left in reserve.

Over the course of the last 30 years, more than a dozen English-language horror films – alone – have carried the title, Truth or Dare, in one form or another, including Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991), which was pretty scary in its own right. Nick Simon’s newly released made-for-Syfy Truth or Dare (2017), preceded Jeff Wadlow’s theatrical feature of the same title by only a few months. They all share the same basic premise: a group of young people comes together over dinner, at a party, on a weekend retreat, in a house or cabin disguising dark secrets; they are required to answer deeply personal questions or accept potentially lethal challenges; and, of course, terrible things happen to good people. In Simon’s movie, the college-age men and women agree to spend the weekend inside a large home, where, years earlier, a game of T-or-D resulted in several grotesque deaths. In way too short a time, they begin responding to challenges that appear to be inspired by a malignant paranormal force within the walls of the house. As the dares become less personal in nature, and more cruel, Truth or Dare devolves rather quickly into the realm of torture porn.

Found-footage movies ran their course when The Blair Witch Project (1999) regurgitated itself as Blair Witch (2016) and was greeted with the same enthusiasm as yet another sequel to Godzilla. In the self-descriptive Found Footage 3D, an aspiring filmmaker is hired to document the creation of the ultralow-budget “Spectre of Death.” Its backers are promoting the project as “the first 3D found-footage horror film,” knowing full well that audiences have become jaded and won’t be fooled by such schlock again. The production is taking place in a remote cabin not far from Austin, which is the stomping ground of Lone Star horror-meisters Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), who’s also one of this film’s producers. Inevitably, the fictional specter from “Spectre of Death” reveals itself in the behind-the-scenes footage. If the filmmakers can’t isolate the dark spirit, it could find its way into the real world. Or, so we’re asked to believe. The good news is that the 3D process employed here doesn’t require an expensive television or special lenses to work, just the enclosed cardboard-and-cellophane glasses that have always worked and cost pennies to manufacture, if that. The bonus package adds a pair of commentaries, interviews, making-of material, outtakes, deleted and extended scenes. A Blu-ray 2D version is enclosed, as well, but what would be the point?

(In an exchange of responses, multi-hyphenate filmmaker Steven DeGennaro insists that a scene I commented upon in a previous edition of this review —“I lost patience with “FF3D” when the fictional director thought it would be a good idea to punish his leading lady’s insubordination by punching her out in front of the others. It was a shade too real for my taste.” — actually was in the deleted/extended/outtakes section of the package. Although, I stand by my memory, I’ll give him the benefit of a doubt by deleting the comment. I will say, however, that the offending scene was so disturbing that it altered my impression of the movie … deleted or not. As writer/director/sound editor/producer/editor, it’s possible that he was too wedded to the sequence to realize how the inclusion
of the scene in the bonus features might be perceived in the #metoo climate by viewers. There’s no law that requires a director to include all deleted scenes in the bonus package, even to show viewers how politically correct he was to eliminate it. And, no, I didn’t review a pirated or early edition. I reviewed what I saw.)

The British island of Jersey, just off the Normandy coast, serves both as home and prison for Beast’s troubled protagonist, Moll, played by the wonderfully talented Irish redhead, Jessie Buckley. As a teenager, Moll made the mistake of embarrassing her patrician mother, Hilary (Geraldine James), within the insulated community of wealthy Brits. As punishment, she’s condemned to earning money as a tour guide and bearing the brunt of Hilary’s tyranny. Even when her mother throws a gala birthday party for Moll, she uses it as an occasion to announce that her other daughter is pregnant with twins. To add insult to injury, the birthday girl is asked to fetch champagne from the cellar to celebrate the news. In a fit of pique, Moll crushes broken glass in her hand, flees the party, gets drunk at the local disco and leaves the club with a guy who almost certainly will force himself on her. Before that can happen, though, the island’s other black sheep – this one with flaxen hair – threatens the ruffian at rifle point. Pascal (Johnny Flynn) explains the gun by pointing out the pail full of poached rabbits in the back of his Jeep. Moll not only buys the excuse, but she also allows herself to be used as an alibi witness when police question the boy about a missing girl. Pascal becomes the prime suspect when she’s found dead some time later. By then, however, he manages to alienate Hilary and her son, who took it upon himself to investigate his sister’s boyfriend. (Being a native Norman, of “noble birth,” he fails to endear himself with Hilary when, after getting mud on her rugs, he declares that her family is living on his land.)

For all of Pascal’s deep-seated menace and mysteries, he’s a likable guy and someone we’d like to see as Moll’s savior. For that to happen, though, he must avoid being lynched by the bigoted locals; stop telling lies to Moll; and convince us of his innocence. Beast thrives as much on the uncertainty as it does on the island’s beauty, which masks an ugly core of intolerance and greed. Writer/director Michael Pearce grew up on Jersey and based the story on a series of crimes that occurred during his youth. Buckley, who’s spent much of her early career in stage musicals, exudes a feral quality here that goes away when she washes and combs her curly red mane. Neither Buckley (“War and Peace”) nor Flynn (Clouds of Sils Maria) should have any difficulty landing key roles in projects demanding fresh young talent.

Until Americans put aside their fear of and prejudices against members of the LGBTQ community and its perceived agenda, audiences will have to rely on Canada and Europe for movies that deal realistically with issues affecting everyone. Caitlyn Jenner and RuPaul have contributed more to the mainstreaming of transgender and queer culture than activists who’ve led the good fight since the Stonewall riots, only to be ostracized by politicians, condemned by religious leaders and ignored in the media. Even so, film festivals overflow with movies that no longer are fixated on such fundamental themes as accepting sexual identity, surviving AIDS/HIV and dealing with exclusionary treatment by families, religious leaders and government entities. Wolfe Releasing, Broken Glass Pictures, Strand Releasing and IFC/Sundance are among a handful of distributors that skim the cream from the festivals and make the titles available to DVD/Blu-ray and VOD audiences here. Montreal-based Eisha Marjara’s Venus crosses so many genre boundaries that the fact that its protagonist is a transgender woman is almost immaterial to its appeal. Every bit as important to the narrative are the dynamics within Sid’s Punjabi family and how they react, first, to their son’s transition – hint: not well – and, second, to the news that they have a grandson … hint: much better. In fact, Sid (Debargo Sanyal) is, at first, less willing to accept the reality of his fatherhood than they are. Several years after Sid decided to leave home and live his life a woman, she discovers that she’s being stalked by a kid on a skateboard. One day, the 14-year-old shows up at her door to announce that Sid is her birth father.

Ralph (Jamie Mayers) discovered this biographical tidbit while reading his mother’s well-hidden journal, which pointed to a short, but fruitful liaison with Sid in high school. In fact, Sid was more interested in her brother, but he was unable to admit it. She kept Ralph’s parentage secret for all this time. Once Sid accepts this reality, he asks Ralph to maintain his mother’s secrecy, until such time as Kirsten (Amber Goldfarb) can resolve her own feelings about shared parenthood. In a twist that could easily backfire on him, he decides to tell Mamaji (Zena Darawalla) and Papaji (Gordon Warnecke) about their new half-Indian grandson, whose maturity and tolerance are enhanced by a natural curiosity about new things in his life. Instead, they’re thrilled, especially when the light-skinned Ralph enthuses over Mamaji’s cooking and shows a desire to learn more about his Asian heritage. Meanwhile, Sid has her hands full with her handsome boyfriend, Daniel (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), who’s reluctant to leave the closet, but anxious for Ralph’s mother to learn about the boy’s almost daily visits.

When Daniel accidentally encounters Ralph’s stepfather and the boy acknowledges both men, without spilling the beans, he realizes how tenuous Sid’s legal standing might be. In a rarity, Sid’s sexual identity isn’t used as a narrative battering ram or a device to demean any of the characters. With the grandparents’ acceptance of Ralph, they are forced to come to grips with the reality of having a daughter. If anything, the boy is more conflicted by having to share his birthparents with the other men in his life. The humor and drama flow naturally from these complications, minus the sturm und drang that usually accompany such films. Neither are gratuitous displays of nudity added, simply to appeal to the prurient interest of some viewers. In the interviews included in the bonus package, Sanyal describes how excited he was to learn that Papaji would be played by Warnecke, who, a million years ago, it seems, debuted in Stephen Frears and Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette, playing Daniel Day Lewis’ business partner and lover.

This Is Our Land
Lucas Belvaux’s taut political drama is a thinly veiled dramatization of the machinations that contributed to Marine Le Pen’s ascendency within France’s far-right-wing National Front and in head-to-head battles with future presidents Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron. If This Is Our Land doesn’t completely unravel the complexities of French elections for us, at least it demonstrates how far name recognition will carry a candidate whose extreme politics resemble those espoused by her more famous father and a certain orange-haired blowhard currently residing in our White House. This Is Our Land is most relevant to American viewers for depicting the rise of a movement based on exploiting latent nationalism, cultural identity, unbridled immigration, crime, unemployment and economic woes. Indeed, it’s possible to argue that Le Pen was one more deadly terrorist attack away from victory. Marine followed in the rather large footsteps of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the Front National and ran in the French presidential elections in 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002 and 2007. Her stand-in here is Agnès Dorgelle, played by multiple César Award nominee, Catherine Jacob. This Is Our Land doesn’t spend a lot of time on Dorgelle, however. Instead, it tells the story of an apolitical nurse, Pauline Duhez (Émilie Dequenne), living in northern France, who is talked into joining Dorgelle’s Patriotic Bloc party and running for mayor by a Machiavellian doctor, Philippe Berthier (André Dussollier), who wants nothing more than to hold on to the office in the absence of his candidate. No, I didn’t get it, either.

Even after a tight vetting process, party operatives manage to overlook Pauline’s romantic relationship with an old boyfriend — extreme right-wing militant, Stéphane Stankowiak (Guillaume Gouix) – who coaches her sons’ soccer team. A single mother, she’s far less interested in his politics than his kindness toward her children. Stanko, as he’s known, is quite well known to Berthier, who had earlier recruited his merry gang of thugs for some dirty work. The doctor recognizes how Pauline’s links to a person who kidnaps immigrants, beats them with a hose and photographs them in a cage might damage her mayoral campaign and, by extension, tar Dorgelle. Stanko convinces Pauline of his innocence in the more beastly crimes and vows to lay low for a while. Still, Berthier demands she break up with him and puts party operatives on Stanko’s tail to prevent him from hurting the campaign. His past comes back to haunt him, however, in a way that no one could have predicted. This Is Our Land turns out to be an extremely well-acted cautionary tale that describes how badly things can go for a naif who underestimates the ruthlessness of political animals and their fanatical puppets. The film might confound American viewers, but, in France, supporters of Le Pen’s National Front argued the film’s release was timed to influence the first round of the 2017 presidential elections and that Jacob was cast because of her resemblance to Marine Le Pen.

The Big Take
Anyone who enjoyed such twisty, Hollywood-based crime dramedies as Get Shorty and The Player – and, who didn’t? – might want to take a chance on Justin Daly’s The Big Take, which slipped into release this week without any fanfare whatsoever. An introduction by one of the lead characters practically tells the whole story, “Some people in Hollywood would kill to have their movie made. I just did.” The rest of the picture plays out in one long flashback. It opens with the nifty execution of a blackmail plot against a slightly over-the-hill movie star, Douglas Brown (James McCaffrey), who’s slipped a mickey during a meeting with his agent at a loud Tinseltown nightclub. Out cold, Brown is rushed out of the club by the same lummox, Vic Venitos (Slate Holmgren), who pitched him a screenplay in the elevator, but, in return, received only a rude rejection. The next morning, Brown’s awakened by a nearly naked German-speaking blond, whose face he can’t place. She hands him a large envelope, left at the foot of the driveway, containing a note demanding $200,000 in return for hard drives containing evidence of an incident that takes place while he was unconscious. Because Brown fears the footage could ruin his career, he turns to the agent, Jack Girardi (Bill Sage), for advice. Naturally, after checking with the nightclub owner, they think it’s wise to bypass the police and call in an amoral P.I., Frank Manascalpo (Dan Hedaya), who, for a large fee, promises him positive results.

Meanwhile, Vic has interrupted his “partner” with the happy news that Brown has agreed to pay $200,000 – not saying how, or why – to begin production on the script. The screenwriter, Max O’Leary (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), is being entertained by his Russian girlfriend, Oxana (Oksana Lada), a stripper with bad taste in clothes, but fierce loyalty to him. It takes Frank almost no time to trace the blackmailer’s letter to a typewriter belonging to O’Leary, to whose bungalow he immediately pays a visit. It’s at this point that everything that could possibly go horribly, hilariously wrong with the various schemes begins happens. It starts with Brown, Girardi, Manascalpo, O’Leary and a seen-it-all cop, Detective Aborn (Robert Forster), completely misreading the letter’s intent and failing to associate it with the lummox, who only wants to see the screenplay turned into a movie with his name listed as producer.  Manascalpo breaks into O’Leary’s home, only to be told that he isn’t aware of a blackmail plot – he isn’t – and leaving himself open to being attacked by Oxana. Throw in two of the P.I.’s best female operatives (Zoe Bell, Tara Westwood), who can’t understand why O’Leary is dodging responsibility, either, and the plot thickens to the point where the initial scheme is dwarfed by the magnitude of the aftershocks. The only viewers able to accurately predict the ending, I suspect, will be those who recall O’Leary’s introduction.

You shouldn’t have to turn to an encyclopedia – or Google, for that matter – to figure out why things happened the way they did in the movie you just saw. With the number of historically-based pictures coming from China lately, however, it behooves viewers to keep a reference tool handy. Considering how little we were taught about the recent history of China in our schools, it’s a wonder anyone watching Kiefer Liu’s Brothers could tell the difference between the Kuomintang and the Red Army, or the precise dates of the Chinese Civil War the movie depicts. I was off by 20 years. Then, again, Brothers wasn’t made for the enjoyment of DVD/Blu-ray enthusiasts in the west, as are some of the historical epics about long-ago wars in dynasties past. Brothers is set in 1936, during the first half of the Chinese Civil War, which began in 1927 and ended in 1937, then picked up again in 1946, finally concluding in 1950. It was interrupted by the Second Sino-Japanese War, which is more commonly known as World War II, but lasted slightly longer when the Soviets came to the party. The film adopts the adage about civil wars pitting brother against brother and builds this sometime bewildering drama around it. It opens with the homeless Bingsheng Wang (Peter Ho) being sent to jail for shooting a gangster who’s bothering his younger brother, Tiejin Chen (Ethan Li). A decade later he’s released, hardly recognizable to his brother as a flesh-and-blood fighting machine. No sooner do they finish a reunion dinner and down a line of shots than they’re arrested for beating the crap out of an antagonist in the alley behind the restaurant. Instead of being sent to jail, the police hand them over to the Kuomintang authorities, who give them uniforms, load them onto a truck and send them to the front.

On the way, however, Bingsheng literally kicks Tiejin off the back of the vehicle, so that he can escape into the forest and mountains. The next time they meet, a few years later, the brothers are accomplished warriors, fighting on opposite sides of the war. A tragedy is averted when Bingsheng stops pounding on Tiejin long enough to recognize him as his “little brother,” who’s no longer so little. It’s at this point that Kuomingtan soldiers become indistinguishable from Red Army forces — except for their helmets – and political considerations are replaced by innate survival instinct. Liu considers his audience by adding a small red flag to the handle of Tiejin’s sword and scary-looking scars to his brother’s face and lots of tattoos everywhere else. Tiejin is escorting a group of female musicians across a war zone infested with enemy troops, all of whom are anxious to rape anything that even closely resembles a woman. The ones who escape being ravaged become targets for artillery shells and snipers. Strangely enough, both armies appear to be populated by barbarians and criminals in military drag. Our ability to keep things straight is hindered, as well, by Liu’s decision to shoot everything in the studio, using green-screen backgrounds, and filtering the visuals through a comic-book filter, a la Sin City and 300. Still, it’s pretty entertaining … in a video-game sort of way, anyway. A making-of featurette explains the process in a way almost anyone can understand.

Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji: Blu-ray
Released in 1955, this samurai adventure represented director Tomu Uchida’s return to the Japanese studio system, after spending more than a decade working in Manchuria. In 1943, he joined the Japanese-run Manchukuo Film Association, which was established to produce films for Chinese audiences. After the invasion of northeast China by Soviet troops, the company’s assets – including Uchida – were handed over to Communist Party of China and its Northeast Film Studio. By the time Uchida was able to return home, his past successes had been forgotten. He had to call in favors with one-time contemporaries Yasujiro Ozu and Hiroshi Shimizu, who agreed to act as production advisors on Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji. Although the tragicomic yarn was lauded by Japanese film critics, and such peers as Ozu and Akira Kurosawa, the Edo-period drama found little traction outside the country. This can be blamed on the blossoming of the national cinema, as represented on the international festival circuit by Ozu (Tokyo Story), Kurosawa (Rashomon, Seven Samurai), Masaki Kobayashi (Black River), Teinosuke Kinugasa (Gate of Hell), Hiroshi Inagaki (The Burmese Harp) and Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu) … and, lest we forget, Ishirō Honda’s Godzilla. All these filmmakers dealt with contemporary issues, historical fiction and horror in ways that resonated throughout post-Occupation Japan.

By comparison, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji could be lumped together with more commercial genre fare. Today, however, movies that once were designated as entertainment for the masses are lauded for their storytelling, visuals, action sequences and humanistic attitudes. Beyond that, however, “Bloody Spear” is a terrifically entertaining picture. It follows samurai Sakawa Kojūrō (Teruo Shimada) as he makes his way to his lord’s palace, in Edo, with his two servants, Genta (Daisuke Katō) and Genpachi (Chiezō Kataoka). Kojūrō is a kindly master, but his character totally changes when he consumes alcohol. Genpachi is a lancer, while Genta serves as the more conventional manservant. Both are under strict orders to keep Kojūrō away from the sake. Because the master desires company when he drinks, this isn’t an easy task. Along the way to Eto, the trio encounters a policeman in pursuit of a thief; a precocious child, who mimics the spear carrier; and a woman who is to be sold into prostitution. One critic described the assemblage as being “weirdly reminiscent of ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ as Kojūrō and his servants re-encounter many of the same travelers at every inn along their route.” The most exciting fight scene takes place when the master takes umbrage at comments made by other samurai towards his drinking buddies. It ends with Genpachi demonstrating how effectively a lance can be against overconfident swordsmen. The nicely restored Arrow Academy Blu-ray – in B&W – adds new commentary by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, who points out that U.S. censors forbade filmmakers from using Mount Fuji as a background device, because it could be construed as a symbol of Japanese nationalism; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley; and an illustrated collector’s booklet, with new writing on the film by critic and filmmaker James Oliver.

Sid Caesar: The Works
Acorn: The Good Karma Hospital: Series 2
While it might be a tad early for holiday gift-guide suggestions, I can’t
think of a better one right now than Shout!Factory’s brilliantly packaged, “Sid Caesar: The Works.” For much of the last 50 years, critics and historians have relied on a relative handful of examples of the comedian’s work from “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour” to make the case for bestowing genius status on him. Like Ernie Kovacs, Caesar invented fresh news ways to turn television into medium for sketch comedy, satire and sight gags. Otherwise, TV comedy was pretty much limited to adding a visual element to popular radio shows. This truly was something completely different from what became known as situation comedies. Caesar didn’t work his magic alone, however. His writing team included such enduring talents as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Neil and Danny Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Tolkin, Aaron Ruben, Sheldon Keller, and Gary Belkin, whose ideas he turned into magic. His company of comic actors included Broadway veterans Imogene Coca, Nanette Fabray, Howard Morris (“Uncle Goopy”), Bill Hayes, Reiner and singer Judy Johnson. Sketch parodies of popular movies and TV shows would set the standard for Mad magazine, Mad TV, Second f, the Groundlings, National Lampoon, “Saturday Night Live” and the gang responsible for The Kentucky Fried Movie. “Sid Caesar: The Works” is a comprehensive collection of the best work of Caesar and his teams, beginning with and featuring many interviews and extras, including the 2014 Paley Center For Media tribute, with Brooks, Reiner and Billy Crystal; the feature film, “Ten From ‘Your Show of Shows’” (1973), with “The Bavarian Clock,” a spoof of From Here to Eternity and an uproarious takeoff on “This Is Your Life”; the 1967 reunion special; excerpts from the documentary, “Caesar’s Writers”; “The Chevy Show, Featuring Sid Caesar”; “Mel Brooks: In The Beginning: The Caesar Years”; and the 1983 episode of “Nightcap,” with Caesar, Brooks, Reiner and hosts Studs Terkel and Calvin Trillin. Even the stuff that isn’t necessarily supposed to be funny here is hilarious.

The blurb on the cover of “Good Karma Hospital” anticipates the show’s demographic, describing it as, “The prime-time love child of ‘Call the Midwife” and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” I might have added “St. Elsewhere,” but, then, how many people under 40 would get the reference? The focus of the ITV medical soap is an idealistic young doctor, Ruby Walker (Amrita Acharia), who becomes disillusioned with her life and a broken relationship, and she decides to leave the UK. Seeing an advertisement for a hospital job in south India, she travels there hoping to make a fresh start. She lands at the Good Karma Hospital, an under-resourced and overworked cottage hospital, run by an eccentric English ex-pat, Dr. Lydia Fonseca (Amanda Redman). Other principle players are Lydia’s boyfriend, bar owner Greg (Neil Morrissey); the newly widowed and still depressed, Paul (Philip Jackson); Ruby’s standoffish colleague and potential love interest, Dr. Gabriel Varma (James Krishna Floyd); uptight hospital administrator, Dr. Ram Nair (Darshan Jariwala); his downtrodden son, A.J. (Sagar Radia); and compassionate nurse, Mari (Nimmi Harasgama). The mini-series, which has been renewed for a third season, is shot on location in a gorgeous beachside community in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, where’s there’s a ready supply of impoverished residents, sunbaked ex-pats and clumsy tourists. One of the highlights of Season Two is an uneasy reunion between Ruby and her father, owner of a tea plantation, who abandoned her mother when she was still a baby. As soapy as it gets sometimes, “Good Karma Hospital” is a lot of fun.

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7 Responses to “The DVD Wrapup: Hereditary, Ghost Stories, Found Footage 3D, Beast, Venus, This Is Our Land, The Big Take, Brothers, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, Sid Caesar, Good Karma Hospital … More”

  1. Steven DeGennaro says:

    “I lost patience with “FF3D” when the fictional director thought it would be a good idea to punish his leading lady’s insubordination by punching her out in front of the others. It was a shade too real for my taste.”

    This scene is NOT in the movie. It seems a little unfair to judge a film based on a scene that was deleted for exactly the reason you describe.

  2. Andre says:

    Your review of found footage 3-D is absolutely irresponsible. Did you see an advanced test screening of the film? Because the moment you refer to where you clean the film lost you is a DELETED SCENE. Do you normally review a film based on how you feel about the deleted scenes? You are misleading anyone who reads your review and it also makes you a hack.

  3. Gary Dretzka says:

    Steve … It’s in the version I saw, and it went on quite a while.

    Andre … ditto.

  4. Steven DeGennaro says:

    It’s definitely not that way on the blu ray you are supposedly reviewing. Or in any of the publicly-available versions of the film. Did you torrent a copy or something? If so, you did NOT watch the actual movie.

  5. Gary J Dretzka says:

    I edited the earlier version of my review, but stand by my memory of the scene in a parenthetical comment tagged on to it. Even if I did “torrent” a copy “or something,” how would I have known about the punchout-scene, in the first place? I hope it satisfies you to some degree, anyway.

  6. Steven DeGennaro says:

    I appreciate the correction.

  7. Trevor T. Trujillo says:

    Feminist and women’s rights supporter, here.

    Was not disturbed by a scene of abuse, as it was not actually in the movie. I can assure you

    Also, I can’t 100% co-sign on that synopsis, bud. You got some stuff wrong.

    May want to take another pass at watching that movie. I think it’s becoming clear that you might have been a tad distracted.


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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