MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Solo, Izzy, Mountain, Uncle Drew, Gotti, The Row, Sumer Nights, Seagull, Mountain, American Psycho, Day of Jackal, The Baby, Freaky Friday, Human Body … More

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Normally, any picture that records worldwide revenues of $393 million would be considered a success. Only in the Disney/Lucasfilms universe would such a number disappoint studio executives and provide pundits an opportunity to dismiss Solo: A Star Wars Story as a flop, with losses of more than $50 million. Apparently, with an estimated production budget of $275 million, the film would have needed to gross at least $500 million worldwide to have a chance at breaking even. By contrast, last December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi performed extremely well, returning $1.33 billion in global revenues. According to the folks at Rotten Tomatoes, critics liked both movies more than audiences, whose responses were lukewarm. In July, Lucasfilm Animation released on DVD the fourth and final season of “Star Wars Rebels,” which ran on Disney XD. This, in addition to four years’ worth of novels, comics, video games and other downloadable content. Suddenly concerned that overfamiliarity with the “Star Wars” brand caused “Solo” to underperform at the box office, Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an interview last week that he takes complete blame for pushing the products “a little too much, too fast.” Looking ahead to next year’s release of J.J. Abrams’ “Episode IX,” he added, “I think we’re gonna be a little bit more careful about volume and timing. And the buck stops here on that.” Solo: A Star Wars Story’s problems probably began, however, with the much-publicized firing of the film’s original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), and hiring of Academy Award-winner, Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind). Working alongside screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, it’s likely that Howard re-shot more than eighty percent of the movie, which describes how Han Solo befriended his future co-pilot, Chewbacca, and formed a lasting relationship. It’s also likely that audiences failed to respond to the little-known actor, Alden Ehrenreich (The Yellow Birds), chosen to play the swaggering airman.

As the film opens, young Han is an orphan desperate to escape – along with his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) – corruption, brutality and forced labor on the planet Corellia. In exchange for passage on an outgoing transport, they bribe an Imperial officer with a stolen sample of coaxium, a powerful hyperspace fuel. Qi’ra is caught by stormtroopers before she can board the ship. Han vows to return for her after he joins the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Three years later, Han’s insubordination has caused him to be expelled from the academy and ordered to serve as an infantryman. During a battle, he encounters a gang of criminals posing as Imperial soldiers, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newtown). He tries to blackmail them into taking him with them on a mission to steal a shipment of coaxium from a speeding train. Instead, Beckett has him arrested for desertion and thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast – the Wookiee, Chewbacca – who, instead, is impressed by Han’s ability to speak his language. Together, they persuade Beckett to work together to escape their confinement. Beckett works for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a high-ranking crime boss in the Crimson Dawn syndicate. To Han’s delight, Vos’ top lieutenant turns out to be Qi’ra, who leads them to the accomplished smuggler, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Han challenges Lando to a game of cards, with the wager amounting to possession of Lando’s ship, the Millennium Falcon. Han’s navigational skills are on full display on the hazardous journey to Kessel, where they hope to steal the coaxium and sell it to Vos. Before that can happen, though, Han and Qi’ra encounter rebels committed to preventing the syndicates and the Galactic Empire from gaining greater domination over the galaxy. Han will play another fateful game of sabacc, once again for full possession of the Falcon. The ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, or two, if Iger decides the risk is worth the effort.

Although Solo: A Star Wars Story overflows with action – chases, shootouts, combat – the movie’s greatest appeal is to Star Wars obsessives, who will enjoy identifying the dozens of references and homages to previous installments in the saga. The Kasdans’ screenplay also adds humorous elements to the narrative, which occasionally gets bogged down in myth building. The 4K UHD package arrives with a separate Blu-ray copy and disc containing bonus features. The 4K presentation handles the frequently dark and shadowy color palette quite well, and the audio gets a boost from the Dolby Atmos track. (The Blu-ray features a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack.) The supplemental package includes deleted scenes and featurettes, “Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable,” “Kasdan on Kasdan,” “Remaking the Millennium Falcon,” “Escape From Corellia,” “The Train Heist,” “Team Chewie,” “Becoming a Droid: L3-37,” “Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome To Fort Ypso” and “Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run.” Howard likely ran out of time in post-production to create a commentary track.

Izzy Gets the F… Across Town
Christian Papierniak, known primarily for directing the video-game series “NBA 2K,” makes his feature debut with Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town, which is a road picture in the same way that “Ulysses” was a road novel … in miniature. His stand-in for Stephen Dedalus here is the tall, blond, accident-waiting-to-happen, Izzy (Mackenzie Davis), who, like so many other overeducated Gen-Xers, followed their bliss to L.A., where it got lost in the smog. A musician by inclination and a caterer’s assistant out of necessity, Izzy currently is wearing out her welcome as a house guest of a pregnant friend (producer Meghan Lennox) and waiting for her car to be fixed by SoCal’s laziest mechanic. On the day in question here, Izzy wakes up in the Santa Monica apartment of a stranger, George (Lakeith Stanfield), who can’t recall how she got there, either. Confused and more than a little bit embarrassed, she can’t wait to return to her friend’s home, where’s she’s asked to find another couch to occupy. Desperately searching for a sign, as well as some sort of direction in life, Izzy naturally touches base with her Facebook account. To her great consternation, she learns that her ex-boyfriend, Roger (Alex Russell), and ex-BFF, Whitney (Sarah Goldberg), about to announce their engagement at a swank party across town. (In L.A., that’s a highly relative, quasi-metaphysical distance.)

Izzy has four hours and no easy way to get from Santa Monica to Los Feliz, which she mispronounces. She refuses to take the bus – not unusual for a West Sider — and appears to be unaware of the Metro Rail system, which would have gotten her there in 90 minutes, tops. That limits her choices to a bicycle, scooter, hitching rides and less-dignified modes of transportation. (Ironically, Izzy’s temporary lover, George, is a helicopter pilot, who could have cut the journey to five minutes, if she had bothered to take his number.) Along the way, she touches base with a half-dozen old friends and acquaintances, all of whom contribute a piece to the puzzle that is Izzy. Davis, who was so terrific as the punk techie in “Halt and Catch Fire,” is nothing short of riveting in the lead role. Brilliant supporting performances are turned in, as well, by Carrie Coon, Haley Joel Osment, Alia Shawkat, Annie Potts and Lakeith Stanfield. As the title might argue, Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town isn’t a picture that will appeal to viewers who aren’t drawn to festival and indie fare. Izzy’s personality, which corresponds to the Riot Grrrl soundtrack, might grate on them, as well. I dug it … sue me. The bonus features include an informative, nearly feature-length making-of featurette; commentary; and deleted scenes.

Gotti: Blu-ray
If pundits wasted the same amount of time speculating on nominees for Razzie Awards as they do pondering Oscar, Globe and Emmy finalists, they wouldn’t have to look much further than Gotti. I suspect that, in addition to Worst Picture, nominations will include Worst Actor (John Travolta), Worst Supporting Actor (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), Worst Director (Kevin Connolly), Worst Screenplay (Leo Rossi, Lem Dobbs), Worst Screen Combo (Travolta and his real-life wife, Kelly Preston) and, in a longshot bid, the Rotten Tomatoes Award: Razzie Nominee So Bad You Loved It! This isn’t to say, of course, that Gotti is as bad movies that suffered from anemic budgets, rushed deadlines, inexperienced actors and directors, and were released into a handful of theaters, before being sent out on VOD and Blu-ray. Razzies are weighted toward movies with adequate budgets, at least; the profiles of their actors, directors and writers; and anticipations of commercial success. Gotti qualifies on all counts … including being so bad that some viewers loved it. It isn’t completely unwatchable, but, at 112 minutes, Gotti is tough sledding.

Travolta appears to be giving it his all in his depiction of the Teflon Don … warts, rage issues and all. It’s a perfectly credible performance. For whatever reasons, though, the filmmakers continually contrast Travolta’s John Gotti Sr. with images of the real mafioso, not just in the closing credits, as would be expected. If it weren’t for some dead-on casting decisions – the actors look as if they’ve spent time in prison – Gotti could easily pass for a reality-based crime show on cable TV. The difference between this biopic and others we’ve all seen is the emphasis on the father-son relationship between John Sr. and John Jr., especially as depicted in a final one-to-one meeting in prison. The reason those scenes are tainted is the cooperation between the filmmakers and Gotti’s children, Victoria and John Gotti Jr., who reportedly were on set during most of the shoot as consultants and supplied family movies to “help with accuracy of their father’s portrayal.” Travolta was awarded the title role after the family personally asked for him. (An offer he couldn’t refuse?) The A&E documentary mini-series, “Gotti: Godfather and Son,” not only opened in the same week as Gotti, but it also received John Jr.’s support and cooperation. That includes segments from a 90-minute video of the last visit between a dying John Sr. and his son at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., which is depicted in the feature film. For that reason and a dozen others, Gotti deserves all the Razzie nominations it’s likely to receive.

Uncle Drew: Blu-ray/4K UHD
When Cannes Film Festival organizers banned films without theatrical distribution in France from competing in its annual sop to esteemed cinema and celebrity worship, they inadvertently provided other high-profile festivals with all off the bargaining chips they’d need to attract top-shelf titles and filmmakers. Among the films that looked elsewhere for recognition were Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, Paul Greengrass’ 22 July and two Orson Welles–related offerings: The Other Side of the Wind and Morgan Neville’s documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. What would the Cannes poohbahs make of the credentials presented by Charles Stone III and Jay Longino’s Uncle Drew … not that they would have gotten that far? The entertaining hoops comedy was accorded a theatrical release – and did quite well, thank you – it is an extension of a successful five-year webisode campaign, featuring a character from Pepsi Max advertisements. Celtics star Kyrie Irving plays the title character, with additional contributions by such former NBA players as Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller and Nate Robinson; former WNBA player, Lisa Leslie; and comedic actors Lil Rel Howery, Erica Ash, J.B. Smoove, Mike Epps, Tiffany Haddish and Nick Kroll. Also making cameo appearances as themselves are Sal Masekela, John Calipari, Jon Hammond, Scoop Jackson, Pee Wee Kirkland, Earl Monroe, Chris Mullin, Bill Walton, George Gervin, Steve Nash, David Robinson, Jerry West, Dikembe Mutombo, NeNe Leakes, Rick Barry, Rick Ross and Ben Nethongkome.

Irving’s Uncle Drew is a former playground-basketball legend, whose reputation would have been sealed if, back in the day, his team hadn’t disbanded before the prestigious Rucker Classic, in New York. Years later, he’s recruited by Dax (Howery), a streetball-team manager, who has a score to settle with a rival, Mookie (Kroll), and his gold-digging girlfriend, Jess (Haddish). In ways far too complicated to summarize, Drew and Dax are somehow able to round up the old, gray-haired ballers – a blind man, a man in a wheelchair, a married pastor and his wife, and a retiree taught in the ways of kung-fu — and compete against Mookie’s team in the finals. If Uncle Drew is every bit as silly and illogical as it sounds, there’s no discounting its entertainment value. Stone’s previous hits have included Mr. 3000 (2004) and Drumline (2002), while Longino contributed the story and screenplay to Skiptrace (2016). The DVD/Blu-ray/4K UHD adds a “Dear Drew” animated short; seven deleted scenes; featurettes “Who is Uncle Drew? The Making of a Basketball Icon,” “Youngbloods of Comedy” and “Bucket Seats & Boom Boom Rooms: Uncle Drew’s Van”; and commentary with Stone.

The Row: Blu-ray
The cover of Matty Beckerman’s sophomore follow-up to Alien Abduction (2014) suggests that The Row will trod in the bloody footprints of such Golden Age slasher classics as Black Christmas (1974), The House on Sorority Row (1983), The Initiation (1984) and Sorority House Massacre (1986). Instead of beaucoup coed nudity, the R-rating has been attached to it for “bloody violence, language, drug and alcohol abuse, and some sexual content,” which is limited to bras and panties, during the sorority’s initiation ritual. The killings are grisly, but they’re held to splatter shots and the killer’s habitual staging of victims to look like dolls. In addition to the names and images of the actors playing vulnerable sorority sisters — Lana Kent, Mia Frampton, Sarah McDaniel, Tanya Mityushina – there’s “and Randy Couture,” a UFC hall-of-famer who normally is afforded higher billing. If there’s one thing that’s hard to buy about the role played by the heavily muscled and lantern-chinned action star here, it’s that he could be the father of the delicate freshman beauty, Riley (Kent), who plays a central role in the vengeful killer’s plans. While Riley is smart enough to understand the limitations of Greek life on campus, she’s easily led astray by the promise of endless parties, bottomless kegs of beers and handsome frat boys. What she doesn’t know about her mother’s history with the sorority she’s chosen to pledge could very well lead to her death, however. Normally, Couture’s Detective Cole would be monitoring Riley’s every move, but he’s got his hands full with a case that left a cop dead and several important questions unanswered. And, anyway, how much trouble could a potential All-America party girl get into in less than a week? That’s rhetorical … plenty. By attempting to squeeze two opposing narratives into an 85-minute movie – a father/daughter heart-tugger and investigation into a heinous crime — screenwriter Sarah Scougal (Albion: The Enchanted Stallion) ends up shortchanging both storylines. Not surprisingly, however, the party scenes and hazing rituals are afforded plenty of time to titillate male viewers. The Blu-ray adds director’s commentary and a making-of featurette.

Hot Summer Nights
Filmed several months before Timothée Chalamet assured his future as the Oscar-nominated star of Call Me By Your Name (2017), Hot Summer Nights would provide the 21-year-old New Yorker the kind of showcase for which most other young actors would kill. As it turns out, however, he wouldn’t need it. With high-profile appearances in Lady Bird, Miss Stevens and Love the Coopers already on the books, Chalamet’s ticket already was punched before Hot Summer Nights snuck in and out of release in July. In fact, freshman writer/director Elijah Bynum probably thought that the stylish coming-of-age story would serve as stepping board for his own career. Unfortunately, the genre is so oversubscribed with boys-to-men dramas that it’s tougher for a filmmaker to prove there’s more than one bullet in his gun. Here, Chalamet plays a troubled teenager, still mourning the untimely death of his father. Frustrated by his inclination to mope around the house and start fires, Daniel’s mother decides to send him away to live with his aunt on Cape Cod. Neither a “summer bird” nor a local, Dan easily maintains a low profile in the summer mecca for well-heeled tourists and their kids, whose idea of a good time doesn’t necessarily include spending every waking hour laying on a blanket in the sun or trying to catch a glimpse of a Kennedy. Hot Summer Nights takes place in the 1980s, well before the legalization of marijuana and on the cusp of the cocaine and AIDS epidemics. Things change when Dan hooks up with

Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe), a charismatic drug dealer with a certain resemblance to James Dean … at least, in Dan’s voice-over narration. The boy turns out to be a natural salesman. His heightened self-esteem not only attracts the attention of the island’s hottest babe, McKayla (Maika Monroe), but also local hoodlums interested in maintaining their market share. Once that happens, Bynum makes sure we know that a storm is a’brewing, by adding the threat of Hurricane Bob to the mix. The climax may come off as being a tad elegiac, but it isn’t out of context. The disc adds commentary and a making-of featurette.

Scarlet Diva: Blu-ray
After re-watching Asia Argento’s semi-autobiographical Scarlet Diva — released in the U.S. 16 years ago to decidedly mixed reviews – I was interested in checking out what critics had to say about it, divorced from the writer/director/star’s widely publicized accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein. (And, of course, a charge made against her by a then-teenage lover.) In his review in the August 9, 2002, issue of the New York Times, A.O. Scott pretty much nailed mainstream pundits’ frustrations with the 2002 film, which struck a chord that wouldn’t be heard until 2018. “(Scarlet Diva) is, by conventional standards, a fairly terrible movie — crudely shot on digital video, indifferently acted (in three languages) and chaotically written (by Ms. Argento) — but it is also weirdly fascinating, a ready-made Eurotrash cult object. It is also, at times, curiously moving.” Scott concludes by observing, “So, if there is something comically self-indulgent in Ms. Argento’s direction, and in her performance, there is also evident bravery. The thesis of Scarlet Diva — that the cinema’s icons of young, female sex appeal are subject to constant abuse and exploitation and that they find both pleasure and anguish in such attention — is hard to dispute. Ms. Argento’s response, at once earnest and thoroughly calculated, is to take revenge by exploiting herself more thoroughly than anyone else could, turning sado-masochism, which is customarily played as a duet, into a solo performance.”

If an alarm wasn’t sounded, then, about the mistreatment of actresses by men hoping to use their power as an aphrodisiac, it’s because, 1) such complaints were routinely ignored and/or denied in the media, 2) actresses as flakey as Argento were rarely taken seriously, and 3) virtually no one saw the movie. Today, Scarlet Diva looks like a documentary. In it, Argento plays 24-year-old Italian actress Anna Battista, who’s emerged from the long shadow of her filmmaker father and become a legitimate star. Unwilling to avoid the obvious pitfalls of celebrity, Anna abuses drugs and booze, while associating with addicts, dealers and rock stars. For a while, anyway, it looks like fun. Like Argento, Anna faces her come-to-Jesus moment of truth in a posh hotel in Cannes, where she’s assaulted by a producer who promises her gigs with Robert DeNiro and Gus Van Sant, but only in exchange for a massage and sex. She’ll be ambushed by him, again, in Los Angeles. While I have to assume that industry insiders easily recognized Weinstein in the absurdly drawn producer, Paar (Joe Coleman), he wielded the kind of clout that easily trumped Argento’s innuendos. In Film Movement Classics’ Blu-ray edition, Argento delivers a pair of commentaries, vintage and up-to-date. In the latter, she not only implicates the former Miramax boss by name, but she also repeatedly refers to him as a “pig.” Neither does she spare old boyfriends, self-serving publicists and agents, and her drug-buddies. Newly restored in high-def, Scarlet Diva includes an interview with the filmmaker; a making-of featurette and “Looking into the Eye of the Cyclops,” with Joe Coleman; a 2018 theatrical trailer; and original release promos.

The Seagull
Mention Anton Chekhov or any other Russian playwright, for that matter, to the average filmgoer and their eyes will glaze over before you have time to change the subject. The fact is, though, Chekhov’s plays and stories translate easily into languages other than Russian and the strengths and foibles of his characters are shared by men and women everywhere. He lowered the boundaries separating drama and comedy, and allowed his characters to resolve their own dilemmas, without resorting to heroes and villains to do it for them. Even better, perhaps, all his exceptional works are in the public domain, so studios could even do away with screenwriters, if they so choose. It explains why 487 writing credits have been accorded Chekhov at Working from a screenplay by Stephen Karam (Speech & Debate), Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”) has Americanized the dialogue, but, otherwise, maintained the Russian period setting of The Seagull. One summer, at a lakeside Russian estate, friends and family gather for a weekend in the countryside. While everyone is caught up in passionately loving someone who loves somebody else, a tragicomedy unfolds about art, fame, human folly and the eternal desire to live a purposeful life. The film’s greatest selling point is a sterling cast that includes Annette Bening, as the aging diva, Irina; Saoirse Ronan, as Nina, an aspiring actress and competitor for the attentions of her lover, Boris (Corey Stoll); Brian Dennehy, as Irina’s extremely ill brother; Billy Howle, as the maligned experimental playwright, Konstantin; and, in key supporting roles, Elisabeth Moss, Mare Winningham and Jon Tenney. The Seagull was filmed in Upstate New York in 2005, but only debuted this spring in Russian and the Tribeca Film Festival. The DVD adds a pair of group interviews and post-screening Q&As, as well as a making-of featurette.

Mountain: Blu-ray
In 1923, when mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he was so determined to climb Everest, he said, “Because it’s there.” Few people recall the words that followed that pithy rationale, “Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.” Today, of course, people with more dollars than sense cue up in long lines to reach a summit that’s already been conquered, but, in an instant, can turn on them. As far as we know, Mallory never accomplished his goal. In fact, his frozen body wasn’t found until 1999, where it was discovered by climbers on the mountain’s north ridge. We’re introduced to some of the world’s most accomplished and driven athletes in Jennifer Peedom’s Mountain, a breathtaking meditation on climbing and the magnetic attraction of risking one’s life for no apparent reason than “because it’s there.” Employing drones, Go-Pro cameras and helicopters, Peedom captured 2,000 hours of footage in 22 countries, including Antarctica, Australia, Canada, Italy, Tibet, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Chamber music accompanies Willem Dafoe’s narration — drawn from Robert Macfarlane’s philosophical tome “Mountains of the Mind” – as German-born cinematographer Renan Ozturk captures spellbinding views of mountains whose craggy peaks, vertical faces and icy ridges make Everest look like a walk in the park. Sometimes, too, climbing to the top of a mountain isn’t sufficiently challenging. Mountain captures climbers tight-rope walking across organ-pipe peaks in Monument Valley; riding bikes and skiing off steep cliffs; BASE jumping; and using “wingsuits” to fly from mountain tops, through canyons and, with luck, land feet-first in valleys far below. The pristine Blu-ray adds interviews with the filmmakers and a making-of featurette.

Occupation: Blu-ray
Except for the ridiculously stringent R-rating, the alien-apocalypse thriller, Occupation, would fit neatly alongside the better movies that find their way to the Syfy channel. The thing American audiences might have more difficulty accepting is the aliens’ decision to invade a rural village in New South Wales, instead of heading directly to Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., or Manhattan, as is usually the case. The same basic conceit was applied to District 9 (2009), which was set in Johannesburg, South Africa, and involved giant hovering spacecrafts. Luke Sparke’s picture isn’t quite as accomplished as Neill Blomkamp’s impressive debut feature, but it’s probably because of budget constraints that even forced him to rely on unpaid extras and volunteers from greater Murwillumbah, NSW. It’s so Aussie-specific, in fact, that the central event is a game of Australian Rules Football, with an announcer who couldn’t be mistaken for American if he tried. The “alien” crop being cultivated by enslaved locals is an East Asian fruit called the fingered citron (a.k.a., Buddha’s Hand). And, while the Australian military holds its own against the invaders, it’s the plucky locals who standup to the standard-issue aliens and easily detect their weaknesses. Occupation has been compared to a micro-budget version of Independence Day, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Our Daily Bread: Blu-ray
We reviewed Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s amazing dissection of industrial food production when it was released on DVD, in 2009, and, again, as part of Icarus’ “Six Films by Nikolaus Geyrhalter,” on Blu-ray. I consider Our Daily Bread to be an important enough documentary to mention once again, without further elaboration. Without adding dialogue or narration, Geyrhalter lays out exactly how high-tech, 21st Century food production and agriculture looks, at a time when quantity is valued over home-grown tastes, and uniformity trumps artisanal peculiarities. Neither is Our Daily Bread an indictment of GMOs and other crimes of corporate agriculture. Instead, it captures the rhythms and routines, sights and sounds of conveyor belts, machines and conveniences invented for the sole purpose of making it easier and more affordable to feed the masses, mostly in Europe. Geyrhalter pays as much attention to the raising and butchering of animals, birds and fish, as it does to the seeds-to-harvest production of fruits and vegetables. The film’s honest approach to mass production will shock and disturb carnivores and vegans, alike, but not without purpose. If we are what we eat, it’s important to know what makes us tick and how it got there. Then, the decisions we make will come easy.

Full Circle: The Birth, Death & Rebirth of Circle of Dust
Records Collecting Dust II
James Rhodes’ loud and occasionally disruptive documentary uses the story of the genre-defying ’90s industrial project, Circle of Dust, to explore the places rock musicians go when almost no one’s paying attention, no one expects to get rich and entry into the Hall of Fame is as unlikely as a No. 1 hit. Full Circle: The Birth, Death & Rebirth of Circle of Dust traces the career of visionary artist, composer, technician and producer Klayton — who would gain some modicum of recognition for his category transcending project, Celldweller — through 30 interviews and dozens of hours of VHS footage from his personal archive. At one point, Circle of Dust was more popular in “Christian alternative-metal” circles than in other genres, but it also shared an audience with mainstream industrial audiences, who were less interested in religion than in hard-core noise. The documentary then goes into the problems faced by Klayton as a pioneer and the collapse and reinvention of subgenres and bands. Full Circle: The Birth, Death & Rebirth of Circle of Dust isn’t for everyone who’s ever put a quarter in a juke box. It’s as niche-y as these things get and that, after all, what rock music is all about.

Records Collecting Dust II is, not surprisingly, the sequel to San Diego-based musician and filmmaker Jason Blackmore’s obscure rock-doc, Records Collecting Dust (2015). In the original, Blackmore visited the homes and studios of such underground-music cohorts as Jello Biafra, Chuck Dukowski, Keith Morris and John Reis to discuss their vinyl-record collections, personal influences and “holy grails of alternative music icons.” While that doc focused on the genre’s west-coast contingent, “RCDII” concentrates on hardcore heroes from the east coast, including Ian MacKaye, of Minor Threat and Fugazi; John Joseph, of Cro-Mags; Roger Miret, of Agnostic Front; Dave Smalley, of DYS and Dag Nasty; Amy Pickering, of Fire Party and Dischord Records; and a couple of other rockers. Their first inspirations are frequently surprising.

American Psycho: Blu-ray/4K UHD
I’d forgotten the controversy that accompanied the publication of Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho,” in 1991. At the same time as academics and critics raved about its “transgressive and postmodern qualities,” feminists condemned it as misogynistic and a veritable handbook for the rape and murder of career women and prostitutes. Some booksellers reportedly wrapped their copies of the novel in anticipation of protesters drenching them with blood. Although co-writer/director Mary Harron and writer Guinevere Turner’s adaptation tempered the more grisly aspects of the book, women’s advocacy groups anticipated a picture that would elevate gratuitous violence over razor-sharp social commentary. Once the dust cleared, American Psycho turned out to be equal parts horror, social commentary and inky black comedy. The misogyny is built into the DNA of the super-slick protagonist. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) and other male characters – comically egomaniacal Wall Street yuppies – who measure their penises by the handiwork of their business cards and ability to score reservations at New York’s trendiest restaurants. Women are viewed as sexual objects and status symbols. (They’re also homophobic, racist and elitist.) Only the sociopathic, narcissistic and petty Bateman hates women to the extent that he is driven to harm and humiliate them. Harron delivers the horror in the broadest possible strokes. Typically, his worst instincts are trigged by some perceived slight at work or over drinks – he isn’t shown on the trading floor – and he doesn’t reserve his outbursts exclusively for women. Neither does the script save its arrows for the obvious targets. It also takes shots at Reagan-era consumerism, greed and dismissal of all social responsibility. Finally, Bateman is so removed from the non-material world world that he can’t separate fantasy from reality, innocence from guilt … and, in a huge twist, neither can we. The 4K UHD edition of American Psycho benefits from a new Dolby Atmos track, which is separate from the Blu-ray version, and the addition of DolbyVision/HDR. In addition to the vintage supplements ported over to the 4K disc, there’s new commentary by Harran and an excellent, 48-minute-long recap of the period and its excesses by scenesters and crew members.

The Day of the Jackal: Special Edition: Blu-ray
In 1971, Frederick Forsyth shot to best-seller status with his debut novel, “The Day of the Jackal,” which was taut, utterly plausible and almost documentarian in its realism and attention to detail. Two years later, director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon) turned that gripping novel into a nail-biting cinematic experience. The tick-tock procedural recalled an actual attempt on the life of French President Charles de Gaulle, authorized by the far-right paramilitary organization, the OAS. The string of events, as depicted in the movie, differed from the 1962 plot, which ended in failure. Anyone who’s read a history book in the last 50 years won’t consider that to be a spoiler, however. Demoralized by the recent loss of Algeria and a botched assassination attempt, OAS leaders meet in secret to plan their next move. In a last desperate attempt to eliminate de Gaulle, they opt to employ the services of a hired assassin from outside the fold. The Jackal (Edward Fox) is charismatic, calculating and cold as ice. It takes exacting police work, international cooperation and not a small degree of luck to locate the elusive suspect before a Liberation Day parade, which the president insists on attending. I’ve watched The Day of the Jackal several times and it hasn’t lost its ability to keep me glued to the screen. The Arrow Video edition only adds more fun to the experience. It includes a new interview with Neil Sinyard, author of “Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience”; two rare archival clips from the film set, and an interview with the director; an original screenplay, by Kenneth Ross (BD-ROM); a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain; and a collector’s booklet, with new writing by critic Mark Cunliffe and film historian Sheldon Hall.

The Baby: Special Edition: Blu-ray
When it comes to horror, there’s nothing more disturbing than the exploitation of children for the sake of some cheap thrills and/or uneasy laughs. The exploitation of special-needs children is exponentially worse, as is the debasement of adults so developmentally challenged that they’re treated like infants. In The Baby (1973), the title character is a 21-year-old man who sleeps in a crib, eats in a high-chair, crawls, bawls and wears diapers. Naturally, the audience’s mission is to decide for themselves whether Baby (David Mooney) is faking his deficiencies, and will strike back when sufficiently provoked, or if he will be the subject of indescribable torture. In fact, as conceived by director Ted Post (Hang ’Em High) and writer Abe Polsky (Brute Corps), it’s quite a bit more clever than the obvious scenarios would suggest. In it, Anjanette Comer (The Loved One) plays Ann Gentry, an idealistic Los Angeles County social worker investigating the case of Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman), her deceitful daughters, Germaine and Alba (Marianna Hill, Susanne Zenor), and, of course, Baby. After some initial observation, Ann comes to believe that the man-child’s problems can be traced more to neglect and abuse than to mental illness. Because the family’s life revolves around Baby’s care, and they are dependent upon his disability payments, the women attempt to end Ann’s meddling in the most expeditious way possible.

When she manages to escape the Wadsworths’ clutches, with Baby in town, the movie changes direction in a most unexpected fashion. Creepy and overflowing with dread, The Baby is, by every stretch of the definition, a cult movie. Its appeal is greatly enhanced by Post’s direction, however. In one of the featurettes, and interviews, we learn that the action director — his other credits include Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Go Tell the Spartans and Magnum Force – he practically had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the production. He came recommended by Clint Eastwood and, perhaps, after a year’s pleading, he surrendered to the possibility of making some easy money in genre work. The Arrow Video set adds new commentary by film historian Travis Crawford; a retrospective with film professor Rebekah McKendry; interviews with Post, Marianna Hill, David Mooney and painting creator Stanley Dyrector; a reversible sleeve, featuring newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil; and a collector s booklet, featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger.

Exorcist II: The Heretic: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Absurd/Anthropophagous: Blu-ray
The [*REC] Collection: Blu-ray
The Bride: Blu-ray
It’s another good week for fans of vintage horror films in shiny new hi-def packages. Only a couple of them need much in the way of introduction. Widely reviled by fans and critics upon its 1977 release — people at an early screening hurled objects at the screen — Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of the most notorious stinkers of all time. The only people who wanted to make a sequel to William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty’s masterpiece were studio executives who wouldn’t listen to reason. Among those whose talents were wasted are director John Boorman, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones and Linda Blair. Only the special effects and production were accorded a modicum of praise. The Scream Factory re-release contains both a 118- and 102-minute version of the film, new 2K scans from original film elements; new commentaries with Boorman, consultant Scott Bosco, Blair, editor Tom Priestley and Mike White; and still galleries, with rare color and B&W stills, behind-the-scenes and deleted-scene photos, posters and lobby cards.

In the early 1980s, when director Joe D’Amato and writer/actor George Eastman weren’t churning out soft-core cannibal epics, they put their heads together on less-infamous entertainments, Antropophagus and Absurd. Both tested the patience of critics and censors averse to intensely grisly murders and actors who were less interesting than the severed heads, disgorged innards and shiny axes. Neither did they offer much in the way of nudity, which was one of the filmmakers’ calling cards. Still, they’re not without their cultish appeal. In the former, a group of tourists – including Mia Farrow’s sister, Tisa — become stranded on an uninhabited Greek island, where they are stalked by an insane killer, who’s slaughtered the town’s former residents. Designed as a follow-up to that delightful attraction, Absurd (a.k.a., “Horrible”) features Eastman as Karamanlis, a man with a rare blood disease that causes his wounds to heal quickly and prevents him from dying. He escapes from a laboratory in Greece, where a priest has taken care of him, and somehow manages to board a plane to America where he then proceeds to raise hell, ripping to shreds anyone who crosses his path. Once here, he becomes more demented with each new killing. The priest is now tasked with killing the thing he helped bring to life. Absurd’s notoriety stems primarily from being named one of the UK’s original 74 “video nasties,” which kept them from public view. In addition to typically entertaining interviews with Italian exploitation specialists, Absurd contains a bonus CD soundtrack.

Scream Factory is also responsible for bringing back Franc Roddam’s revisionist adaptation of Bride of Frankenstein (1935), this time with actors who look as if they were inspired by the editors of Vogue, instead of Mary Shelley. In The Bride (1985), Sting plays the cunning scientist and Jennifer Beals – fresh off her triumph in Flashdance – assumes the spousal role immortalized by Elsa Lanchester. Clancy Brown plays her intended mate, Viktor, who will recoil from her gothic feminism. The package contains commentary and an interview with Roddam, as well as an interview with Brown.

Likewise, Scream Factory’s The [*REC] Collection arrives in plenty of time for holiday gifting … take your pick of the most appropriate one. It contains all four installments of the found-footage thriller from writers/directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. The first film, [*REC], which is quite good, centers on a reporter and her cameraman covering a firefighter intervention in an apartment building in Barcelona. As the situation escalates after some of the building’s occupants show animalistic and murderous behavior and they find themselves confined inside the perilous building. REC 2, REC 3: Genesis and REC 4: Apocalypse are variations on the same theme. Plenty of bonus features are included. (The films here were directly adapted by John Erick Dowdle for the English-language Quarantine series.)

The Punisher/Punisher: War Zone: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Comic-book vigilante, the Punisher – a.k.a., Frank Castle – doesn’t come immediately to mind in discussions about the Marvel/Disney’s hugely successful universe of superheroes. It’s not for lack of trying, however. The character’s been featured in several stand-alone comic-book franchises and has appeared in series written for other Marvel superheroes. He’s also appeared in animated television series. His luck on the big screen has been substantially less noteworthy, however.  There’s nothing cute, cuddly or traditionally heroic about Frank Castle, an ex-cop whose family was murdered by mobsters. Now legally declared dead, he strikes back from beyond the grave, killing mobsters wherever he can find them … 125 in five years, all told. In 1989, the character was played by Dolph Lundgren. The movie was shown in several foreign markets, but it went straight-to-video here. The Punisher (2004), which starred Thomas Jane as the title character, didn’t do nearly as well as Lionsgate expected, leaving plans for a sequel on the drawing boards. Nonetheless, it’s being re-released on 4K UHD, along with the Lionsgate 2008 re-boot, Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson, which bombed. As directed by former martial-arts champion and stuntwoman Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans), it overflows with highly stylized violence that could easily be categorized as mindless. Castle has dedicated his life to eradicating the kind of gangsters who murdered his family, for witnessing a mob hit. But when he unknowingly kills an undercover FBI agent, Castle falls into a crisis of conscience and decides to lay down his guns. Unfortunately, one of the last gangsters he thought he’d killed survived – albeit, so horribly disfigured he’s nicknamed Jigsaw — and seeks revenge on the wife and daughter of the slain FBI agent. The bloodletting may be unrelenting, but action junkies and sadists shouldn’t be disappointed. I can’t recall another woman director so adept at choreographing extreme violence, as Alexander, but it hasn’t amounted to much on her resume, unfortunately. Both 4K UHD releases contain plenty of bonus features that weren’t available in the original Blu-ray releases.

Disney: Freaky Friday
PBS: The Amazing Human Body
PBS: The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science
PBS: American Masters: Basquiat: Rage to Riches
CBS: The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Special
Acorn/PBS: Midsomer Murders: Series 20
If the title, “Freaky Friday,” rings a bell, it’s probably because it’s been as much a part of the Disney empire as any of the rides at Disneyland. In fact, I’m surprised Mary Rodgers’ 1972 source novel hasn’t been adapted for exploitation as a theme park attraction, where moms and dads can swap bodies, personalities and positions of authority – or, lack thereof — with their children for a few hours. Wouldn’t that be fun? The property’s worked wonders for two generations of fans, at least, with the fourth iteration arriving this week on DVD. This “Freaky Friday” is unusual only in that it contains eight songs from the stage musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, along with one new song to close the show and an introductory number, written by Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who plays teenage Ellie. The stage version’s Heidi Blickenstaff returns to star in the Disney Channel version as Ellie’s mom, Katherine. Although the musical didn’t really take off commercially, the blame can’t be laid at the feet of its stars. They are as good as Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster (1976), Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann (1995) and Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, who were only required to act. Disney trivia buffs may recall another adaptation, “Summer Switch” (1984), starring Robert Klein and Scott Schwartz, which aired as part of the “ABC Afterschool Special” series. In it, brother Ben and father Bill inadvertently switch bodies as both are leaving for the summer, leaving the boy to negotiate Hollywood and Dad to attend summer camp. Here, though, a confrontation arises when Katherine won’t allow Ellie to join “The Hunt,” an all-night scavenger quest, with her friends. Upon wishing the other would change their ways, they magically swap bodies through the power of an hourglass. Laughter ensues. As is typically the case in Disney Channel musicals, the songs and choreography are first-rate. The disc adds a blooper reel; an audition tape; and a bonus track, “Not Myself Today,” one of two deleted songs.

If there’s one thing in our lives that we all take for granted – until something goes wrong, at least – it’s our bodies. The three-part PBS series, “The Amazing Human Body,” reminds us that the human body is the most sophisticated organism on earth and much about it remains a mystery, even to doctors and scientists. It uses cutting-edge graphics to reveal the surprisingly beautiful biological processes that keep us alive and ticking. It also shows us the ingenious ways the body develops, adapts and endures the abuses we heap on it. It should be considered family viewing.

In a virtual double-feature, Ken Burns’ “The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science” demonstrates how one institution has dealt with imperfections of the human body since its founding, nearly 150 years ago. The hospital has stood as a beacon of hope for people from all walks of life and income brackets, when they need it most. Its commitment to citizens of Minnesota began in 1883, when a deadly tornado tore through the then-small community of Rochester and William Worrall Mayo and his sons took charge of recovery efforts, enlisting the help of the nearby Sisters of Saint Francis to care for patients. Afterwards, Mother Alfred Moes, the leader of the convent, told Dr. Mayo she had a vision from God that instructed her to build a hospital, with him as its director. She believed it would become “world renowned for its medical arts.” The two-hour film features the voices of Tom Hanks, Sam Waterston, Blythe Danner and Josh Lucas, as well as interviews with such former patients as John McCain and the Dalai Lama.

PBS’ “Basquiat: Rage to Riches” follows “Wyeth” onto DVD, as a segment of the “American Masters” mini-series, “Artists Flight.” Basquiat was a graffiti artist, posing as a rock star, in the early ’80s New York art scene. It took less than a decade for the accountant’s son from Brooklyn to go from an anonymous tagger, known as SAMO, to one of the most widely recognized artists of his generation. Today, his work resides in the top tier of the international art market, along with Picasso, de Kooning and Francis Bacon. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Basquiat’s untimely death from a heroin overdose. “Basquiat: Rage to Riches” features exclusive interviews with the artists’ sisters, Lisane and Jeanine, who previously haven’t spoken about their brother and his art for a television documentary. With striking candor, art world colleagues, including dealers Bruno Bischofberger, Larry Gagosian and Mary Boone, and Basquiat’s most intimate friends, lovers and fellow artists, draw a portrait of a handsome, charismatic and fragile personality. It also divulges the cash, drugs and pernicious racism that he encountered. The main weapon Basquiat used to fight prejudice was his art.

One of the sad facts of life in the television industry is that nothing goes on forever. Very few of the shows and series continue, let alone thrive, after being canceled, losing a star or switching networks. Viewer loyalty only extends so far and, after a certain point, endless reruns on cable only remind us of what we’re missing. The good news is that television is as good as it’s ever been and may be getting better. The willingness on the part of premium networks and streaming services to pay top dollar for talent and products has been a godsend to everyone involved. So, what’s missing? Variety shows, like the ones hosted by Ed Sullivan, Dinah Shore, Garry Moore, Perry Como, Jackie Gleason and Carol Burnett. For a while, the gap was filled by Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and other late-night hosts. That changed when producers decided to cater to publicists handling commercial movies and TV shows, flavor-of-the-month stars, top-40 acts and only the occasional comedian. The days when a standup comic’s future was assured by an invitation to sit alongside Johnny are long gone, except on Showtime’s “I’m Dying Up Here.” “The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Special,” newly released on DVD, also reminds me that entertainers also benefitted from being asked to join Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman in sketches that ranged from silly to inspired and played to the widest possible television market, not just select demographic groups. “The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Special,” which aired December 3, 2017, attracted an audience of 15.4 million viewers. The two-hour special built on its lead in from “60 Minutes” and pulled within a million viewers of “Sunday Night Football” in the Eastern and Midwest time zones. The one-night event, which was filmed at the series’ original soundstage at CBS Television City, in Los Angeles, features Burnett, Lawrence, Waggoner and costume designer Bob Mackie. Special guests include Jon Batiste, Beth Behrs, Jim Carrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Harry Connick Jr., Kaley Cuoco, Bill Hader, Steve Lawrence, Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Amy Poehler, Tracee Ellis Ross, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short. The Time Life/WEA package adds red-carpet footage, backstage interviews, anniversary wishes from Carol’s friends and fans, and a tribute booklet with production photos, notes from her guests and a special message from the host.

The beloved ITV series, “Midsomer Murders,” returned to American television last May, for a 20th season, via the Acorn streaming service. The six new feature-length episodes are set in England’s most murderous county. Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and Detective Sergeant Jamie Winter (Nick Hendrix) investigate mysteries involving homicides, blackmail, greed and betrayal in and around the cozy villages and behind the well-trimmed hedges of Midsomer County. The titles include “The Ghost of Causton Abbey,” “Death of the Small Coppers,” “Drawing Dead,” “’Til Death Do Us Part” and “Send in the Clowns.” A new pathologist, Dr. Fleur Perkins, is played by Annette Badland (“Eastenders”).

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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