MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrap: Ant-Man/Wasp, Whitney, Boundaries, BuyBust, Down a Dark Hall, Reprisal, Gen Wealth, 8 Hours Don’t Make a Day … More

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Blu-ray/4K UHD
With the elevation of Hope van Dyne to the superhero status once accorded her mother and her uneasy teaming with the newly domesticated Scott Lang, Ant-Man and the Wasp, can be enjoyed as both a screwball fantasy and palate-cleanser between weightier MCU episodes. That’s because the strong-willed Hope (Evangeline Lilly) has been asked by her father, Dr. Hank Pym/Ant-Man (Michael Douglas), to put aside her differences with the former thief (Paul Rudd) to rescue Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm, the microverse into which she disappeared 30 years earlier. To accomplish this seemingly impossible task, they’ll be required to don the suits developed by Pym that transform them from mere mortals into shape-shifting superheroes. Hope has little use for Lang, who’s been cooling his heels in house arrest for his role in skirmishes between the Avengers and Team Captain America, in Captain America: Civil War (2016). (In Marvel mythology, Lang stole Pym’s Ant-Man gear to save his daughter, Cassandra, from a heart condition.) When he isn’t wearing the suit, Scott is a regular dad, with goofball tendencies, especially suit to Rudd’s schtick. While confined to house arrest, he’s torn between the responsibilities he’s assumed as both a superhero and a father. Mere days before his sentence is due to expire, Scott receives a message from the sub-atomic quantum realm that leads him to believe Janet is alive, but living on borrowed time. This comes as very good news to Pym and Hope, who, once estranged, are living in self-imposed exile. Got that? You can’t tell the players in the MCU without a scorecard.

Long story, short: Pym asks Scott and Hope to don the uniforms and risk their lives in the perilous rescue mission. Before that can happen, however, they must acquire a part needed to reactivate the “quantum tunnel” from black-market dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins). Burch, who’s come to understand the financial value of Pym’s research, double-crosses them. Even then, they’re required to overcome the efforts of Ava Starr/Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecularly unstable force  zapping Janet of her remaining energy, while convincing Pym’s former partner (Laurence Fishburne) to lead them to their lab, which Ghost miniaturized. Once this is accomplished, Ant-Man and the Wasp begins to resemble a delightfully conceived homage to Fantastic Voyage (1966), TRON and Innerspace (1987), with all the bells and whistles available to director Peyton Reed’s team of CGI technicians. Ant-Man and Wasp’s relationship also evolves into something fans of The Thin Man and Mr. & Mrs. Smith might recognize, with dialogue inspired, as well, by Elmore Leonard. This aspect, alone, increases the appeal of Ant-Man and the Wasp for adults. Naturally, room is left for a second sequel or prequel, as a stand-alone or an extension of The Avengers.  Depending on the store from which you’re likely to purchase the DVD/Blu-ray/4K/digital edition, Ant-Man and the Wasp is available in volumes that vary primarily in the elaborateness of their packaging and collectability. The digital and Blu-ray releases include several worthwhile behind-the-scenes featurettes; an introduction from Reed; deleted scenes, outtakes and a blooper reel. The digital release also features a look at the role concept art plays in bringing the various MCU films to life and a faux commercial for Online Close-Up Magic University. The excellent 4K UHD version is enhanced by a bone-crunching 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus audio track.

Whitney: Blu-ray
Although the tabloid press exploited Whitney Houston’s well-known troubles with the same relish it typically reserves for the Clintons, UFOs and OJ, the details revealed in Kevin Macdonald’s exhaustive bio-doc, Whitney, carry an unexpected punch. Comparison to the tragedy of Michael Jackson are inevitable, right down to the roles played by fathers and other family members, who leeched off her fame and enabled her addictions. Like Jackson, Houston’s demise can be traced to problems that began in childhood and were exacerbated by adults who recognized her God-given talent and were quick to take advantage of it. They encompassed race, class, religion and sexuality, as well as greed, predatory capitalism, a bad marriage and deep insecurity. While her mother, Cissy, and aunts, Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, were show-biz veterans, Whitney was allowed to make the same mistakes that have claimed the lives and careers of countless other gifted performers. In surprisingly candid interviews, Houston’s brothers admit to introducing her to marijuana and cocaine and, then, while entrusted with protecting her from outsiders, abdicating their responsibility to contain the damage. Her husband, Bobby Brown, is also interviewed here. While admitting to certain obvious mistakes, he refuses to discuss the addiction to drugs and alcohol that made her so desperate for help.

Neither is the fickleness of her fan base ignored. After propelling her almost instant rise to superstardom, they allowed themselves to be swayed by self-serving accusations that she’d sold out to commercial (white) interests. Just as quickly, they jumped back on her bandwagon. Whitney doesn’t neglect the gifts of music and personality that made her an international sensation. They’re obvious in every video clip. Macdonald was accorded exceptional access to home movies, news clips and other archival material in which her voice is showcased on pop, R&B and gospel material. The list of people interviewed also includes Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Clive Davis,  L.A. Reid, Debra Martin Chase and Kevin Costner, her co-star in The Bodyguard (1992). The saddest section of the film, perhaps, is reserved for Houston and Brown’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who probably should have been taken away from the couple when it became apparent that they were incapable of raising a child who wasn’t destined to follow in their footprints. Like her mother, who died on February 11, 2012, at 48, Bobbi Kristina would be found face-down in a bathtub at her Georgia home, on January 31, 2015. Six months later, the 22-year-old reality-show personality and singer died after being taken off life support. The disc adds commentary with producer Simon Chinn and Macdonald, as well as a Motion Photo Gallery, featuring images courtesy of Houston’s estate.

In what may be the most demographically incorrect comedy of the year, veteran geezers Christopher Plummer, Christopher Lloyd and Peter Fonda continually steal the spotlight from such talented co-stars as Vera Farmiga, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Schaal and 15-year-old Scottish newcomer Lewis MacDougall. The only white-bearded old-timer missing is Donald Sutherland. This isn’t to say that the youngsters aren’t up to the challenge, however. These guys have been stealing scenes for 40 years, now, and any movie in which there’s generational conflict between old hippies, new agers and precocious teens is going to favor the characters who look the most comfortable in their roles. Farmiga plays Laura, a determinedly quirky single mother, who’s never met a stray animal she hasn’t tried to rescue and rehabilitate. Sadly, she can’t see beyond daddy issues so severe that she married a ne’er-do-well (Cannavale) cut from the same cloth as her reprobate father, Jack (Plummer). Not only has her son, Harry, been expelled from his Seattle public school for being completely out of step with the rest of the student body, but Jack is being kicked out of his retirement home for such “side issues” as growing killer marijuana on the facility’s grounds. There are private schools that cater to Henry’s idiosyncrasies, but they’re out of Laura’s price range.

Desperate, she agrees to rescue her father, who claims to be dying of cancer, in exchange for the tuition money. The rub is that Jack insists on being driven from L.A. to the Pacific Northwest, in a car whose trunk contains $200,000 in pre-packaged pot he intends to sell to customers – including laid-back codgers played by Lloyd and Fonda — on the trip north. Although Henry reluctantly agrees to run interference for his grandfather, Laura is kept in the dark until it’s too late to change direction. If an aura of overfamiliarity hangs over the narrative throughout most of the journey, the actors keep it from drifting into cliché. In a bonus making-of featurette, writer/director Shana Feste (Country Strong) acknowledges that Boundaries was inspired by people she’s known in her life and traumas she’s endured. That she was able to wring as much humor from her memories as she does here is admirable. Like Sutherland and Helen Mirren’s not dissimilar road-trip dramedy, The Leisure Seeker (2017), Boundaries works as well on the small screen, as it would have in theaters … if anyone had given them a shot beyond a limited release.

BuyBust: Blu-ray
Apart from the occasional natural disaster, the biggest news emanating from the Philippines in the last few years has been President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of an all-out war against drug pushers and virtual elimination of penalties for vigilantism. Since the policy was announced, on June 30, 2016, estimates on the death toll range from government’s 4,200 (April 30, 2018), to 12,000 by news organizations and activist groups, to 20,000 by opposition politicians. Included are dozens of children, untold numbers of innocent bystanders, and victims of everyday police brutality and vendettas. Apparently, the public has begun to rethink its enthusiasm for the slaughter, but it’s far easier to elect a tyrant than to remove him from office. It’s impossible to watch co-writer/director Erik Matti’s absolutely riveting thriller, BuyBust, without at least considering the ramifications of the draconian policy. If Matti had set his movie in any other Southeast Asian country than the Philippines, it would have been greeted as a genre picture that supplanted the usual clichés with non-stop, hard-core action. By the halfway point of the 127-minute shoot-’em-up, Matti’s subtext begins to reveal itself. Politics aside, however, Buybust can be enjoyed by action junkies and fans of Hong Kong-style cop thrillers. Manila is second to none when it comes to ideal settings for mindless violence and poverty-driven crime.

The petite Australian/Filipino superstar Anne Curtis (In Your Eyes) plays against type as the no-nonsense anti-narcotics operative Nina Manigan, whose entire squad was sacrificed in a drug raid compromised by dirty cops. Anxious to avenge the loss, Nina joins another group of specialists about to raid a cartel stronghold in the middle of a teeming Manila slum. She isn’t reluctant about airing her belief that one of the group’s leaders may be a traitor, but, as an outsider, she’s ignored. Sure enough, the intricately choreographed raid goes haywire in the most violent way possible. When the cartel’s elusive kingpin escapes, the firefight spreads through the barrio, where, inevitably, locals get caught in the crossfire. When a popular resident is killed, the citizens decide that they’re tired of being victimized by politicians and criminals. The rebellion forces the agents to fight their way out of the maze … or die trying. By confining the action to a claustrophobic staging area — at night, with carnival lights providing most of the illumination and shadows — Matti rachets up the kind of suspense that comes with not knowing from which direction the next bullet, blade or grenade is likely to come. And that includes viewers, as much as the on-screen combatants. The thing is, too, that the violence never feels gratuitous, unnecessary or forced, any more than it did in The Wild Bunch. Bonus features include a making-of featurette and panel discussion from the 2018 ComicCon.

Down a Dark Hall: Blu-ray
Blackwood Boarding School, the setting for Rodrigo Cortés’ modern Gothic thriller, Down a Dark Hall, exists in the same scholastic universe as the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s the school of last resort for five teenage girls, who’ve worn out their welcomes both at home and their previous high schools. To her surprise, Katherine “Kit” Gordy (AnnaSophia Robb) is wooed by a Blackwood teacher, Dr. Heather Sinclair (Jodhi May), as if she were a star athlete being recruited by Notre Dame or Stanford. Kit has no idea why anyone would want her to attend their school, but it’s far enough away from home to pique her interest. She’s greeted there by the compassionate teacher, Sinclair, and the school’s spooky disciplinarian, Mrs. Olonsky (Rebecca Front), and shown to her room. The next day, Kit meets the school’s dean, Madame Duret — Uma Thurman, in Morticia Addams drag — and the other four girls who comprise the student body. At first, the girls resemble dozens of other juvenile delinquents we’ve met in movies about troubled youths. Gradually, though, Cortés not only reveals each of the students’ well-hidden talents, but why they were chosen to attend such an elite institution, in the first place.

Madame Duret expects their individual strengths, as nurtured by the school’s similarly off-putting teachers, to compensate for any headaches they cause in the classrooms. And, indeed, they’re a handful. It isn’t until several not completely unexpected appearances by apparitions – yes, down a dark hallway – that Kit is prompted to explore the nooks and crannies of the mansion. Among the things she discovers is an uncanny similarity between the works of art being executed by her classmates and paintings already hanging on the school’s walls and music echoing through the hallways. Down a Dark Hall is based on Lois Duncan’s 1974 YA novel of the same title. Its PG-13 rating feels appropriate to the material, whose scares aren’t likely to raise goosebumps on anyone older than 17. That said, the Galicia-born Cortés has demonstrated his horror chops on Buried (2010), Red Lights (2012) and The Contestant (2007), and does a nice job here building the tension and allowing the young actors — Isabelle Fuhrman, Victoria Moroles, Taylor Russell, Rosie Day – to push the limits of their characters. The Blu-ray adds “Welcome to Blackwood: Venturing Down a Dark Hall” and a deleted scene.

Reprisal: Blu-ray
Don’t you hate it when you’ve just enjoyed watching a movie, only to discover that nearly every review on is red-flagged as being a piece of cinematic crap? I do. That, however, is why such concepts as “guilty pleasures” and “redeeming qualities” have found traction among viewers whose opinions aren’t always in synch with egghead critics. In the 11 films in which Bruce Willis has appeared since Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), the only one green-lit on Metacritic has been M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, in which he made an uncredited role. The other 10 received scores that were consistently on the red end of the spectrum. I suspect that the critics polled were as disappointed with the former A-lister’s choice of projects as his performances in them. That, and a feeling of acute been-there/seen-it. Willis isn’t the only actor whose name has become associated with hit-and-performances in genre films destined for straight-to-DVD purgatory, but he may be the one who’s fallen the greatest distance. If, however, his name on a cover or poster helps a young filmmaker catch a break in the marketplace, well, that falls well short of being a crime.

Even if Willis doesn’t appear to exert much more than normal effort in Reprisal, an urban heist thriller that, in any case, belongs to Frank Grillo, I had no trouble staying with the Cincinnati-set flick. Some of the credit for that goes to Willis, who doesn’t look out of place as a retired cop who’s still addicted to crime-solving. In Brian A. Miller’s third collaboration with Willis, Grillo plays a bank manager – something he could never pass for one in real life – who’s haunted by a robbery in which a co-worker was killed by a curiously well-prepared lone gunman (Johnathon Schaech). Fortuitously, his neighbor, James, takes an interest in the crime and volunteers to help Jacob overcome his guilt and the suspicions of investigating officers. Together, they pin down the location of the gunman, whose pattern somehow manages to stymie the police and feds. If it weren’t for the inclusion of the thief’s seriously ill father and Jacob’s diabetic daughter, you could guess the rest. What elevates Reprisal over Willis’ previous collaborations with Miller — The Prince (2014) and Vice (2015) – are two exciting shootouts, which take up lots of time and offer some unexpected twists. Miller also makes good use of Cincinnati, a city that looks great from above and offers all the advantages of, say, Atlanta, Memphis and Toronto. Playing a homemaker, ex-Miss USA Olivia Cuspo seems a tad too glamorous to settle for living in Midwestern city known primarily for it baseball team and chili. The Blu-ray adds interviews and making-of material.

Generation Wealth
In one way or another, all of Lauren Greenfield’s documentaries have dealt with excessive behavior that’s as American as apple pie, unchecked materialism and gluttony. The titles say it all: Thin (2006), Kids + Money (2008), Fashion Show (2010), The Queen of Versailles (2012), Bling Dynasty (2016) and, her latest, Generation Wealth, which is virtual summation of her life’s work. It complements Greenfield’s 504-page monograph of the same title, which was published last year by Phaidon Press. (Her other photo collections include “Girl Culture” and “Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood.”) For those of us who grew up without the financial privileges – and demands – of the Kardashians, Trumps, Hiltons and Kennedys, the images shared in Generation Wealth are nearly as freakish as anything by Diane Arbus: wealthy Chinese women being taught how to slice and eat a banana in polite company; 6-year-old beauty queens; a former porn star, who filmed her own a suicide attempt after money failed to buy her happiness; a former Harvard classmate who did buy happiness, but forgot to pay taxes on it; women addicted to shopping for expensive accessories; and the whims of Russian plutocrats.

Greenfield also reveals a major disclaimer along the way: one of the reasons that she’s been able chronicle the pathologies of the rich and famous is her own family’s proximity to America’s ruling class. She comes from wealth and continues to enjoy the benefits of a great education and access to many of the things savored by her subjects, and it informs her work. Moreover, the filmmaker doesn’t appear willing to deny her family members the same hideous lifestyle as the more fortunate students in “Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood.” Her sons, for example, followed in her privileged footsteps by attending Santa Monica’s famed Crossroads High School, whose student body is largely comprised of the sons and daughters of Los Angeles’ artistic, political and business elite. Nepotism is a hardly foreign concept for its graduates, no matter their GPA.  If Generation Wealth doesn’t cut nearly as deep as The Queen of Versailles – which demonstrates the power of hubris to level the playing field, even among the filthy rich – it does provide plenty of escapist envy that comes with watching rich people acting stupid.

Dust 2 Glory: Blu-ray
With his wild-and-woolly 2005 documentary Dust to Glory, Dana Brown took a break from his genetically encoded pursuit of perfect waves and endless summers, with a detour into the world of off-road racing, another pastime Californians hold near and dear to their hearts. His instincts led him to the annual Baja 1000 which, since 1968, has been run from Ensenada to La Paz, and is considered the Indy 500 and Le Mans of dirt racing. Even so, the event wasn’t all that well-known outside of Mexico and the American Southwest, where such outdoor motorsports can be practiced 52 weeks a year. That changed when ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” sent Jim McKay to cover the 1968 event – as well as Figure 8 stock-car racing and demolition derbies — and it began attracting such well-known gearheads as Mickey Thompson, Indy 500-winner Parnelli Jones, actors James Garner and Steve McQueen and drag-racer Don “The Snake” Prodhumme. At the time, dirt racing attracted roughly the same amount of attention outside California as surfing, before Dana’s dad, Bruce, introduced the sport to people outside Hawaii and SoCal in his breakthrough 1966 doc, The Endless Summer (1966). (OK, the Beach Boys helped, too.) In 1971, Bruce took a detour of his own, with On Any Sunday, which focused on the rough-and-tumble world of motorcycle racing. (It was financed by McQueen.)

The Baja 1000 doesn’t discriminate against motorcycles and dirt bikes, any more than it refuses entrance to converted dune buggies, ATVs, trophy-trucks and VW Beetles, which have proven surprisingly adept at finishing the course. In Dust to Glory, Dana Brown followed his father’s folksy approach by focusing on the courage, spunk and dubious sanity of men and women – young, old and in-between – who would challenge a dusty and boulder-strewn course that burros would avoid, especially in summer. In 2014, Dana also updated his dad’s motorcycle doc with On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter. The difference between these movies and Dana’s Dust 2 Glory is that the latter was made in association with off-road racing’s sanctioning body, SCORE International, and the BCII production company, which is developing shows on dirt racing for the fledgling El Rey Network. Unless there’s something sinister going on behind the scenes that isn’t mentioned in Dust 2 Glory, it doesn’t look as if Brown veered more than a few degrees off the path established by his father. The people we meet are interesting and open about their passion, without being extraordinary in ways that don’t involve building cars and racing. The cinematography, as usual, is outstanding. And, the rugged Baja 1000 course is as compelling a character as any in movies about sports. The Blu-ray adds interviews with Dana Brown and his father, who passed away last December, at 80.

City Slickers: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Billy Crystal was riding pretty high in the saddle when he starred in Ron Underwood’s charming fish-out-of-water comedy, City Slickers (1991), alongside Bruno Kirby, Daniel Stern and, of course, Jack Palance. He was coming off When Harry Met Sally (1989), Throw Momma From the Train (1987) and The Princess Bride (1987), and had co-hosted Comic Relief, hosted two Academy Awards ceremonies and risked overexposure as a frequent guest on late-night talk shows. If the rest of the 1990s weren’t all that kind to him, movie-wise, he would bounce back in 1999, with Analyze This, playing an insecure mob boss’ psychiatrist. (Last year’s Funny or Die video short, City Slickers in Westworld, is better than almost everything in City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.) Putting comedians in unlikely situations and making their lives miserable, at least until the path is laid to a happy ending, had been a Hollywood staple since The Gold Rush (1925), when Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp found himself out of food and out of luck in the Klondike. In City Slickers, three longtime friends come to the collective realization that they’re not getting any younger and had better do something quick to recharge their batteries or be miserable for the rest of their lives. They decide to try their luck at a working dude ranch that turns disgruntled middle-aged dudes – and a woman (Helen Slater), who’s been stood up by her boyfriend – into reasonable facsimiles of cowboys.

Writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel don’t waste any time testing the collective chutzpah of Mitch (Crystal), Ed (Kirby) and Phil (Stern), by putting them on horses and shoving them into the middle of a cattle drive. The seen-it-all trail boss, Curly (Palance), looks as if he might have taught Rowdy Yates how to ride and rope and shoot, before retiring to the ranch. As befits a deeply chiseled old-timer in movies in need of adult supervision, Curly exudes instantly identifiable smarts and love for a way of life that no longer exists. After scaring the city slickers with his austere presence, he singles out Mitch to impart his wisdom. In addition to having to put up with the bullying of a couple of ranch hands young enough to be their sons, the wet-behind-their-ears wannabes are required to accustom themselves to sleeping under the stars, eating beans from a can and drinking coffee unenhanced by whipped cream and steamed milk. The other guests are a mixed bag of out-of-shape professionals and city folk, like themselves. Slater’s Bonnie Rayburn provides the boys excuses to act chivalrous and stupid, in equal measure. The big test comes when the weather turns bad, the rivers swell and the cows spook. Crystal’s highpoint arrives when Curly demands he help deliver a calf and, when its mother dies giving birth, serve as its surrogate nurturer. City Slickers was largely shot in northern New Mexico, which hasn’t changed much in the last 200 years, and is made very easy on the eyes via a new 4K remaster. Among the bonus features are commentary with Underwood, Crystal and Stern; deleted scenes; and featurettes “Back in the Saddle: City Slickers Revisited,” “Bringing in the Script: Writing City Slickers,” “A Star Is Born: An Ode to Norman” and “The Real City Slickers.” I would have enjoyed seeing Palance doing one-armed pushups, again, while accepting his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Maybe I missed it.

My Little Pony: The Movie: 35th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
I’m not at all sure how the packagers of “My Little Pony: The Movie: 35th Anniversary Edition” came up with 35 as the number to celebrate on the cover of this two-movie combo pack. It’s only been three years – and change – since “My Little Pony: The Movie: 30th Anniversary Edition” was released into DVD, ahead of the 2017 launch of Lionsgate’s animated musical/fantasy film, also titled My Little Pony: The Movie, which was based on the 2010 relaunch series, “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.” The 1986 original featured such voicing luminaries as Tony Randall, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Madeline Kahn, Rhea Perlman and Cloris Leachman, while the sequel’s guest stars included Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Liev Schreiber, Taye Diggs, Zoe Saldana, Kristin Chenoweth, Uzo Aduba and Sia. The series’ principal voice cast — Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Nicole Oliver and Cathy Weseluck – also contribute their talents. The first picture opens at Dream Castle, where the Little Ponies are preparing a festival to celebrate the first day of spring. From the Volcano of Gloom, the evil witch Hydia watches the event via her cauldron and, disgusted by the frivolity, tells her daughters that they must ruin it. Hydia’s daughters, Draggle and Reeka, are inexperienced at causing mischief and fail utterly at ruining the festival. The girls return to the Volcano of Gloom in disgrace. Desperate to please Hydia, they conjure a pool of sentient purple lava that gleefully buries Ponyland.

The sequel adds several new characters to the same basic conspiracy, in addition to songs. Just for the historical record: in the early 1980s, hoping to attract little girls to its line of toys, Hasbro borrowed from the toys-to-movies formula initiated by Transformers and Masters of the Universe, featuring He-Man and Skeletor. Its first girl-friendly action figure was My Pretty Pony, which was introduced to no great acclaim in 1981. The next year, the brand was changed to My Little Pony. In addition to the movie, the line of toys spawned two animated television series and merchandise. By 1992, the fad had petered out in the U.S., and Hasbro put My Little Pony on hiatus until 1997. It would be discontinued, again, in 1999, only to be revived successfully in 2003. It remains a big-seller here and around the world. Even so, in 2018, the number, 35, feels a bit arbitrary. No matter. The new four-disc package includes the original 1986 movie — on Blu-ray for the first time — and the 2017 sequel. It adds a deleted scene, an “Equestria Girls” short; the featurettes, “Baking With Pinkie Pie,” “Making Magic with the Mane 6 and Their New Friends,” “The Journey Beyond Equestria” and “Hanazuki: Full of Treasures”; and the music video, “I’m the Friend You Need.”

Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
During his hyper-productive, if sadly abbreviated 16-year creative career, Rainer Werner Fassbinder developed a reputation for being the enfant terrible of the New German Cinema. Outside Germany, his famously unruly personality and controversial pronouncements frequently overshadowed his contributions to the cinema, theater and television, as a writer, director, actor and provocateur. Before Fassbinder died of an overdose of cocaine and barbiturates, in 1982, the 37-year-old multi-hyphenate made 44 films and TV dramas and directed 15 plays. There were more credits, but who’s counting? The director to whom his work was most compared was Douglas Sirk, whose melodramas explored post-war American attitudes toward race, sex, sexual orientation, politics and class. Apart from any of his stand-alone films, Fassbinder’s work on German television has already stood the test of time. His 1980 masterpiece, “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” is a 14-part, 15½-hours-long West German television miniseries, adapted from the Alfred Döblin novel of the same title. It remains highly respected by filmmakers and critics, inside and outside Germany, even though, at first, it was difficult to find in clean, binge-ready editions. Fassbinder adapted novels by Daniel F. Galouye and Oskar Maria Graf for two-part television presentations: World on a Wire (1973) and The Stationmaster’s Wife (1977). But, in 1971, as his reputation was solidifying, a left-leaning German public-television network commissioned Fassbinder to make a working-class family drama, based on the lives of a group of skilled toolmakers and their families in Mönchengladbach and Cologne. Early in the series, the workers are arbitrarily denied a promised performance bonus. Following the death of their foreman, the productive assistant foreman, Franz (Wolfgang Schenck), applies to take over his position, but it’s given to an outsider.

The decisions, which the workers take as a slap to the face, will trigger two parallel storylines and impact all the characters introduced in the first of five episodes. Among them, are the resourceful worker, Jochen (Gottfried John), and his secretary girlfriend, Marion (Hanna Schygulla), who want to marry, but can’t see beyond their limited financial situation and the bad advice of friends and family. Jochem’s sister, Monika (Renate Roland), is unhappily married to the strict disciplinarian Harald (Kurt Raab), who we’ll witness slapping their daughter for laughing at the dinner table. Jochen and Monika’s father is retiree, who takes out his anger on everyone within earshot, even though its wasted on his kids, grandchild and wife, who patiently absorbs his outbursts, knowing they’re part of the burden of being a German housewife. When the series begins, the wonderfully drawn Grandma Krüger (Luise Ullrich) is living with her family, but, out of the blue, finds a happily compliant boyfriend, Gregor (Werner Finck), and move in together. Together, they turn an abandoned storefront into neighborhood kindergarten – unauthorized, though it is – for neighborhood kids forced to play in the streets. Marion’s elitist co-worker, Fräulein Erlkönig (Irm Hermann), chides her for falling in love with a “worker” – a word she spits out like a curse – but ultimately will fall under the sway of Jochen’s pal, Rolf. Another co-worker falls for Monika, and wants to rescue her from Harald, but doesn’t know how to pull the trigger. The workers’ supervisor is portrayed as a bureaucrat, who despises his employees, while his boss is far more pragmatic when it comes to finding new avenues for revenues.

Whatever it was that network executives expected of “Eight Hours” – probably a “kitchen sink drama,” in which proletarian ideals are continually trampled by the bourgeoisie – it wasn’t what Fassbinder delivered. Instead, the mini-series dodged expectations by depicting social realities in West Germany with an open mind and compassion for characters who find false hope in schnapps, but come to understand that their real strength lies in the bonds formed by family … at home, at work and those of their friends. Fassbinder’s evenly paced, non-exploitative approach didn’t sit well with the channel’s white-collar executives, one of whom decided that “the series wasn’t realistic enough.” Neither were right-wing pundits pleased with his humanistic treatment of workers, who saw strength in numbers when it came to negotiating issues at work. In an interview published in 1973, Fassbinder explained, “What distinguishes Jochen und Marion and Grandma and Gregor and a few of the others from what people imagine workers to be like — and from the image sold on TV and elsewhere — is the fact that these characters have still not been beaten down.” Despite the large number of viewers drawn to the mini-series, the network decided to cut the number of episodes from eight to five and discontinue production. In doing so, it denied Fassbinder the opportunity to further clarify his views on German society in the early 1970s and how compromise and utopian visions have shelf lives of their own. Even so, “Eight Hours” was awarded West German television’s Adolf Grimme Prize for its concept. The Criterion Collection edition represents the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation’s terrific 2K digital restoration of the 470-minute, five-part series. Special features include a 2017 documentary directed by Juliane Maria Lorenz, featuring interviews with actors Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Wolfgang Schenck and Hans Hirschmüller; a new interview with film scholar Jane Shattuc; a fresh English subtitle translation; and an essay by scholar Moira Weigel.

Lifetime: Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance
Lifetime: Her Stolen Past
Acorn: East West 101: Series 3
Acorn: Sando: Series 1
Throughout her lifetime and well beyond the grave, Princess Diana has proved a godsend for the mass media, which continue to feast on her popularity, tragedies and legacy.  She’s been featured on the cover of People magazine 57 times … more than any other person in history. The editors wouldn’t commit such prized real estate to a single person unless it made financial sense to do so. Given the numbers attracted to the magazine’s coverage of Diana, it made sense for other publications to follow suit. The publications and networks were doubly blessed when her sons came of age, however, and they no longer had to rely on recycled photos, gossip and tiresome slaps at Charles and Camilla. When the princes started making headlines of their own – misbehaving, dating, flying helicopters, serving in Afghanistan and generally looking royal – the floodgates opened once again. Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton was covered with such intensity that the press even conspired to make the Duchess of Cambridge’s maid-of-honor, Pippa Middleton, a celebrity worth of blanket exposure in her own right. She just delivered a baby boy, don’t you know. This month, the media also made a star out of an obscure royal – Princess Eugenie – who would have to survive a nuclear attack on England to ascend to the throne. The even more recent news that Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s bride, is pregnant has thrown the celebrity press into overdrive. Truth be told, however, the former American television actress has a backstory that differs markedly from the rest of the twits who bounce between weddings, baptisms, funerals, charity events and sporting events for the benefit of people who collect tea cups, lace doilies and commemorative magazines. Menhaj Huda’s “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” is far from the worst of the royal biopics that have landed in my mailbox, if only because part of the charm of the subjects’ relationship is the difference in their backgrounds and the prince’s willingness to be tamed by the older, African-American divorcée. Fresh faces Murray Fraser (“The Loch”) and Parisa Fitz-Henley (“Jessica”) do a nice job approximating the couple in the various stages of their off-and-on relationship and handling the media’s despicable coverage of their courtship period. Sure, it’s schmaltzy, but nothing beyond what one might expect from such a commercial undertaking. Even Prince Charles and Camilla are treated fairly. Personally, I prefer the snarky cutting-edge approach adopted by the E! Network dramedy series, “The Royals,” which also features two male heirs to the throne, while adding a cougar queen and her conniving brother-in-law (who couldn’t be more gay if wore a rainbow-colored toupee), a desperately horny princess, trashy options for the princes’ attention and various other deviants. Sort of sounds like the Kardashians.

I ran out of fingers and toes trying to count the number of suspense/romance/inspirational novels Lynette Eason has written for various Harlequin lines, including the Love Inspired Romance and Family Reunion series. I quit at 47. Neither do I know why her name isn’t attached to the made-for-cable potboiler, “Her Stolen Past,” whose Amazon Prime Video summary is practically identical to the one on the Amazon Books site. Since the 2014 book seems as if it were tailor-made for Lifetime, I wonder how many other Eason properties have been adapted without credit. (None shows up on The plot is pretty straight-forward, really. After her mother is murdered in a parking-lot mugging, her daughter, Sonya (Shanice Banton), discovers a mysterious birth certificate hidden among her records. An Internet search reveals that the name on the certificate matches that of a baby kidnaped years earlier from a church event. Sonya hires private detective Brandon Hayes – young and handsome, of course — to help her investigate any possible connection her mother may have had to the still-missing girl and if it might tie into her murder. The answer to both questions is: duh. After meeting the victim’s parents and brother, who are surprisingly antagonistic toward them, Sonya and Brandon become targets for the presumable killer. The woman who arranged Sonya’s adoption also turns up dead. Despite some rather pedestrian acting and staging, “Her Stolen Past” offers enough satisfying twists to satisfy fans of Lifetime and Harlequin. Judging from the images on the book covers, the protagonist of “Her Stolen Past” wasn’t written as African-American, but the substitution of mostly black characters isn’t an issue here.

Acorn’s “East West 101: Series 3” reprises the final season of a terrific Australian police drama, which ran from 2007 to 2011. Dozens of such cops-and-crime shows are released on video every month, some of the best arriving from foreign shores via streaming services and on DVD. Unlike American producers, who still haven’t figured out how to develop shows in which Muslims are portrayed without fear or favor. The only one that I can recall, HBO’s “The Night Of,” did an excellent job of depicting the kinds of issues facing Muslim Americans every day, while describing how difficult it sometimes is for law-enforcement officials to do their jobs, while protecting the civil rights of citizens whose customs, culture and religion are foreign to them. Even though “The Night Of” won a bunch of Primetime Emmy Awards and other honors, HBO has yet to commit to a second season. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the show was adapted from a British series, “Criminal Justice” (2008). “East West 101,” which doesn’t feel at all dated, was set around the Major Crime Squad in metropolitan Sydney. The title refers both to the clash of cultures between the western and eastern worlds, and the fact that Sydney’s eastern suburbs are affluent and Anglo-Saxon, while the western suburbs are of a lower socio-economic status and have large Middle Eastern populations. The same divide exists within the MCS, which is comprised of several male detectives who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and carry substantial chips on their shoulders. As Season Three opens, crack Muslim Detective Zane Malik (Don Hany) is determined to hand in his resignation and start a new, danger-free life with his family. That plan is upended when his wife and son are involved in a hit-and-run accident and Malik becomes obsessed with finding the car’s driver. Evidence connects the crash to the sophisticated robbery of an armored vehicle, which occurred a short time earlier and left four dead. As the police, led by Superintendent Patricia Wright (Susie Porter), investigate the robbery, Malik clashes with former army officer Neil Travis (Matt Nable). Travis is quick to blame the attack on Muslim extremists, but Malik suspects there is more to the case … and, of course, he’s right. Corruption and greed aren’t limited to one race, either. The binge-worthy series adds deleted scenes and an intricate behind-the-scenes look at the central heist scene and shootout.

Also, from Down Under, comes Acorn’s “Sando: Series 1,” a traditional sitcom with plenty of unconventional characters. The central figure is Australia’s discount-furniture queen, Victoria “Sando” Sandringham, whose boisterous commercials for Sando’s Warehouse can’t be avoided by anyone with a television. They feature members of her wildly eccentric family and the lame jingles of her soon-to-be-ex-husband. The series opens with a flashback to the wedding of her daughter, who, just as the priest is about to read the vows, learns that Victoria had an affair with her fiancé and she’s pregnant with his child. Almost simultaneously, Victoria loses the support of her cost-conscious board of directors, who freeze her assets. Ten years later, Victoria’s poised to get her revenge, but needs the help of her estranged family members, who miss being in the spotlight, if for only 60 seconds at a time. Laughter ensues when Victoria moves back into the family estate, with her illegitimate, mixed-race 10-year-son in tow, to keep the business from collapsing. (The boy is far brighter than his dimwitted adult half-brother, who aspires to be a standup comedian or magician.) “Sando” is cut from the same cloth as “Kath & Kim,” a completely off-the-wall mother/daughter comedy that was adapted for American audiences with Molly Shannon and Selma Blair in the lead roles.

Also, newly available from the Anglo-centric Acorn Media are the PBS/Channel 4 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (2000) and “800 Words: Season 3, Part 1,” an Australian/New Zealand co-production about a Sydney journalist who moves with his family to a remote community in New Zealand. The series, which airs here on PBS, has yet to be accorded a fourth season.

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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