MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Mikey & Nicky, Apparition, Widowed Witch, Dis, Spiral, Wandering Muse, Jack the Ripper, Howling 3, Eating Animals, Scoundrels, Waterworld … More

Mikey and Nicky: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Not being well-versed in the way such things work in New York, these days, I can only wonder if Criterion Collection timed the release of Mikey and Nicky with the concurrent salute to writer/director Elaine May, at the Film Forum, and her performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery,” on Broadway. As coincidences go, anyway, it’s a welcome one. Released in 1976, Mikey and Nicky starred Peter Falk and John Cassavetes – the arthouse equivalent of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin – as a pair of childhood friends, who, as adults, are foot soldiers in the army of a Jewish mobster (Sanford Meisner), based in Philadelphia. They survive by taking orders and playing by the rules, not interpreting them as they see fit. As the picture opens, Nicky (Cassavetes) is holed up in a seedy hotel, deranged by the likelihood that he’s being targeted for assassination for overstepping his bounds in the murder of a bookie. He’s summoned Mikey (Falk) to help him make it through the night. At first, it’s possible to assume that Nicky is suffering from a gunshot or knife wound, even though there’s no evidence of bloodshed. Instead, his ordeal is being complicated by an ulcer. There’s just enough humor in their early exchanges to think that Mikey and Nicky might eventually play out as an improvisational gangland bromance, like Husbands (1970), but without kindred spirit Ben Gazzara. Instead, as the two men venture deeper into the neon-lit night and three decades’ worth of memories, the characters’ shallowness overwhelms any hope for comic relief. Nicky is, indeed, being hunted by a hitman (Ned Beatty), who’s becoming increasingly impatient with his target’s unpredictable antics. How Mikey fits within the big picture hasn’t been made clear, yet. Today, audiences can watch May’s third directorial effort without expecting an offbeat, if frequently dark romcom, as were The Heartbreak Kid and A New Leaf. In 1976, that wasn’t the case. Two years later, some of the same viewers would wait 90 minutes for the laughs to come in Woody Allen’s Bergman-esque Interiors … to no avail.

Cassavetes and Falk may fit the mold of small-time wise guys, but the characters’ likability factor decreases from the moment May ratchets up the dial on Nicky’s booze-fueled paranoia. It plummets even further during their visits to former wives and girlfriends, who act as if they expect to be slapped around, fucked and forsaken. After two hours, any pent-up sympathy we might have for the actors playing these despicable characters has completely disappeared. It isn’t an accident or a false step on May’s part, however. It’s entirely possible that she intended Mickey and Nicky to be a corrective portrait of the charismatic mobsters depicted in Mean Streets and The Godfather. In fact, May had conceived the story in the mid-1950s, even as she was emerging as one of improvisational comedy’s most talented practitioners, with Mike Nichols and the Compass Players. In their comments in the bonus material, critics Richard Brody and Carrie Rickey point out how Mikey and Nicky can be seen an example of toxic masculinity and the “seductive power of abusers.” Simply taken as a story about the brotherhood of criminals, it also provides a prime example of the cost of betrayal. It is, of course, the ultimate sin a wise guy can commit, whether it constitutes ratting out an associate or modifying an order to fit one’s own purposes. As impressively constructed as it is, Mickey and Nicky remains difficult to watch and impossible to enjoy. The acting, though, is worth the effort of enduring some visceral discomfort. Also included is an interesting 1976 radio interview with Falk; new chats with distributer Julian Schlossberg and co-star Joyce Van Patten; and an illustrated leaflet, featuring an essay by Nathan Rabin.

The Apparition
For me, one of the most endearing aspects of the Roman Catholic Church is its willingness to accept that miracles are a fact of religious culture and demonic possession can be eradicated. The Vatican spends millions of dollars annually to verify the veracity of apparitions reported by members of the flock and attempts to evict the devil from stricken souls through exorcisms. Perhaps, if the Church had allocated a few more millions of dollars into the pursuit and eradication of sexually abusive priests, it might not be in the same sad shape it’s in today. The Apparition is a frequently compelling ecclesiastical thriller about a dedicated French war correspondent, Jacques Mayano (Vincent Lindon), who is recruited by the Vatican to join in a clerical investigation of a possible miracle. The movie was inspired by the true story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, a 14-year-old girl, who, in the late 1850s, experienced 18 visitations by the Virgin Mary. After a rigorous investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions, as well as dozens of “inexplicable” cures verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau. The faithful still line up to experience the phenomenon. In Xavier Giannoli’s contemporary drama, co-written with Jacques Fieschi (Place Vendôme) and Marcia Romano (Marguerite, with Giannoli), Mayano was chosen by Vatican authorities for his humanitarian dispatches from war zones around the world. He’s been in a state of depression – accompanied by severe ear damage – since the death of his photographer and friend in an explosion. Unlike the other members of the panel, he employs journalistic techniques in his investigation.

Even before the study could begin, tens of thousands of worshippers and curiosity-seekers descended on the rural French village where the sightings reportedly occurred. Vatican officials know that it wouldn’t be the first time a miracle was staged to raise money for a city or church that didn’t particularly care how the funds were derived. Here, an otherwise normal teenager, Anna (Galatéa Bellugi), claims to have been told by the Virgin to build a “home for her son” built on the site, where the faithful could pray for world peace and the power of love and compassion. After keeping the visitations to herself, Anna felt compelled to share them with the local priest, Père Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumçao), who intuitively knew what to do with them and wasn’t beholden to anyone in Rome. Determined to protect her from the outside world, Borrodine accepted Anna as a novitiate. His dodgy associate, Anton Meyer (Anatole Taubman), hopes to monetize the miracle through the Internet and social media. As rumors of the miraculous event spread throughout Europe, Borrodine decided to satisfy the growing crowds of worshippers by trotting out Anna for daily processions. For his part, Meyer creates a gift shop, full of trinkets and statuary for the girl to bless, although she resists the request. At one of the services, Anna appears to take a shine to Mayano. She will provide him with additional access for questioning and even sneak out of the convent for more casual discussions. There’s nothing sexual in them, although Borrodine infers that the journalist might be taking advantage of her and, of course, wonder when this shoe may drop. (Cynical viewers might also anticipate a visitation by a monstrous satanic creature, which, blessedly, never materializes.) In his search for Anna’s friends, relatives and fellow witnesses, Jacques comes across a relic from a war zone – a Madonna with her eyes scratched out – that is exactly like one his friend photographed in Syria. Discovering it in the home of one of Anna’s closest friends, who’s since disappeared, makes the reporter shutter at the possibilities of such a discovery. The rest, dear readers, is a path littered with potholes and spoilers. All I can say is that the shift in narrative direction closes one loophole, while opening another. The Apparition is for viewers who don’t mind suspending more than two hours’ worth of disbelief in the service of a story that’s provocative, suspenseful and well-acted.

The Widowed Witch
Last week, in this space, the centerpiece DVD was Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch, a tragi-comic story about the plight of Zambian women and girls convicted of being possessed with supernatural powers. Unlike the 200-plus women and men of Salem, Massachusetts, who faced execution on charges of witchcraft in 1692, the African women are required to live in a virtual purgatory on Earth, tethered to a truck to prevent them from using their powers to “fly away” from work camps. Cai Chengjie’s debut feature, The Widowed Witch, provides yet another example of how ancient superstitions are used to punish women who deviate from the norm. It is set during winter in a desolate corner of Hebei province in northern China. The streams and fields are frozen over and the locals are reduced to huddling in their modest homes, drinking tea and waiting for the first signs of spring to arrive. Until then, gossip is one of the few escapes from reality left to them. Into this bleak portrait of life in a country otherwise known for overcrowded cities, non-stop motion and rationale behavior arrives a woman whose reputation precedes her. Er Hou (Tian Tian) recently emerged from a coma, in the home of a relative who rescued her from the ruins of an illegal fireworks factory she ran with her late husband. After she recovers a bit from injuries sustained in the explosion at the plant, the relative decides that she’s healthy enough to be raped. Because it was an unauthorized factory, Er Hou doesn’t expect protection from police or, for that matter, compensation from the government or subsidized housing. It forces her to seek shelter from less-repulsive family members and relatives of her three deceased husbands. And, aye, there’s the rub. In the minds of the people she encounters, any woman capable of surviving the accidental deaths of three spouses can only be a witch or a shaman … preferably the latter.

Clever enough to exploit an opening when she finds one, Er Hao takes advantage of several coincidental incidents to win the admiration of local men, who agree to share their food and shelter with her. In one instance, Er Hao is assigned the task of tending to an elderly man, who hasn’t left his bed for at least a year. To overcome the stench, she prepares a hot bath for him in a converted oil drum. After accidentally leaving him in boiling water overnight, the old man is relieved of his paralysis. The discovery of a frilly bra among Er Hao’s belonging is deemed sufficient cause for punishment by local women jealous of her hold on their husbands. Knowing that her coat is made of a Kevlar-like material, Er Hao taunts one of the women into shooting her. After recovering from the impact of the bullet, she miraculously recovers before their eyes. Er Hao’s softer side is visible in exchanges with her last husband’s mute 10-year-old brother, Shitao (Wen Xinyu), who’s been handed over to her by her parents. Together, they inhabit a RV that doesn’t provide much protection from the frigid winds. Finally, they find a spot, further in the wilderness, where other shamans gather. Like Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White (2017), The Widowed Witch is the rare Chinese film whose use of magical realism and frank examples of the oppression of women was given a pass by normally overbearing censors. Freshman cinematographer Feng Jiao’s depiction of winter in the boonies – black and white, with occasional splashes of color – is appropriately chilling.

Dis: Blu-ray
Adrian Corona’s Dis packs more gratuitous nudity, gore and depravity into its 61-minute length than most movies twice as long. That should come as good news to fans of such things, as well as a warning to viewers drawn to emerging genre icon Bill Oberst Jr. (Circus of the Dead). Anyone uncomfortable in the presence of real horror and torture porn would do well to sit this one out. Oberst plays a former soldier, with a sketchy past, who’s taken refuge from civilization in a dense tropical jungle. He’s lured to the concrete ruins of a building by a topless figure that shifts her shape before his eyes. Inside, the demon has constructed a grimy torture chamber, where naked women are tormented, apparently for the pleasure of Corona’s viewers. Turns out, the monster is in pursuit of the “seed of killers and blood of the damned to feed his mandrake garden.” In today’s Internet biology lesson, I learned that mandrakes display hallucinogenic and narcotic properties, and can cause poisoning when ingested. Because their roots often resemble human figures, they have been associated with a variety of superstitious practices and pagan rituals throughout history. Here, Corona added several gooey gimmicks to the legend, as well as Lori Jo Hendrix’s otherworldly physique. Bonus features include a still gallery, interview with Oberst, an introduction by the director and behind-the-scenes material.

Spiral: Blu-ray
After the conclusion of World War II and liberation of Nazi death camps, it probably felt safe for survivors to imagination a future free of anti-Semitism and genocide. We all know how long that lasted, however. Today, of course, the stain of sectarian violence and religious intolerance covers most of Europe and is spreading through the U.S. While it’s easy to blame some of the hatred on the continuing unrest in Israel and Palestine — including the construction of illegal settlements, the wall, rocket attacks, terrorist activity, poverty and unemployment — anti-Semitism wasn’t invented in the 20th Century and isn’t reserved for Israel. Laura Fairrie’s 79-minute documentary, Spiral, describes how an escalation of physical attacks, verbal assaults and terrorist attacks has prompted tens of thousands of European Jews to emigrate to Israel. That, in turn, complicates the situation in the Holy Land, where expectations of safety and peace can only be realized through measures distasteful to many of them. In portraying the resurgence of anti-Semitism in France, Spiral focuses on the experiences of individuals, including Muslims, on both sides of the conflicts that have fueled the escalation. Needless to say, this approach has had its limitations. Some of the most striking evidence derives from children, who suffer from fears of violence they don’t understand and being uprooted to escape it. Moving to settlements on barren hilltops, surrounded by people you’ve been taught to hate and fear, doesn’t feel like much of a solution. The DVD adds a post-screening Q&A.

The Wandering Muse
The title of Tamas Wormser’s musical documentary, The Wandering Muse, could refer to anyone from Alan-a-Dale to Woody Guthrie. The tagline, “From Ram’s Horn to Beatbox, Music of the Jewish Diaspora,” not only ties the documentary to the legend of the wandering Jew, but also the music’s ability to bridge the historical past and contemporary motifs. Unlike modern klezmer music, which has proven flexible enough to incorporate jazz and disparate folk traditions, the musicians represented in The Wandering Muse reflect “the nomadic soul wandering in a borderless world of harmonies.” As the tagline implies, the instruments on display range from the most basic – the ram’s horn – to sounds created digitally in an electronic box. The songs  run the gamut from cantorial and ceremonial, to hip-hop and jazz, with some performed by costumed singers. Neither was Wormser limited to concert stages and synagogues. Like Ry Cooder (Buena Vista Social Club), Les Blank (Hot Pepper) and Bela Fleck (Throw Down Your Heart), Wormser took his cameras to where traditional music is as fresh as anything on the Billboard charts. It took him eight years, but the hard work and travel paid dividends. In constant motion, The Wandering Muse is a series of encounters with Jewish musicians from around the world: an alternative Argentinean bar, where two friends play tango-infused klezmer; in rural Uganda, where villagers chant Hebrew prayers in East African harmonies; at a Montreal party, where an artist mixes hip-hop and jazz with multilingual cantorial singing; and in a Berlin apartment, where an American harmonizes with a Russian friend in a rendition of an anti-Zionist song from the 1920s. One needn’t be Jewish to enjoy The Wandering Jew – the music speaks for itself – but an understanding of the linkage between religious and folk traditions is useful.  If the documentary is difficult to find, try, the “online component of Artesian Films’ multiplatform project that explores the vibrant array of Jewish music.” The DVD adds lots of deleted musical scenes.

If it weren’t for a near-death cameo by Burt Reynolds, a lazy appearance by Eric Roberts and the prospect of watching the extensively tattooed Robert LaSardo in a lead role, I can’t imagine why any distributor would find a reason to release Henri. Octavian O’s martial-arts romance defines the old phrase, Amateur Night in Dixie. Since the veteran actors are promoted on the DVD’s cover, though, the movie’s fair game. We meet the title character (Eli Zen) as the deer he’s feeding is killed by a group of rednecks who ride roughshod over the town. Turns out, the mild-mannered Henri was raised in a monastery in the Far East and now lives in a swamp in southern Florida. Apart from one family, Henri is alone in the world. Over a dinner, for which the hostess is unprepared for the guest of honor’s distaste for meat, Henri takes a shine to Ashley (Lori Katz). A pretty blond with doe eyes, Ashley works behind the counter at the local convenience mart, where she’s harassed on a daily basis by one of the deer murderers. Humiliated by Ashley’s preference for Henri, the dude retaliates by raping and beating his fantasy girlfriend in the store’s bathroom … blessedly, off-screen. Like Billy Jack before him, Henri decides to break his vow of non-violence by kicking the crap out of the rednecks, who are related by birth to Roberts’ good-ol’-boy character. As sheriff, LaSardo is reluctant to take on the brothers-from-another-mother, for the sole reason that he’s screwing the rapist’s mother. The bottom line here is that no one, with the exception of the aforementioned stars, knows how to act and that includes the guy who plays Henri (Eli Zen). Apparently, Reynolds has at least one more movie in the can. One can only pray he looks healthier in it than he does in Henri.

Jack the Ripper: Blu-ray
10 to Midnight: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Cobra: Collector’s Edition: Blu-Ray
Dozens of movies have featured characters inspired directly or indirectly by the killings attributed to Jack the Ripper. Most of them have been made after 1960, when the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho opened the gates for more graphic depictions of violence in the cinema. Less known is Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s Jack the Ripper, which opened in London a full year earlier than Psycho was released in the U.S., and was controversial, as well, for its depictions of knifings. After both black-and-white movies cleared the various censorship boards and Psycho, at least, made a ton of money, the floodgates opened for horror flicks whose antagonists also specialized in knife-inflicted wounds. A decade later, the slasher/splatter subgenre, no longer limited to b&w, was born. Upon closer examination, however, Jack the Ripper’s bloody trail can be traced to 1927, when Hitchcock adapted Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes’ 1913 speculative novel, “The Lodger,” and Horace Annesley Vachell’s stage version, “Who Is He?” For The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, Hitchcock would borrow ideas gleaned from earlier work by German Expressionists F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. According to Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto, the silent film represented “the first time Hitchcock revealed his psychological attraction to the association between sex and murder, between ecstasy and death.” It also included his first cameo appearance.

Although Jack the Ripper isn’t in the same cinematic league as Psycho, it isn’t bereft of merits. Among them is the atmospheric portrayal of Victorian London, specifically the notorious Whitechapel district, where most of the attacks occurred. The movie skims over the neighborhood’s more fetid features and presents the victims as ordinary women who make the mistake of going out at night, rather than portraying them correctly, as prostitutes. (In 1888, an estimated 1,200 of them worked in an area covering only a few square miles.) Whitechapel also is made to look as if it might have been an entertainment district, where slumming socialites, sailors and crooks could enjoy cabaret-style entertainment and the French cancan. (It’s a highlight of the movie.) As the story goes, police inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne) is being deluged with complaints by locals who think catching killers is a piece of cake. He is joined by Sam Lowry (Lee Patterson), a police colleague from America who looks like a cross between James Rockford and Edd “Kookie” Byrnes. Lowry becomes attracted to Anne Ford (Betty McDowall), the ward of the respected surgeon, Dr. Tranter (John Le Mesurier), who volunteers at the Whitechapel hospital and frequently is called upon to work on the female victims, pre- and post-mortem. He’s assisted by a mute hunchback (Endre Muller), who, of course, becomes the primary suspect of the local lynch mob. As was typically the case in such potboilers, the filmmakers were compelled by the Production Code and censors to reveal a guilty individual, even though history tells us that the killings remain unsolved. Severin Films’ Blu-ray package contains the original British version; the American edition, re-tailored by legendary showman Joseph E. Levine; commentary with co-director/co-producer/co-cinematographer Robert S. Baker, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and AD Peter Manley, moderated By British horror-historian Marcus Hearn; an interview with Denis Meikle, author of “Jack the Ripper: The Murders and the Movies”; the featurette, “Gentleman Jack: The Whitechapel Murders Revisited”; a poster and stills gallery; and, perhaps, best of all, alternate/extended scenes shot for “continental audiences,” accustomed to nudity in exploitation movies. Levine added a new musical score, composed by Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo.

Ten years before the term incel was created by Internet grammarians as a portmanteau of “involuntary celibates,” a young man enflamed by rejections from women was written into J. Lee Thompson’s 10 to Midnight (1983), as its antagonist. Since 2014, when self-described incel Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen others in Isla Vista, California, more than three dozen other murders have been attributed to such misogynistic behavior. Before embarking on his murderous rampage and committing suicide, the Santa Barbara City College dropout wrote a 137-page manifesto and created YouTube videos detailing his involuntary celibacy. In them, he discussed how he wanted revenge for being rejected by women. Since then, Rodger has been mentioned as a source of inspiration by other perpetrators of mass killings. Before his death, in 1997, screenwriter William Roberts (The Last American Hero) couldn’t have known how close he’d come to identifying the incipient form of a new social disease. Neither could Charles Bronson, the film’s marquee attraction. In 10 to Midnight, the veteran hard-guy plays Leo Kessler, a cynical Los Angeles cop tracking Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), a homicidal maniac who turns rejection from beautiful women into the ultimate revenge. Stacy doesn’t try very hard to cover his tracks, as the diary left behind by his first victim provides almost all the evidence necessary to indict him. Almost. When the legal system sets the reasonably handsome dweeb free, Kessler plants evidence to put him behind bars for good. Meanwhile, his partner, Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens) takes a fancy to Laurie Kessler (Lisa Eilbacher), a nursing student and the cop’s daughter, who, he correctly guesses, is the perfect target for Stacy’s attention and, when rejected, wrath. In fact, Stevens does most of the heavy lifting in 10 to Midnight, leaving room for Bronson to put his personal stamp on the picture. Like Jack the Ripper, who easily could have suffered from incel syndrome, Stacey’s weapon of choice is a knife and, in his mind, his victims are whores, not co-workers or students. Because of the gratuitous nudity and violence, it’s difficult to recommend 10 to Midnight to anyone, except Bronson completists. In addition to bonus material ported over from previous editions, the technically upgraded Scream Factory Blu-ray adds fresh interviews with Stevens, producer Lance Hool and actors Robert F. Lyons and Jeana Tomasina Keough, and commentary with writer/historian Paul Talbot, author of “Bronson’s Loose!”

For Cobra (1986), George P. Cosmatos was teamed once again with Sylvester Stallone, then the highest paid and arguably the biggest box-office draw on the planet. They’d just completed Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), which made a lot of money, especially overseas, and the re-pairing made a lot of sense. If John Rambo had decided to forgo mercenary work and gone into law enforcement, instead, he’d very closely resemble the title character, whose full name is Marion Cobretti. (Reportedly, Stallone has described Cobretti as “Bruce Springsteen with a badge.” In his dreams.)  In Cobra, Stallone plays the police department’s designated vigilante, called in when all other legal measures to take a killer off the street fail. His work isn’t universally admired within the department, but, really, who cares? In the mid-1980s, all that mattered at the box office was a movie’s body count. Here, 41 of the 52 people killed were taken out by Cobra. What does any of this have to do with Jack the Ripper? Well, the knife used by the antagonist was made for the film by designer Herman Schneider, whose only request from Stallone was to “create a knife that audiences would never forget.” Neither could Cobra have been made under restrictions enforced by the Hays Office. As it is, a half-hour of really, really nasty stuff was trimmed to avoid an X-rating. Alas, the missing scenes weren’t added to the bonus supplements, along with lively new interviews with actors Brian Thompson, Marco Rodriguez, Andrew Robinson, Lee Garlington and Art LaFleur.

Howling III: Blu-ray
More successful than it has any right to be, the werewolf-themed “Howling” franchise includes three novels and eight films. It began in 1977 with Gary Brandner’s horror novel, “The Howling,” which, four years later, would be adapted into the film of the same title, by Joe Dante and screenwriters John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless. Even though the narrative deviated from Brandner’s story, The Howling made some money and received favorable reviews. In 1985, Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf was released to mostly negative reviews and fewer revenues. Critics wondered if what they were watching – much of which was shot in the Czech Republic – was what Brandner had in mind, in the first place, and where the producers saw the franchise heading. No one could have predicted that the series was on its way Down Under. Aussie director Philippe Mora (Mad Dog Morgan), who was at the helm of “Howling II,” took over the chores as director, co-writer and co-producer on Howling III. In a newly recorded interview, Mora explains that he wanted to do a picture that was a sequel in title only and Brandner went along with it. Somewhere along the way, Howling III morphed into Howling III: The Marsupials. By the time it was released in Blu-ray, “The Marsupials” disappeared. I can’t imagine why. It was a quick and easy way to alert potential viewers to the fact that the triquel – the last installment to be released theatrically — was really going to be different. As Howling III opens, anthropologist Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto) obtains film footage, from 1905, showing Australian Aborigines ceremonially sacrificing a wolf-like creature. Alarmed by the reports of a werewolf killing a man in Siberia, Beckmeyer tries to warn the president of the United States about the possibility of widespread werewolf attacks, but, of course, he isn’t interested. Meanwhile, back in Australia, we’re introduced to a young Australian werewolf, Jerboa (Imogen Annesley), as she’s fleeing the Outback and her sexually abusive stepfather, Thylo (Max Fairchild). She doesn’t display any noticeable marsupial properties, but neither do most marsupials. After spending the night on a park bench near the Sydney Opera House, she is spotted by a young American, Donny Martin (Leigh Biolos), who offers her a role in a horror film, “Shape Shifters Part 8.” The hilariously affected director, Jack Citron (Frank Thring), takes a liking to the brash newcomer, even though he’s unaware of her own shape-shifting abilities. Later, Jerboa and Donny attend a movie that depicts a human transforming into a werewolf. In a moment dripping with irony, she reveals her true identity by insisting that “it doesn’t happen like that.” At the wrap party, Jerboa is exposed to strobe lights, which trigger an unexpected transformation of her own. She flees the party and is hit by a car. At the hospital, doctors find she has a marsupial pouch and striped fur on her back like a thylacine, alternately known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. Now extinct, it was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Turns out, Jerboa is pregnant. The freak-out point in “III” arrives when Jerboa gives birth to a baby werewolf, which, as is customary, crawls from the mother’s vagina to her abdominal pouch, where her nipples are located. While the movie doesn’t get any more shocking that that, it continues to offer more than its fair share of surprises … and some laughs along the way. (A ballet dancer transforms in mid-pas de deux.) As a prime example of Ozploitation, the digital transfer was sponsored by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. It adds new commentary with Mora, moderated by filmmaker Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend); a fresh conversation with Mora: and vintage interviews from “Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!”

Eating Animals
Far From the Tree
Based on the bestselling book by Jonathan Safran Foer and narrated by co-producer Natalie Portman, Eating Animals is an eye-opening, frequently gut-wrenching examination of the environmental, economic, and public-health consequences of factory farming. In tracing the history of food production in the United States, the film charts how farming has gone from local and sustainable to a corporate Frankenstein monster that offers cheap eggs, meat and dairy at a steep cost to the environment. If you’re thinking that this could describe any number of documentaries about the benefits of veganism and organic farming, and horrors of modern food production and processing, you’d be right. Some of the video footage captured clandestinely inside the hatcheries and rendering plants are little short of sickening. No less tolerable are the scenes showing government and corporate harassment of whistleblowers and reporters, who dare photograph or chronicle conditions at feet lots and hog prisons, where waste ponds are the color of Pepto-Bismol. On the plus side, we meet farmers trying to beat the odds by treating their livestock humanely – even as they’re being prepared for slaughter at home and by consumers – and giving them plenty of room to roam. Sadly, the uplifting parts bookend the sickening stuff. And, of course, Trump administration officials are committed to protecting the polluters, torturers and profiteers, not the people they ostensibly were hired to serve.

How do filmmakers skilled in making hourlong documentaries for television take a 962-page examination of how families accommodate children with physical, mental and social disabilities, and make it fit a 93-minute framework? Gently, of course, but also with compassion and admiration for the people introduced by author in his best-selling and award-winning tome. Andrew Solomon, a prolific writer and professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, handed over the reins of “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” to Rachel Dretzin (“Hope & Fury: MLK, the Movement and the Media”) and Jamila Ephron (“American Experience: Clinton”). Their mission was to discover and describe the courage of parents on disparate journeys toward acceptance of their one-of-a-kind kids: a mother and son determined to show the world that his Down’s syndrome doesn’t define him; a couple learning to communicate with their bright, but nonverbal autistic son; a young woman dealing with what it means to be the only little person in her family; and parents whose deep love for their son persists even after he committed an unspeakable crime. Far From the Tree traces their joys, challenges, tragedies and triumphs, while asking them to re-examine what it means to be a normal family.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Collector’s Edition: Blu-Ray
The natural lure for Shout!Factory’s re-release on Blu-ray – the first since 2013 – is the opportunity to watch Michael Caine and Steve Martin, working at the top of their game, under the direction of Frank Oz. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was noteworthy at the time, as well, as Oz’ first directorial effort that did not feature puppets. His previous feature credits included The Dark Crystal (1982), Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). For my money, though, the best reason to watch the re-make of Bedtime Story (1964), which starred David Niven and Marlon Brando, hasn’t anything to do with the leading men. It’s to see Glenn Headley, who passed away in 2017 at the too-early age of 62, in the role originated by Shirley Jones. (I couldn’t locate Bedtime Story on DVD or Blu-ray.) In the early 1980s, it was easy to find Headley performing on various stages in Chicago, but, usually, as a key member of the fledgling Steppenwolf Theater ensemble. As was the case with so many other Chicago actors at the time, Glenn would make her way from the Windy City to New York and Hollywood, where she’d continue to work in movies and television, including Dick Tracy, Lonesome Dove, And the Band Played On, Mr. Holland’s Opus and Bastard Out of Carolina. Headley took most of the 1990s off from the stage to focus on her family, but she returned afterwards. At the time of her death, Glenn was involved in productions on television, film and the theater. Anyway, she was a terrific actor and is greatly missed. Unfortunately, Glenn’s barely mentioned in the otherwise self-serving featurette, newly created for writer Dale Launer (My Cousin Vinny). It’s worth mentioning, perhaps, that a new remake of Bedtime Story/Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is scheduled for release on May 10, 2019, starring Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson and Tim Blake Nelson.

Waterworld: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Contrary to popular opinion at the time of its release, Waterworld (1995) was not an unqualified bomb. While it underperformed at the domestic box office, foreign ticket sales pumped up the worldwide volume to a then-respectable $264.1 million. The problem, of course, was that the media fixed its gaze on the record-topping $175-million production budget, the massive floating set, the replacement of the film’s director (by Costner), nasty gossip that flew from Hawaii to the mainland in a heartbeat, a 135-minute length and high expectations by Universal. The fact is, however, Waterworld’s problems weren’t visible on the screen and the opinions of mainstream critics were split right down the middle of the spectrum. Moreover, after a while, money from home-video sales, TV broadcast rights and other revenue streams, finally pushed Costner’s “folly” firmly into the black. Today, $175 million is the going rate for most high-profile animated features and comic-book movies. Not factored into the final box-office figures is the money Universal made from licensing the title for video and pinball games, comic books, a novelization and, of course, “Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular,” at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Japan, and Universal Studios Singapore. In 2020, at the Hollywood venue, the action-packed water-stunt show will turn 25, a landmark few theme-park attractions ever reach.

For the many people who weren’t born by the time Waterworld was released, it’s worth pointing out that it was one of the first disaster thrillers to pin the blame for the apocalypse on global warming. When the polar ice caps melted, flooding set civilization adrift. Survivors cling to life on floating cities, their existence constantly threatened by bands of marauding pirates, known as Smokers. The survivors’ last hope to defeat the Smokers and their ruthless leader, the Deacon (Dennis Hopper) is a solitary figure, Mariner (Costner). His goal is to reach Dryland, if such a place even exists, with Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her ward, Enola (Tina Majorino), who holds the key to humanity’s continuation. The folks at Arrow Video think enough about Waterworld to have compiled a technically upgraded “Limited Edition” package, comprised of three separate versions of the film and new features. The three-disc “keepcase” is housed in a chipboard box which also includes six collector’s postcards, a double-sided fold-out poster and a limited-edition 60-page “perfect bound” book, featuring essays by David J. Moore and Daniel Griffith, along with some archival pictures and writing. There’s also a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper. The first disc holds the original theatrical edition; “Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld,” a feature-length retrospective on the production; the featurettes, “Dancing With Waves” and “Global Warnings”; original marketing material; and image galleries. The second disc contains the nearly three-hour “TV Cut,” which was created for U.S. broadcast television and contains over 40 minutes of additional material, including alternate scenes. On the third disc, the nearly as long “Ulysses Cut” was crafted for European broadcast markets and restores some material excised from the U.S. broadcast version. The total package was accorded highly-recommended status by the folks at

The Revelation of Lee “Scratch” Perry
If all one knows about reggae derives from the music of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals, you may not have heard much about Lee “Scratch” Perry. Now 82, the Jamaica native began his career in the late 1950s. Like Cliff’s character in The Harder They Come, he peddled records on the street for various producers, while refining his own sound. By the end of the 1960s, he was cranking out hits of own, backed by the studio band, the Upsetters. He’s continued recording his own songs, touring and producing music for other artists ever since then. In 2011, the documentary profile, The Upsetter, narrated by Benicio Del Toro, was released worldwide in theaters. Steve Marshall’s The Revelation of Lee “Scratch” Perry documents the making of his Grammy-nominated album, ”Revelation.” On it, engineer/producer Marshall lays down a digitally rendered reggae beat, while Perry raps a narrative based on his spirituality and today’s global events. The doc, which was filmed at Perry’s mountain-top home and studio in Switzerland, also features behind-the-scenes input by Keith Richards and George Clinton, along with Duncan & Green, Tim Hill, Dr. Sleepy, Alec Hay, elodieO & Abi Browning, and David Stewart Jones. (The studio has since been destroyed in a fire.) The DVD adds excerpts from a free-flowing and revealing interview of Perry, conducted by Marshall and accompanied by a parrot.

Nature: A Squirrel’s Guide to Success
The Dick Cavett Show: Inside the Minds Of: Vol. 2
Did you know that fox squirrels can remember the location of 9,000 nuts they’ve stored for a snowy day? I didn’t. I do know that squirrels who live in cities have developed a taste for the insulation on wiring installed by cable companies and cause frequent blackouts. In some suburban areas, they’ve achieved nuisance status, even in the eyes of liberals, who normally wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s why I raised an eyebrow when I saw the title, “Nature: A Squirrel’s Guide to Success.” Squirrels need a guide to success, like cockroaches need maps and blueprints to find dirty sinks. In any case, it’s fun to watch researchers study the critters’ problem-solving abilities and try to figure out how squirrels – of which there are 300 species – have developed the ability to glide through the air, outwit rattlesnakes and survive the coldest temperatures of any mammal. Kids will enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of an orphan red squirrel, Billy.

The Dick Cavett Show: Inside the Minds Of: Vol. 2” picks up where the first compilation of clips left off, only with three comics who display more respect for the host’s format than his previous guests. Maybe, that’s because these episodes were chosen from shows that aired between 1990 through 1995, a period when the art of standup comedy had fully matured and was beginning to pay off in a big way for comedians accustomed to living on the fringes of the entertainment business. George Carlin, Martin Mull and Steve Martin were already seasoned veterans when these shows were taped. Cavett obviously felt more comfortable in their company than with the comics just starting out. Some of the interviews first took place on CNBC and other non-network outlets.

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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