MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Capernaum, Perfect Blue, Cameron Post, Tyrel, Ailes, Body Snatcher, Sam J. Jones, Sonny Chiba, Phantom Lady, Victoria’s Wedding … More

Capernaum: Blu-ray
Nominated as one of five candidates for top prize in AMPAS’ Best Foreign Language category, Capernaum deserved consideration for a Best Picture Oscar, alongside Roma. It’s that good. For my money, 12-year-old newcomer, Zain Al Rafeea, deserved to be mentioned with the other Best Lead Actor nominees, as well. Academy voters are rightly cautious when it comes to honoring child actors, especially those with little or no experience or training. That’s because it’s difficult to tell when they’re acting, as defined in the guidelines, or simply behaving instinctively, based on personal history and genetics. There’s no question that Zain’s performance in Capernaum – a word that translates as “chaos” — was informed by incidents in his own life. Al Rafeea was born in Daraa, Syria, in 2004, and moved to Lebanon in 2012 as a refugee. He had lived in Beirut for several years, when he was discovered by co-writer/director Nadine Labaki in the streets of a depressed neighborhood, eating chicken. Like his character, Zain was uneducated, illiterate and genuinely “street smart.” (That’s changed.) In Capernaum, Zain is a victim of a nearly universal legal system that allows unsuitable parents to retain control of their children. Here, Zain helps support the family by hauling goods to costumers in the street market. It’s more than his old man contributes. He becomes incensed when his 11-year-old sister is sold to a man at least twice her age as a potential bride. Zain’s pleading is ignored by both his parents. Instead of risking a beating from his father, Zain runs away from home. He survives on the streets through his wits and wits and courage. Then, he’s taken in by an Ethiopian refugee, Rahil —   played by fellow first-timer, Yordanos Shiferaw – who’s the single mother of a son, Yonas, who’s only a few days away from teaching himself how to walk.

When Rahil is away, working, Zain proves to be a conscientious caretaker. Sadly, after she’s jailed in a roundup of undocumented workers, Zain and Yonas are left to their own devises. (She’s afraid that officials will take the boy away, if they learn of his existence.) When Zain begins to despair of his ability to properly care for the child – diapers pose a constant challenge – he tracks down Rahil’s Lebanese benefactor, who gives him money while hatching a plan to take control of Yonas, before his mother is released or deported, and sell him. In return, he’ll finance Zain’s dream of escaping north. Before that can happens, Zain needs to return home to collect the papers he’ll need to secure forged papers. While there, he learns that his sister died after being impregnated by her husband. His parents shrug off the tragedy as being the will of God – the mother is  already pregnant, again — and no longer any of their business. They also inform Zain of the illegal circumstances of his own birth, which prevented them from securing a birth certificate. Even more incensed than before, the boy picks up a kitchen knife, with the intention of avenging his sister’s death. He willingly takes a five-year sentence at a prison reserved for underage  offenders. Somehow, he comes up with idea of suing his parents for negligence and giving  him life, in the first place. Labaki uses the lawsuit as a framing device, holding Capernaum together. The suit is taken seriously by everyone involved and Al Rafeea makes a sound case for emancipation. Labaki and cinematographer Christopher Aoun (In White) benefitted from such existing settings as the Souk Al Ahad market, Beirut’s Le Cola slum, the Roumieh Prison and Luna Park amusement park with Labaki and  The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette and a post-screening Q&A with Labaki, Zain and her husband/producer/composer/co-writer Khaled Mouzanar. BTW: After winning the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes festival, it was revealed that Zain and his family were relocated by the UN Refugee Agency, to Norway, where he’s begun going to school.

Perfect Blue: Blu-ray’s
In a season already overflowing with excellent anime titles, newcomers to the movement – adults, anyway — are encouraged to check out Perfect Blue, a sophisticated psychosexual thriller from the late Japanese director, Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress). Released in 1997, a time when western audiences were becoming attuned to the work of Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) and the absence of fantasy superheroes, the R-rated Perfect Blue erased borders separating horror, erotica and suspense. I didn’t know the 81-minute thriller is 22 years old and only found out after reading the press clips. Either way, it holds up remarkably well, today. Mima is an ambitious J-pop superstar, anxious to escape the glare of the spotlight shone on boy and girl groups by rabid fans and an insatiable media. When she announces her retirement and desire to pursue an acting/modeling career, her fans can’t believe it. That includes the stalkers who follow Mima’s every movement. Like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus and other Disney brats gone bad, Mima’s ascendency in the grown-up world of leeches, perverts and corporate weasels doesn’t always go as expected. Not only is she is stalked by a potentially dangerous fan, but violent acts against her managers and backers have begun to occur, as well. Mima then comes to believe that an invisible hand has taken control of her mind and career. It begins when she stumbles upon “Mima’s Room,” a social-media website that purports to be written entirely by her, but publishes intimate details of her thoughts, dreams and desires, much of which are fabricated. It causes Mima to doubt her sanity. Finally, she’s driven to accept a role in a borderline hard-core film, which includes some not-so-borderline violence and rape. Kon’s ability to keep Mima guessing as to the source of her manic behavior is matched by the director’s skill at maintaining the audience’s confusion, too. His detail-rich panels and splashy color scheme works well across the board, in depictions of pop stardom, violence, cartoon nudity and sexuality. As much as Kon admitted to being influenced by novelists Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner) and Yasutaka Tsutsui (Paprika), and films by Terry Gilliam (Brazil), so, too, were westerners Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and Christopher Nolan (Inception) inspired by Kon. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer on August 24, 2010, at 46. For all I knew going into Perfect Blue, adapted from Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel of the same title, it could have been made last year.

The Vault: Blu-ray
King of Thieves: Blu-ray
Released over Labor Day weekend, 2017, Dan Bush’s horror/heist/thriller, The Vault, spent a mere week in 11 theaters, before disappearing until this week, when it popped up again on DVD/Blu-ray. It may not be the greatest representative of it’s subgenre(s), but a cast that includes James “Mr. Everything” Franco, Taryn Manning (“Orange Is the New Black”), Francesca Eastwood (Outlaws and Angels), Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World), Clifton Collins Jr. (“Star Trek”), Scott Haze (Venom) and Jeff Gum (“New Girl”) make things interesting, at least. Bush probably could have used more time and money to recreate the critical success he enjoyed for his dystopian horror, The Signal (2007). For committing the sin of underperforming at the box office, The Vault was sent to purgatory for two years. The story revolves around a pair of estranged sisters, Vee and Leah Dillon, and their brother, Michael – none of whom are terribly bright – who were told that the bank they’re about to rob contains a million dollars in cash. After making a lot of noise and threatening to shoot their hostages, the gang only can locate $70,000. Reacting to the news as Manny’s character in “Orange Is the New Black” might, Vee tells her fellow gang members to keep searching. The only hostage who gives her any hope is the bank manager played by Franco, who, considering the circumstances, seems remarkably cool. After eliciting the sisters’ promise that no one will be hurt, he tells them that there’s a safe in the basement that may contain the rest of the cash. Horror buffs won’t be surprised by Maas’ willingness to give up the goods, because they’ve already guessed that something sinister is lurking in the basement. (The newsreel footage that preceded The Vault was a dead giveaway.) While what happens next is best left to the imagination, viewers already fixated on the zombie apocalypse will find themselves two steps ahead of the narrative. The Vault might have worked, if it weren’t too dark for its audience to clearly recognize the danger presented to bank robbers, hostages and SWAT team when the doors to the basement fly open. The ending is something of a surprise, if only to people who haven’t been paying strict attention to the shadowy details. Franco’s elongated cameo, while essential, might confuse viewers who expect a bit more from the cover blurbs. Manning and Eastwood’s testy relationship is almost reason enough to recommend The Vault.

According to the ticket-counters at Box Office Mojo, James Marsh’s true-crime/heist/drama, King of Thieves, played in 14 U.S. theaters, from January 25 through February 7, 2019. It’s total domestic gross reached $7,518 – about $1,800 more than The Vault – against the $9.55 million it made in foreign sales. It suffered from mostly mediocre reviews, which were influenced negatively from Marsh’s overly deliberate pacing and the dissipation of tension that followed the commission of the movie’s central crime. A gang of elderly crooks, dubbed the Diamond Wheezers, led by lifelong crook Jack Reader (Michael Caine), relieved the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd of £14 million worth of gold, jewels and cash. As much as £10 million from the haul still remains unrecovered. The heist, which occurred over the Easter weekend, 2015, is well-depicted by screenwriter Joe Penhall (The Road), who adapted it from a Vanity Fair article by Mark Seal. Caine leads a cast of great British actors, including Jim Broadbent, as Terry Perkins, the uncompromising wannabe leader; Ray Winstone, as the straight-talking heavy, Danny Jones; Tom Courtenay, as the two-faced conniver, Kenny Collins; Paul Whitehouse, as the reluctant sixth man, Carl Wood; Michael Gambon, as the unlikely fence, Billy “The Fish” Lincoln; and Charlie Cox, Reader’s computer-savvy protégé. If none of the characters are as clearly drawn as Reader —  a former associate of the Krays — their roguish behavior and old-fashioned dialogue never gets dull. If Marsh’s name is familiar it’s because he also was at the helm of such fine entertainments as The Theory of Everything (2014), Shadow Dancer (2012), Best Documentary-winner Man on Wire (2008) and Wisconsin Death Trip (1999).

Dance enthusiasts from around the world travel to southern Spain for one express purpose: to observe flamenco in its purest form. If they’re very lucky, their guidebook will lead them to some out-of-the-way nightclub, where the tourists don’t outnumber the regulars and there isn’t a two-drink minimum. Typically, the amateurs aren’t interested in watching dancers who take liberties with tradition, which can be traced, some say, to the arrival of Romani clans to Andalusia. Other historians associate flamenco with the cross-cultural interchange between native Andalusians, Romani, Castilians, Moors and Sephardic Jews that occurred there. Emilio Belmonte Molina’s Impulso documents the creation of a new piece by avant-garde dancer/choreographer Rocio Molina, intended to debut at Chaillot National Theater in Paris. Her extravagant, mesmerizing and mostly improvised pieces combine traditional Flamenco with modern-dance, theatrics, physical objects, paint and eclectic musical compositions. As intriguing as it is, Impulso isn’t for those who get their kicks from watching “Dancing With the Stars” or study ballroom dancing at an Arthur Murray studio. (Amazingly, there are more flamenco academies in Japan than there are in Spain.) Molina travels the world to perform her improvised “impulsos” at venues ranging from art museums to prisons. At 32, she’s into her third decade as a performer. Impulso was photographed in a studio with a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower and at her lavish family compound in Andalucia. In addition to Molina and her impassioned musicians, she’s also joined onstage by 67-year-old Antonia Santiago Amador (a.k.a., La Chana), a self-taught Gypsy dancer also known for her innovative approach to the discipline, as well as rhythmic combinations enhanced by atypical speed, expression and power. Lucija Stojevic’s 2016 documentary, La Chana, not only celebrates flamenco, but it also reveals a personal history that’s as dramatic as the dance. As such, it’s a perfect companion to Impulso.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Based on Emily Danforth’s debut novel of the same title, The Miseducation of Cameron Post examines the controversial practice of conversion therapy – a.k.a., reparative therapy and de-gaying – that many fundamentalist ministers and parents pushed on teenagers believed to be L, G, B, T or Q, in the 1970-90s. It quickly evolved from a trend, in the 1970s, to a thriving industry, in the 1990s, backed by Christian organizations and con artists, alike. Conversion therapy has since been discredited by psychiatric organizations and banned in 15 states, the District of Columbia, and such major cities as Miami and Cincinnati. In addition to being demonstrably ineffective, the practice has been shown to be harmful to teens whose sexuality may or not be established. Co-writer/director Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele’s adaptation of Danforth’s 2012 book – based on her own experiences growing up in Montana – is set in 1993, a time when dramatizations of kidnappings authorized by parents and deprogrammers had become a Hollywood staple. What makes The Miseducation of Cameron Post different from those movie-of-the-week dramas is its willingness to portray the staff of God’s Promise as something other than monsters, sadists and exploitative. Instead, they’re naïve and dangerously inexperienced in the treatment of standard deviations from normal behavior. The teachers and administrators of God’s Promise don’t realize they’re in over their heads until it’s too late. Neither do the state and federalagencies assigned to monitor them.

Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is caught by her boyfriend having a sexual encounter with another girl, in a parked car, on homecoming night. Cameron’s aunt, Ruth, a devout Christian, sends Cameron to God’s Promise. Cameron may not like it, but she’s willing to go along with Ruth’s demand for the sake of appearances. While Cameron is getting acclimated to guidelines and restrictions at the rural camp, which takes an AA approach to the teens’ witnessing, she befriends fellow “disciples,” Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), who was raised in a hippie commune, and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), a Lakota “two-spirit,” whose father turned his back on tradition when he converted to Christianity. Another girl is so addicted to the modern Christian lifestyle that she works out to “Blessercize” videos, while another is obsessed with Christian rock music. The effeminate boy whose problems finally overwhelm councilors played John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle and Marin Ireland was bullied by his father, who expects certain results from the program. The movie’s willingness to treat all the characters with varying degrees of respect is what differentiates it from other, less sensitive dramatizations. The notion of teenage empowerment also is welcome. Some pundits were unhappy that Akhavan didn’t direct the wrath of God at the movie’s antagonists – I was a bit surprised, as well – but the film followed the novel’s blueprint, which the author describes as a story about growing up queer in Montana, in the ’90s. It was thoroughly researched by Danforth, currently an associate professor of English at Rhode Island College. It adds commentary with Akhavan and co-writer/producer Frugiuele.

The protagonist of Amanda Lundquist’s Pinsky is a Jewish out-lesbian adult, Sophia Pinsky – played by impish co-writer Rebecca Karpovsky — whose sexuality is vilified by her recently widowed grandmother, from  whom she’s been estranged for three years. The matriarch is more concerned about her position in Boston’s Russian-Jewish community than Sophia’s soul and happiness Even so, Sophia agrees to return home to sit shiva for her beloved grandfather. As expected, it’s the kind of nightmare that an aspiring standup comedian could mine for laughs in clubs around the country. Unless I missed something, though, Sophia isn’t quite ready for prime time and the film’s humor doesn’t always qualify as a “comedy about finding your chosen family and forgiving the one you’re born into.” Besides the death of her grandfather, Sophia’s misery is compounded by the sudden decision of her live-in lover to leave home, without notice. Being a lesbian doesn’t protect Sophia from the matchmaking that’s a staple of movies set in Jewish households. Despite a lifelong friendship with the likely candidate, their personal time together turns into a disaster, as well. And, then there’s the secret being kept between Granny and their rabbi (Alan Blumenfeld). Oy, vey. That’s a lot of baggage to carry, even for a movie that is only required to  bear the load for 73 minutes. Pinsky potentially could find an audience for the mishigas on display here among Jews living under the same circumstances as the protagonist. Others may fail to find the humor in the constant bickering, put-downs and stereotypes. The DVD contains a “Sitting Down” with Blumenfeld and additional standup comedy, featuring Rebecca Karpovsky.

Director Gene Saks and playwright/screenwriter Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986) doesn’t contain any LGBTQ references that I could see, but its depiction of a working-class Jewish family on the eve of World War II probably influenced Pinsky, if only subliminally. The 1982 play may also have informed parts of Woody Allen’s similarly nostalgic Radio Days (1987), as well. All three films are listed as comedies on, but there are plenty of times when the arguments, rivalries and unappetizing ethnic food  — never a problem in movies about Italian families – melt into blob of clichés. Simon’s semi-autographical story begins with a series of events that would test the stability of any family of disparate parts living under the same roof. Jonathan Silverman plays 15-year-old Eugene Jerome, around whom all the bad craziness revolves. During Brighton Beach Memoirs, the Polish/Jewish/American boy will be challenged by puberty, his first sexual cravings and desire to solve all of his family’s myriad problems. They include those faced by his Aunt Blanche (Judith Ivey) and her two daughters (Lisa Waltz, Stacey Glick), who share the house. His father (Bob Dishy) and older brother (Brian Drillinger) have just lost their jobs and their savings won’t pull them through the Depression. His mother (Blythe Danner) acts as if she has burrs in her foundation garments, while her sister, Blanche, is still traumatized by the loss of her husband. Eugene’s youngest cousin has a serious heart condition and her16-year-old sister desperately wants to take a Broadway producer up on his offer of a job in the chorus line of his new production … wink, wink/nod, nod. Then, there’s the matter of the impending storm in Poland, and their cousins’ efforts to get the papers necessary to leave for England or America, and a debt owed by some local gangsters by his brother. Just as things couldn’t get any less humorous, Eugene’s mother and aunt begin airing out differences that began when they were young. As it turns out, however, the Broadway-perfect ending couldn’t be more uplifting. Brighton Beach Memoirs, it should be noted, was the first installment in Simon’s unintended “Eugene trilogy,” followed by “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.”

Tyrel: Blu-ray
With such celebrated, if eccentric gems as The Maid (2009), Magic Magic (2013), Crystal Fairy (2013) and Old Cats (2010) on his resume, Chilean writer/director Sebastián Silva is among a handful of filmmakers whose every new project is anticipated by critics and arthouse buffs around the world. One never knows what to expect from him. The only thing I knew about Tyrel (2018) was what I gleaned from a casual sampling of the trailer, which promised racially charged drama and, perhaps, a violent confrontation between the sole African-American character and a half-dozen, or so, white guys intent on making this bro’s-will-be-bro’s weekend one for the ages. Tyler (Jason Mitchell) is welcomed with the same gusto as every other new arrival, even if there’s no clear link between him and the other yahoos. When the booze begins to flow freely, references to Tyler’s singular distinction begin to be dropped into the rowdy conversations. Similar observations are made about the sole Hispanic character and anyone else with distinguishing characteristic. At this moment in American history, when every perceived slur is put under a microscope, the jokes carry added significance. Pretty soon, however, the apologies that follow each gag lose their ability soothe ruffled features. When, the next day, Tyler begs off playing a bruising game on a frozen-over pond, it’s impossible not to see it as a slight against the white guys, who, to be fair, don’t seem to be fazed by the rejection. At one point during the next drinking marathon, Tyler’s ability to overcome lack of sleep and a strong headache causes him to put on the nearest parka and escape into the below-zero Catskills night. When the temperatures get to be too much for the young man, he seeks temporary shelter in a lonely cabin. Instead of a family of white supremacists, meth cookers or lizard people, Tyler’s greeted by a friendly white woman (Ann Dowd), who’d helped his group when their car ran out of guess. More surprises come when he’s introduced to her husband (Reg E. Cathey) and their mixed-race son. When Tyler feels ready to return home, he’s greeted on the road by a large and intimidating party animal, who, we assume, has been sent to retrieve him, at all costs. But, no, all he’s being offered is a ride in a warm car. What gives? And, where are the strippers who inevitably show up at the worst possible time, and are either raped, forced to commit unthinkable sex acts or are tossed into the nearest snow bank, naked, and forced to walk home. Nope, nada, nothing like that occurs. Maybe, later. What Silva accomplishes in Tyrel – the spelling is significant – is the creation of a ticking time-bomb of a thriller, whose fuse appears to malfunction whenever the timer hits 0:00:01. By putting ourselves in Tyler’s shoes, so early in the narrative, we mirror how it must feel, every day, when minorities are surrounded by people in red MAGA caps in public. The same qapplies, of course, when a single white man or woman attends a rally, party or sporting event and is lost in a sea of black, brown, yellow faces. That’s where we’re at in America today and Silva has found a neat way to exploit the kind of loneliness that makes people feel trapped, on one side, and, on the other, by rampant paranoia. Michael Cera, who also starred in Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus is the most-recognizable actor here. The Blu-ray adds an interview with the writer/director.

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes
Because I was taught never to speak ill of the dead – unless they’re Adolph Hitler, James Earl Ray, John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald – I’ll let Alexis Bloom’s horrifying documentary, Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes do it for me. Before being buried under a mountain of accusations of gender-related crimes and unconscionable behavior, Ailes enjoyed the support and confidence of Rupert Murdoch. He had, after all, managed the campaigns of politicians who shared the Fox head’s politics, policies and line of bullshit, and turned Fox News into a huge force in the American media.  As such, Ailes did more harm to our democracy than any sitting president, congressman or public official in the last 50 years. His preferred title at Fox News and other stops along the way was “king maker.” From the  1960s’ presidential debates onward, Ailes manipulated the broadcast media into serving as vehicles the lies, distortions and slander served up by ultra-conservative candidates. Fox News represented the realization of a lifetime spent destroying the reputations of people outside the 1 percent of American earners. But, you already knew that. The documentary is even more damning when it recalls Ailes’ 60-year history of blackmailing young women into humiliating themselves sexually, in exchange for jobs, raises and promotions. Sometimes, his demands were limited to leg shows and stripteases, but they escalated from there to blow jobs, intercourse and performing for friends. On camera, he demanded that beautiful blond anchors wear spike heels, short skirts and cross their legs while sinking into couches for inane chats. He even put lights under the news desks to prevent male viewers from getting bored by the right-wing propaganda. When an anchorwoman was sitting at the end of a desk, camera operators were told to shot from an angle that captured their every movement. Imagine your daughter, wife or sister working for a pig like Ailes and his minions. And, as long as he was making money for someone, Ailes had been allowed to get away with such behavior since his days as an executive producer for “The Mike Douglas Show,” where he met Richard Nixon for the first time. It wasn’t until settlements in suits filed against Ailes and commentator Bill O’Reilly passed the $100-million mark that Murdoch, his sons and other Fox executive realized that these bozos were greater liabilities than assets. Even then, his good friend, Donald Trump, used Ailes to prepare for debates and anti-Hillary tantrums. He was an evil man and there probably was a place reserved for him in hell when he died on May 18, 2017, at 77. Like I said, though, Bloom’s documentary makes a far better case for eternal damnation than I ever could.

The Body Snatcher: Blu-ray
The Witches: Blu-ray
Just because Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi had left the Universal Classic Monsters barn by the time production began on RKO Radio Pictures’ The Body Snatcher (1945) doesn’t mean it shouldn’t mentioned alongside any of their better-known horror titles. It’s extremely well-made and still a lot of fun to watch. Most of the credit belongs to producer/co-writer Val Lewton – a true genius of genre filmmaking – and his decision to hire promising director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still). British genre novelist/screenwriter Philip MacDonald (Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto) joined Lewton (as Carlos Keith) in adapting Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 short story of the same title, which he based on real-life body snatchers, who turned to murder when teachers, researchers and surgeons faced  a shortage of legally obtained cadavers. Robert Knox, a noted Edinburgh surgeon, anatomist, zoologist, ethologist and physician, was the chief beneficiary of crimes committed by Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare. They were paid handsomely by Knox to deliver more or less fresh bodies to the university. In 1928, after committing at least 16 murders in 10 months, they were captured. At the trial, Hare turned King’s evidence, while Burke was convicted, hanged, dissected and displayed for the amusement of 25,000 Jacobite spectators, some of whom paid handsomely for the privilege. When Knox escaped prosecution on a technicality, a mob comprised of “the lowest rabble of the Old Town” attacked his house. Although disgraced, he would continue working in the field until his death, in 1862. On the plus side, the trial raised public awareness of the need for bodies for medical purposes, and of the trade that doctors had conducted with grave robbers and murderers. After another corpse-selling ring was broken up, this one in London, a bill was quickly introduced into Parliament, and it gained royal assent nine months later as the Anatomy Act of 1832. It authorized dissection on bodies from workhouses, unclaimed after 48 hours, and ended the practice of anatomizing as part of the death sentence for murder. The filmmakers relied on Stevenson’s story for the thoroughly creepy ending to The Body Snatcher, even if the public record would might have been just as effective. have sufficed. It was one of three films – along with Mark Robson’s Isle of the Dead (1945) and Bedlam (1946) – that Karloff made under Lewton’s guidance for RKO Radio Pictures. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Karloff stated that Lewton was the man who rescued him from the living dead and restored his soul. Lugosi’s role is far less pronounced in the story. Lewton, Wise and cinematographer Robert De Grasse made the most of RKO’s budgetary restrictions and it resulted in a picture that won the respect of critics, then and now. The Scream/Shout package benefits from a 4K scan of the original camera negative; the new featurette, “You’ll Never Get Rid of Me: Resurrecting The Body Snatcher”; commentary with Wise and writer/film-historian Steve Haberman; the documentary, “Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy; stills galleries; and marketing material.

Although Hammer’s The Witches (a.k.a., “The Devil’s Own”) and Dino de Laurentiis’ La Strega (a.k.a., “The Witches”) were produced almost simultaneously in the mid-1960s – released under the same title in some markets – the common elements begin and end there. That is, unless one considers the near coincidence of their Blu-ray release, a year apart. The short films collected in Arrow Video’s anthology all starred Silvana Mangano. The episodes were directed by Mauro Bolognini (Careless), Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves), Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), Franco Rossi (Nude Odyssey) and Luchino Visconti (The Leopard). Scream/Shout’s Joan Fontaine-vehicle, was directed by journeyman Cyril Frankel, who was making the transition from documentaries and features, to television. Fontaine, who, a quarter-century earlier, captured the Oscar as Best Actress for Suspicion, reportedly purchased the film rights to Norah Lofts’ novel –written under the nom-de-plume of Peter Curtis — and brought the project to Hammer. A box-office and critical bomb, The Witches would be her last feature. The plot, you might ask? Haunted by the terrors of her experience with African witch doctors, teacher Gwen Mayfield (Fontaine) accepts an appointment as headmistress at the quiet, rural Haddaby School, run by Alan Bax (Alec McCowen) and his sister, Stephanie (Kay Walsh). Soon enough, however, the pastoral English town reveals itself to be an outpost for witches and subscribers to the dark arts. Voodoo dolls link Gwen’s memories of her African ordeal to what’s happening today. If there’s a genuine scare in the entirety of The Witches, I missed it. The Blu-ray adds commentary with filmmaker/historian Ted Newsom; a stills gallery; vintage trailers; and the entertaining “Hammer Glamour: A Featurette on the Women of Hammer,”  with a half-dozen still-fi 1960-70s scream queens.

Life After Flash: Blu-ray
I must have had other things on my mind when Universal launched the sci-fi fantasy, Flash Gordon, into 823 American theaters on December 6, 1980. It was an updated version of the wildly popular 1930s serials, starring Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers/Carol Hughes and Charles Middleton, and, I probably assumed, a cheap rip-off of Star Wars (1977) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Even if that was producer Dino De Laurentiis’ intention, Flash Gordon was anything but a cheap rip-off. Many critics lauded its faithful re-adaptation of the original serial, while the presence of director Mike Hodges (Get Carter), writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Pretty Poison), cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (Star Wars), production and costume designer Danilo Donati (Amarcord), Queen (Highlander) and such top-shelf actors as Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal), Brian Blessed (“I Claudius”), Topol (Fiddler on the Roof), a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton (License to Kill), Ornella Muti (The Last Woman), Peter Wyngarde (“Doctor Who”) and Mariangela Melato (The Seduction of Mimi) should have alerted me to the movie’s blockbuster potential. Like I said, though, I wasn’t paying attention. The only ringers, it turns out, were unknowns Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson, who were chosen to play protagonists Flash Gordon and Dale Arden, and they did a commendable job in the future cult classic.

Lisa Downs’ incisive documentary, Life After Flash (2017), explains what happened to Jones after his career was nearly ruined by a nasty disagreement with De Laurentiis near the end of Flash Gordon’s production. The chisel-chinned actor never stopped working after being replaced during the dubbing process, but superstar status would forever elude him. Nonetheless fans of the actor and movie still turn out for autographs and photos by the dozens at Comic Cons and memorabilia auctions around the world. Still handsome and buff, at 64, the former Marine is a personable guy, who freely admits to his struggles and mistakes as an actor, husband and father. I don’t know how many fans of George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Klinton Spilsbury (The Legend of the Lone Ranger) and “internationally known and acclaimed actress,” Rula Lenska (Alberto VO5 Shampoo), frequent their appearances at conventions … if any. Jones survived his blunders in much the same way as Adam West overcame his close, campy association with “Batman,”  the 1967 TV series on ABC. Downs devotes an equal amount of time to the production of Flash Gordon, itself, through the candid recollections of Hodges, Stan Lee, Queen’s Brian May and Jones’ co-stars, crew members, fans, sci-fi buffs and family members. Among them are Michael Rooker, Robert Rodriguez, Patrick Warburton, musician Paul Oakenfold, Sean Gunn, Richard Donner, Martha De Laurentiis and Jon Heder. An appreciation of Jones’ body of work or Flash Gordon isn’t necessary to get something out Life After Flash, but it certainly helps. Bonus materials include behind-the-scenes footage and extended interviews with cast and crew. (In a cool cross-promotion gimmick, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment once paired the Blu-ray edition of Flash Gordon with Ted and Ted 2, during which Mark Wahlberg and his stuffed-bear buddy, Ted, frequently reference Jones. It includes, as well, the first episode of the 1936 serial.)

Warning Sign: Blu-ray
Made in 1985, a time when no conspiracy theory was too outrageous to dismiss out of hand, Warning Sign is a paranoid thriller too close to reality for comfort. In this way, at least, it resembled The China Syndrome (1979), The Satan Bug (1965), Soylent Green (1975) and The Andromeda Strain (1971). In the film’s opening moments, we watch a crop duster spray an agricultural field with chemicals created to kill pests, weeds and other deterrents to a profitable yield. We’re then transported to the grounds of a nearby chemical plant, BioTek Agronomics, where, we’re led to believe, such products are formulated. The rest of Warning Sign takes place inside the BioTek complex. When a clumsy researcher drops a vial on the floor and one of his cronies steps on it, we instinctively know that things won’t be the same for anyone in the vicinity. Moreover, fans of such cautionary tales know that a greater catastrophe could be triggered if the substance finds its way into the world outside the facility.

When the impacted worker attempts to leave the building for his nightly commute home, a warning sound blares out, prompting a cleansing ritual right out of Silkwood (1983). It doesn’t take long for us to figure out that the plant’s primary product is a bio-chemical weapon and the research is backed by the Pentagon. Soon, scabs begin to form on the faces of BioTek scientists and they begin to act like blood-thirsty ghouls. Because this is a side-effect to the toxin no one in the company anticipated, they’ve failed to produce a vaccine to counteract its effects. Conveniently, sheriff Cal Morse (Sam Waterston) – who’s not only married to an endangered guard, Joanie Morse (Kathleen Quinlan), but also is a rogue biologist – is emboldened to break into the infected laboratory and whip a remedy together. Can he do it in time to save the planet? You get one guess. All I’ll reveal is the curious fact that at least one of the women trapped inside the building appears to be immune to the virus and, therein, a cure might be discovered. Hal Barwood’s Warning Sign is every bit as cut-and-dried as that summary makes it sound. Early in their careers, co-screenwriters Barwood and Matthew Robbins worked closely with Steven Spielberg on his debut feature, The Sugarland Express (1974) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), as well as John Badham’s The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, Joe Sargent’s MacArthur (1977) and Robbins’ Dragonslayer (1981) and Corvette Summer (1978). It doesn’t show in Warning Sign, which isn’t as claustrophobic or ominous as it should be. Zombie completists may want to add it to their bucket list, though. The Blu-ray adds fresh interviews with Barwood and producer Jim Bloom, and vintage commentary with Barwood.

Nemesis: Sequel Trilogy: Blu-ray
In December, Albert Pyun’s Nemesis (1992) was released on Blu-ray in a surprisingly generous “Collector’s Edition” as part of MVD’s Rewind Collection. Coming so soon after the first re-discovery of Blade Runner’s brilliance, it seemed to be an unofficial, unsanctioned and unequal sequel to Ridley Scott’s futuristic noir. Even given its budgetary limitations, though, Nemesis didn’t dishonor Blade Runner by skimping on the production values or mocking the science behind the fiction. The Blu-ray release begged the question as to when the company would package the three sequels that quickly followed in original’s  wake. Here it is. Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995) is set 73 years after the events depicted in Nemesis, during which humans lost the Cyborg Wars and were enslaved to their robotic masters. In the interim, rebel scientists developed a new DNA strain, which presents a direct threat to cyborg rule. The strain is injected it into a pregnant volunteer, who, when discovered, travels back in time with her baby, on a stolen cyborg time machine. Long story short, the child survives the death of her mother, growing into a formidable young cyber-woman, Alex, who not only is beautiful, but also is built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. She’s played by professional body builder and model Sue Price, who sports blond dreadlocks and favors skimpy two-piece outfits. Her existence is discovered by a cyborg bounty hunter, Nebula (Chad Stahelski), who travels back in time to terminate her. In Nemesis 3: Time Lapse, which was cobbled together from scraps collected from the first sequel, Alex learns that she has 20 half-sisters, who are waiting for her to return to the year 2077. Before that can happen, though, Central Command wants her to be captured alive and scanned to see if her DNA is a more powerful strain than normal. Tim Thomerson returns to the franchise, playing the second version of his cyborg character from Nemesis. Alex may be too tough for him to handle, though.

In Nemesis 4: Cry of Angels: Alex finally returns to the future, during an uneasy ceasefire between the humans and the cyborgs. Like other such beings, she is earning a living as a cybernetically enhanced assassin for her boss, Bernardo (Andrew Divoff). When Alex accidentally kills the son of a crime-syndicate boss, he puts a price on her head that other assassins can’t ignore.  Here, the story unspools in an urban setting and Alex has changed her look into something cosmopolitan and traditionally feminine. Pyun also convinced Price to give fanboys a thrill, by instructing the character to shed her clothes for the first time. The package adds three lengthy interviews with Pyun. On June 6, MVD is scheduled to release the Pyun-less Nemesis 5: The New Model, which adds a bit more mileage to the franchise, if not a lot of substance. For it, Price returned to acting for the first time in 21 years.

The Street Fighter Collection: Blu-ray
Sister Street Fighter Collection: Blu-ray
In the wake of Bruce Lee’s untimely death on July 20, 1973, and posthumous release of Enter the Dragon, a month later, producers of martial-arts actioners scrambled to find somehow to fill one of his shoes, at least. In Hong Kong, it was easier to stage retrospectives and bio-docs, frequently with lesser actors adopting variations of his name, than to move forward with new ideas and superstars. That would come a bit later. Thai kick-boxing lacked the broader appeal that came with charismatic stars and complex storylines. Such American and European stars as Jim Kelly, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damm emerged from the pack, as did Asian fighters Jackie Chan, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Chia-Hui Liu and Bolo Yeung. Whether he played a hero or antihero, Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba capably shifted the axis of martial-arts domination from Hong Kong to Japan, at least until Chan developed a style and personality to call his own. Unlike Lee, there was nothing balletic, fluid or nuanced in Chiba’s repertoire of karate, judo and kenpo skills. At times, he defined the term, “bull in a china shop.” But, man, he could fight. After a decade spent playing gangsters, undercover cops, bodyguards and soldiers, Shiba broke through the scrum in The Street Fighter (1974), which established him as the reigning Japanese martial-arts actor in international cinema for the next two decades. Produced by Toei Company Ltd and released in the U.S. by fledgling New Line Cinema, it is notable as the first film to receive an X-rating solely for violence. The MPAA ratings board looked askance at Chiba’s character, Tsurugi, castrating a rapist with his bare hands and crushing another henchman’s skull as if it were an ostrich egg. (Today, it would be released with an R or, worst case, NC-17 designation.)

In it, Takuma Tsurugi is a master of martial arts and much-in-demand mercenary. When an important business magnate dies, leaving billions to his daughter, the Mafia and Yakuza try to hire Takuma to kidnap the girl. When the gangsters refuse to meet his admittedly exorbitant price, they try to kill him to protect their interests. He, then, offers his services to keep her out of harm’s way. That’s all the information one needs to complete the summary. Also included in Shout’s “The Street Fighter Collection” are the sequels Toei produced immediately thereafter to cash in on Chiba’s increased marketability: Return of the Street Fighter and The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge. All three were released in Japan in the same year. In the first R-rated sequel, Tsurugi commits his talents to busting up a phony charity put together by the Yakuza. In “Last Revenge,” which took five years to reach the U.S., albeit in abbreviated form, Tsurugi is involved in a scheme to obtain one of two tapes containing a secret recipe that would allow someone to make high-quality synthetic heroin cheaply. When the deal goes wrong, the mobsters cheat Tsurugi out of his money and try to kill him. He also gets mixed up with a corrupt district attorney, who uses an ancient Korean martial-arts technique to beat up Tsurugi, who will go to great lengths to avoid it happening, again. It also turns out that the D.A. and Takuma are sleeping with the same femme fatale, who uses her sexuality to gets what wants. If the story doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, neither will the plots of most other martial-arts flicks of the period. It isn’t what drew paying customers to theaters. (This includes Alabama and Clarence, in True Romance, who meet at a Sonny Chiba triple-feature.) The Shout collection is enhanced by 2K remasters of the films; uncut versions of the films, as well as the U.S. edition of “Last Revenge”; and lively new interviews with Chiba and filmmaker Jack Shoulder (The Hidden).

The four films in Arrow’s  similarly entertaining “Sister Street Fighter Collection,” series, which began that same year with Sister Street Fighter, starring Chiba-protégée Etsuko Shihomi. After writing her hero a few times, the teenager joined his élite Japan Action Club, where students learned martial-arts technique and performed acting exercises. A quick learner, the onetime gymnast made her feature film debut opposite Sonny in 1973’s Bodyguard Kiba and shortly thereafter landed a supporting role in The Street Fighter. She went on to appear in both Street Fighter sequels and star in all three sequels to Sister Street Fighter, changing her character’s name from Li Koryu, in Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread (1974) and The Return of the Sister Street Fighter (1975), to Kiku Nakagawa, in Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist (a.k.a., “Lethal Woman: Fifth Level Fist”), which probably was envisioned as a stand-alone feature, until studio executives decided that there was nothing to be gained by messing with the brand. Neither did they mess with the basic story elements. In all four movies, the title character is a wonderfully gifted martial artist, who volunteers to travel from Hong Kong to Japan to check on the well-being of a family member or friend who’s disappeared from view and is likely involved in a Yakuza enterprise, be it smuggling, cutting gems, drug trafficking, prostitution, blackmail, or combinations thereof. It doesn’t take long for the mob boss to recognize Li or Kiku as an imposter or undercover cop. He’ll pay his minions a small fortune to eliminate her, but her fighting skills keep her alive. What’s interesting is the large number of fighting styles represented in the clashes, which the producers were kind enough to identify by name, country of origin and weapon of choice, from nunchuks and swords, to darts and tanto daggers. Neither are Shihomi’s characters the only women represented in the melees. There’s also a group of female Thai kickboxers, called the Amazon Seven, (In Sister Street Fighter, Chiba appears in a cameo as a fellow karate master who helps Koryu in her mission.) The Arrow collection adds the excellent featurettes, “Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 3”; “Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Kick Ass Sisters,” with the director, who discusses some of his films, which prominently feature women; “Masahiro Kaketuda: Subversive Action,” with the co-screenwriter of the first three Sister Street Fighter films; isolated score highlights; a stills and poster gallery; international versions; and an insert booklet.

Also from Arrow Video
Phantom Lady: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Kolobos: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Strip Nude for Your Killer: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Film noir is elastic enough a subgenre to include private detectives who aren’t particularly hardboiled, lighting schemes that aren’t always dark and shadowy, women who would resent being referred to as a dame or doll, and narratives that don’t need a searchlight to follow. Before watching Robert Siodmak’s “lesser noir” drama, Phantom Lady (1944), I recommend checking out “Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir,” an insightful archival documentary, featuring contributions from directors Robert Wise, Edward Dmytryk and Bryan Singer, Dennis Hopper, critic B. Ruby Rich and others, who debate the definitions of noir and neo-noir, using lots of samples of movies that qualify and others that don’t. Siodmak was raised and educated in Germany, where he couldn’t help but be influenced by the techniques of Expressionism, which he would incorporate into his Hollywood assignments (The Killers, The Dark Mirror), especially those compartmentalized as noir. Phantom Lady has also been called Hitchcockian, if only because producer Joan Harrison worked closely with him in England and accompanied him to the U.S., in 1939. (With Harriet Parsons and Virginia Van Upp, was one of only three women working as contract producers for major Hollywood studios between 1943 and 1955.) What Phantom Lady lacks in narrative logic is more than made up for in eccentric stylistic conceits that mask the problems. Basically, it’s about businessman Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis), who’s framed in the murder of his wife, with whom he’s just had an argument. When Scott gets home from a night spent at a cabaret show, with an equally despondent woman (Fay Helm) he’s just met at a bar, he’s greeted by a trio of callous cops. After he recalls for them his movements from the moment he left home to the moment he returned, he’s still considered to be the prime suspect. The lead inspector (Thomas Gomez) willingly tests Henderson’s alibi, but no one he met the night before – bartender, cabbie, cabaret dancer, a drummer (Elisha Cook Jr.) – agrees with his version. Worse, his date has vanished from the face of the Earth. Of course, Henderson comes off as a hopeless fantasist to the jury members and judge, who sentences him to death. His only hope lies in his secretary’s belief in his innocence. Carol (Ella Raines) picks up the investigation where the police dropped it. Then, she’s joined by Gomez and Scott’s best friend (Franchot Tone), whose alibi is being on a ship headed to Cuba that night. At 87 minutes, viewers are asked to suspend their disbelief to the limits of their patience. I suspect that Cornell Woolrich’s hit novel left less to the imagination. The package also includes a rare, hour-long 1944 radio dramatization of Phantom Lady, by the Lux Radio Theater; a stills and promotional gallery; and an illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring new writing on the film by author Alan K. Rode.

In addition to classics, cult favorites and genre fare, Arrow will occasionally release on Blu-ray a pristinely archived edition of a film so obscure that its creators may not remember making it. Kolobos (1999) is just such a flick. Co-writers/co-directors Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk, and co-writer Nne Ebong, don’t appear to have benefitted much from the straight-to-video release, although a few of the actors would enjoy a couple of moments in the sun. It would be difficult not recognize Kolobos’ antecedents: Suspiria (1977), MTV’s “The Real World” (1992), Cube (1997) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), or such coincidental descendants as CBS’ “Big Brother” (2000) and “Survivor” (2000), Saw (2004) and My Little Eye (2002). The film begins with a couple coming across a severely wounded girl, who can only utter the word “kolobos.” It, then, flashes back a few days, to the arrival of an artist named Kyra (Amy Weber) at a house, with several other college-age kids who’ve agreed to take part in an experimental film. It requires them to live together for three months, while cameras record their interactions. Kyra’s artwork, which appears to be inspired by a creepy faceless entity, disturbs her new housemates. Certain members of the group don’t get along so well, but things don’t turn nasty until the house literally shuts itself off from the outside world and a series of deadly traps picks them off one by one. Each murder is ghastly in its own way. Then, of course, the story flashes forward briefly to Kyra’s portentous stay in the hospital. Kolobos doesn’t fit naturally into the haunted-house subgenre. The murders are gory enough to qualify the movie as “torture porn,” while the budget and production values probably fit within the D.I.Y. framework. Completists will certainly want to give Kolobos a peek. (At one point, Kyra observes, “Kolobos means ‘mutilated.’ Some would say it’s what Zeus did when he severed the first creatures who roamed the earth in two, condemning them to wander in search of their better half.”) The Blu-ray features a fresh 2K restoration from the original negative; original stereo and 5.1 audio options; commentary with Liatowitsch and Ocvirk; a new featurette, “Real World Massacre: The Making of Kolobos,” and interviews with actor Ilia Volok, the actor who played “Faceless,” and composer William Kidd; a behind-the-scenes image gallery; a Super 8 short film, by Liatowitsch; and, with the first pressing, an illustrated collector’s booklet, with new writing on the film by Phillip Escott.

Nowhere is the nexus between sex, violence and horror more pronounced than in special Blu-ray editions of “Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz” and Strip Nude for Your Killer. One of the most underrated and oft-neglected genre filmmakers of his generation, Catalonian director José Ramón Larraz finally receives his due in this collection of three creepy/sexy films from the first half of his 32-year cinematic career. Rarely seen, Whirlpool (1970) was his debut feature. It features Vivian Neves, as Tulia, a young model invited to a photographer’s secluded country home for a weekend retreat. A ménage-a-trois develops between Tulia, the decidedly perverse photographer (Karl Lanchbury) and a MILF-y magazine editor (Pia Andersson). Tulia has good reason to become concerned about the arrangement, when a local police detective arrives at the estate to investigate the disappearance of a previous guest, played by another model-turned-actress, Johanna Hegger. Whirlpool contains lots of nudity, feigned sex, a ghost and murder. Vampyres (1974) is the most widely-released of all Larraz’ films, if only because of the irresistible combination of beautiful lesbian vampires (Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska), handsome male victims (Murray Brown, Brian Deacon, Michael Byrne), a busty tourist (Sally Faulkner), beaucoup nudity and gallons of blood. As an additional bonus, Vampyres was shot almost entirely at Oakley Court, a stately mansion also used on Rocky Horror Picture Show. In The Coming of Sin (1978), a superstitious, illiterate gypsy servant girl, Triana (Lidia Zuazo), is invited to move into the rural estate of a solitary female artist, Lorna (Patricia Granada). Triana experiences recurring nightmares of a naked man – a handsome, young gypsy – riding a magnificent steed, bareback. When Lorna meets Chico (Rafael Machado), the man she assumes is from Triana’s dreams, she can’t help but be attracted to him. Lorna will ignore her maid’s warnings about the danger presented by Chico, even going so far as to inviting him into the villa and painting him alongside Triana, in Goya-esque poses. She also encourages Chico to bring his entire family for a party, at which the paintings will be displayed. Trouble ensues. Coming of Sin was distributed around the world, but under different titles and varying degrees of censorship. The limited-edition collection features all three films, newly restored in 2K from original film elements; an extensive menu of newly produced bonus material, including commentaries, interviews and unseen archival content; newly commissioned artwork, by Gilles Vranckx; an 80-page perfect-bound book, with new writing by Jo Botting, Tim Greaves and Vanity Celis; and the frighteningly erotic 27-minute short, “His Last Request” (2005), directed by Simon Birrell and made under the guidance of Larraz.

As the 1970s wore on and audiences began to tire of the tried and tested giallo formula, Italian filmmakers sought to reinvigorate the ailing movement by injecting elements from other genres. Some took inspiration from the then-burgeoning crime/thriller movement, with tales of organized crime and corrupt police officials, while others decided to sex things up by crossing serial-killer thrills with salacious softcore antics. In Andrea Bianchi and co-writer Massimo Felisatti’s Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975), a spate of highly sexualized murders is rocking a prestigious Milanese fashion house. Ambitious photographer Magda (Edwige Fenech) and her boyfriend, Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo), team up to crack the case. The common denominator is a leather-clad intruder, who wears a motorcycle helmet and knows exactly what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. Although there are plenty of suspects, the revelation of the killer’s identity may take many viewers by surprise. Once again, the nudity is plentiful, as are such diversions as kitschy fashion shoots, a back-alley abortion, blow-up sex dolls and bawdy humor. It, too, benefits from a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative; enhanced subtitles; new audio commentary by’s Adrian J. Smith and David Flint; “Sex and Death With a Smile,” a fresh video essay by author and critic Kat Ellinger on giallo and sex comedy icon Edwige Fenech; “A Good Man for the Murders,” a newly edited video interview with actor Nino Castelnuovo; “The Blonde Salamander,” with actress Erna Schurer; “The Art of Helping,” with assistant director Daniele Sangiorgi; an interview with actor and production manager Tino Polenghi; two versions of the opening scene, tinted and un-tinted; an image gallery; reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys; and, first-pressing only, an illustrated collectors’ booklet, with a new essay by critic Rachael Nisbet.

PBS: Victoria and Albert: The Wedding
PBS: NOVA: Pluto and Beyond
PBS: Nature: Equus: Story of the Horse
PBS is to Britain’s royal family what the Trumps are to Fox News: gifts that keep on giving. “Victoria and Albert: The Wedding” aired in the runup to the third-season premiere of the network’s much-admired mini-series, “Victoria.” Naturally, when the BBC decided to re-stage the world’s most lavish and expensive wedding to date, it tapped Lucy Worsley, the network’s historian of choice. Her sparkling personality stands in direct contrast to previous BBC presenters, who, by comparison, made Prince Phillip look like Buddy Hackett. In doing so, she scoured archival materials from several museums and libraries, as well Queen Victoria’s diaries. Not all of them had been preserved, but those that were available allowed Worsley to offer guidance and supervision to dozens of artisans hired  for the project. She accomplished this much in the same way that Victoria and her staff had pulled things together for the all-day gala on February 10, 1840. Worsley also delights in recounting the story of Victoria and Albert’s courtship and engagement, and the new king’s efforts to win over detractors of the German invader. More than anything else, however, the two-part mini-series explains how this one extraordinary event helped to invent the modern “white wedding.” The meals are replicated in ways that almost defy the laws of gravity, architecture and economics. We’re taken to the royal archives, where various pieces of wedding attire are stored. Absent wedding photographs, the show’s producers relied on George Hayter’s painting, “The Marriage of Queen Victoria,” which took the artist more than two years to complete. It detailed the placement of the guests and clergy, as well as dresses and military garb of those in attendance.

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. For the next 62 years, it was considered the ninth planet in the solar system. Between 1992 and 2006, astronomers with too much time on their hand debated whether  Pluto was, in fact, a planet; a dwarf planet among other dwarves in the Kuiper belt; or a giant snowball. It took the International Astronomical Union all that time to define the term “planet” formally and reclassify Pluto as a dwarf. It pissed off a lot of astronomy buffs, lower-grade researchers and sci-fi enthusiasts. Pluto has five known moons – Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra — but is less massive than Eris, another dwarf in the belt. While the geniuses at the IAU played the name game, NASA went ahead and launched the New Horizons interplanetary space probe and pointed it towards the soon-to-be-disrespected non-planet. It took the spacecraft nine years to accomplish its primary mission — a fly-by study of Pluto’s surface — and begin its secondary objective, which includes flying by and studying one or more other Kuiper belt objects. “NOVA: Pluto and Beyond” tells the amazing story of the mission, so far, through downloaded photographs, data, interviews and speculation. The probe then headed for Ultima Thule, for another flu-by and downlink.

The fascinating two-part “Nature” presentation, “Equus: Story of the Horse” traces the evolution of the horse from its emergence as a small multi-toed creature, Eohippus, into the large, single-toed animal of today. The process has occurred over the past 45 to 55 million years. Humans began domesticating horses around 4000 BC, and their domestication is believed to have been widespread by 3000 BC. Since then, they’ve helped shape the human world, conquering distances and other obstacles to progress, sometimes at full speed and, when necessary, pulling great loads. They’ve lifted countless warriors to victory and died beside less-fortunate riders on the fields of battle. In Part II, we follow the producers as they study the bloodlines of very different breeds of horses around the planet and use modern technology to discover why Thoroughbred racehorses sometimes appear as if they’re taking  flight. With the Kentucky Derby just around the corner the DVD is a perfect way to prepare for the annual display of pageantry, beauty and speed.

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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