MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Instant Family, Burning, Clovehitch Killer, Vanishing, Marquise, Kalifornia, Donna Haraway, Walking Dead … More

Instant Family: Blu-ray
Ever since his breakthrough performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), Mark Wahlberg has proven capable of handling a wide variety of roles and making money for everyone around him. He’s done so, because audiences naturally want to like him and go along his characters’ disparate personalities and traits. It’s no small trick. The Boston-native has also found legitimate success as a television producer – the Emmy-nominated series, “Entourage,” “Boardwalk Empire” “Wahlburgers” – and as a force on both sides of the camera in such films as Lone Survivor (2013), Prisoners (2013), Deepwater Horizon (2016) and The Gambler (2014). I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s a natural comic actor, but he’s more than held his own alongside such scene-stealers as Will Ferrell (Daddy’s Home), Anthony Hopkins (Transformers: The Last Knight), Dwayne Johnson (Pain & Gain), Steve Carell (Date Night) and a bad-ass teddy bear (Ted) … all along, looking to be as unaffected by fame as any boy’s band graduate (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), underwear model (Calvin Klein) and juvenile delinquent could possibly be. If his infectious smile appears to have been built into his face, it might be related to the good fortune of being one of the few travelers booked on a Flights 11 and 175, leaving Boston for L.A. on 9/11/2001, who made it to 9/12/2001. Instead of being incinerated in one of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers that day, he decided a few days earlier to cancel his ticket and travel west on a private plane. Wahlberg went on to become the highest-paid actor of 2017, earning $68 million. Instant Family marks Wahlberg’s third collaboration with co-writer/director Sean Anders – Daddy’s Home (2015) and Daddy’s Home Two (2017) – whose experiences as an adoptive parent of three Hispanic children inform the story. Ultimately, it is saved by Anders’ hopeful message for potential foster parents. His previous stints as writer or co-writer of such middle-brow entertainments as We’re the Millers (2013), Dumb and Dumber To (2014), Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011), Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) and She’s Out of My League (2010) weren’t as enlightening, although a few of them made money.

Instant Family splits the difference between comedy and drama right down the middle. When suburbanites Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne) choose to start a family, they stumble headfirst into the world of foster-care adoption. While they’re extremely serious about taking on such a responsibility – three siblings of various challenging ages – they are spooked by some of the negative stories they hear. That includes cautious advice from social workers Karen and Sharon (Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro), who guide prospective parents on the joys, hurdles and potential disasters facing them on the way to official adoption. Much of the movie’s humor derives from the interaction between the Wagners and other couples in a workshop environment. (The group’s social and ethnic diversity couldn’t be more politically correct.) Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz and Julianna Gamiz do a terrific job portraying kids thrown into foster hell when their drug-addicted mother is incarcerated for putting them at risk of harm. Each one deals with separation anxiety in their own way: little Lita is a screamer, who needs everything to go according to plan, or she freaks out; pre-teen Juan is too clumsy to excel in sports and lacks the self-confidence to move forward socially; teenage Lizzy thinks her mom’s poop doesn’t stink and punishes the Wagners for using them to assuage liberal guilt. By frustrating them, Lizzy hopes to dissuade Pete and Ellie from going ahead with the adoption. Her scheme might have worked, too, if fate hadn’t stepped in at crucial moments to convince the younger siblings, otherwise. Naturally, their mom’s return on parole causes the kind of turmoil – emotional and legal — that nearly destroys everyone involved, including Lizzy when she behaves every bit as callously as audiences have been conditioned to expect from neglectful mothers.

If everything that happens outside the group-therapy sessions plays out according to Hollywood standards, the interaction between the prospective parents and the social workers effectively serves as a counterbalance to the Wagners’ misery. They face challenges, too, but off-screen. This isn’t to say, however, that Anders’ message doesn’t come through, loud and clear: the adoptive process requires patience, courage and fortitude; adoptees don’t come with guarantees or warranties, especially if they’re from dysfunctional backgrounds; good intentions won’t cushion all the blows; and, finally, the rewards truly can be worth the pain absorbed along the way. It helps that Wahlberg and Byrne make a lovely couple, blessed with the patience of saints – almost, anyway — and Spencer and Notaro are allowed to dominate key moments in the show, without overshadowing the stars. The Paramount Blu-ray adds commentary and an introduction with Anders and his frequent co/writer John Morris; a gag reel; deleted and extended scenes; “Mr. and Mrs. Fix-It,” behind the scenes with Wahlberg and Byrne; “Kid Power,” with the talented young cast; “I Need Some Support,” in which Spencer and Notaro guide a group of parents through the emotional roller-coaster of parenting; “Order in the Court,” inside one of the film’s most heartfelt moments; “The Families Behind the Fair,” with actual foster parents and adopted kids; “Crew Inspiration,” crew members share their own foster-care stories; “The Anders Family,” with the real-life inspiration for the film, Isabela Moner; “I’ll Stay,” a promotional music video; and “On Set Proposal,” a surprise wedding proposal from one crew member to another.

Burning: Blu-ray
If  Roma hadn’t raised the Mexican flag over festivals and awards ceremonies around the world, 2018 would be remembered as a banner year for Pacific Rim countries. At Cannes, where Alfonso Cuaron was denied a slot, 4 of the 19 films in contention for the Palme d’Or were from Japan, Korea and China. (Only two, BlackKKKlansman and the as-yet-unreleased Under the Silver Lake, were from the United States.) In addition to Koreeda Hirokazu’s highly regarded Shoplifters and Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Killing, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II, Zhangke Jia’s Ash Is Purest White and Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night also did well in international competition. Jon M. Chu’s money-maker, Crazy Rich Asians, gave Hollywood studio executives one fewer excuse for not financing films of interest to Asian-American audiences. (Best Picture-winner Green Room got its fair share of attention in the U.S., Canada and England, but underperformed in foreign markets.) That’s a long of saying that the best Asian releases, last year, were very good, indeed. And, if the cinematic equivalent of soccer’s World Cup  (or Miss Universe) had been conducted after the Oscars, BAFTAs, Césars, Goyas, Globes and festivals – wouldn’t that be fun? — Burning might have finished in a dead heat with Shoplifters and Roma.

Like so many of the best movies from foreign countries, Burning took an emotionally and philosophically literary work and boiled it down to its essence. Working from the story “Barn Burning,” by Haruki Murakami, Lee and co-writer Oh Jung-mi enhanced the story’s fictional narrative with the kind of visually poetic and texturally relatable elements that honor the source material, as well as the filmmakers’ imagination. The acting couldn’t be more naturalistic or compelling. After 148 minutes, viewers inclined to tolerate arthouse conceits will wonder where the time went. The protagonist, Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), is a recent college graduate and aspiring novelist, who wears his alienation from mainstream society on his sleeve. He keeps one foot in Seoul and the other in his hometown, near the border with North Korea, where he maintains a barn containing a single calf. It’s in the latter, where Jong-su seems happiest and most self-assured. Just after stepping off a train in the capital, he notices something familiar in one of the young women promoting a street raffle, in cheerleader outfits. Turns out, Haemi (Jun Jong-seo) grew up in the same city and remembers Jong-su as a long-ago playmate. Haemi is an effervescent and inquisitive sort, who lives in the moment and isn’t particularly interested in limiting her horizons by taking a mainstream job. Even before they make love, she asks him to housesit and feed her unseen cat while she’s in Africa, studying indigenous culture.

Upon her return several weeks later, Jong-su happily agrees to pick her up at the airport. He is chagrined, however, to find her accompanied by a handsome and refined chap, a bit older than they are. They met during a long layover in Africa, following a terrorist attack, and quickly forged a bond, although it’s difficult to say whether it’s based on love, lust or kismet. Ben (Steven Yeun) is a bit smug, but not at all offended by the presence of Haemi’s previous lover. It doesn’t take long for Ben’s lavish lifestyle to become apparent. (The shiny, new Porsche is a dead giveaway.) By allowing Haemi and Jong-su to share his expensive toys and posh friends – without also revealing the sources of his income and personal history – Ben naturally recalls the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. That, of course, effectively makes Haemi and Jong-su stand-ins for Daisy and Tom Buchanan. While Jong-su recognizes the new dynamic, he can’t help but be intrigued by Ben. He tells them, as well, that he often feels as if he’s a character in a novel by Faulkner — one of Murakami’s primary influences – and recommends his books to Ben. Jong-su is invited to the decidedly modern home Ben now shares with Haemi and where he hosts lavish parties. Neither man feels particularly comfortable – let alone, at home – there, however. Later, at Jong-su’s exceedingly modest country home, Ben describes his secret fetish of burning down abandoned greenhouses, which he doesn’t consider to be particularly harmful or illegal. At the same time as Jong-su agrees to help him scout potential targets to satisfy his addiction to arson, Haemi suddenly disappears. At first, Jong-su is merely confused by his inability to connect with her. As time passes, however, his futile investigation pushes him to the edge of sanity. Among the things he does learn from her relatives is that Haemi’s notorious for embellishing the events in her life – possibly including the nearly fatal fall into an abandoned well that she describes to her old friend – and they’ve given up trying to distinguish between the truth and fibs. Like his mother’s sudden reappearance after 15 years, it’s all part of the “mystery of life.”

Much of the credit for Burning’s velvety look goes to cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo  (Snowpiercer), who was challenged by the country’s everchanging natural light, morning fog, neon-lit urban settings and conventional rural countryside. It’s all of a piece with Chang-Dong’s belief that “a small mystery in a short story can be expanded into a bigger, multilayered mystery in a  cinematic way.” Moreover, “the gaping holes in the chain of events — the missing piece from which we can never know the truth — allude to the mysterious world we live in now … the world in which we sense that something is wrong but cannot quite put a finger on what the problem is.” That, in a philosophical nut shell, is what Burning and so many other Asian movies – French, too, I suppose – are all about. It also describes what’s missing in nearly every Hollywood “product” these days. As complex as Lee’s reasoning may sound, it’s far from unfathomable. Burning unfolds in a natural way, saving its greatest mysteries until nearly the end. I had no trouble re-investing another 148 minutes of my less-than-precious time, re-watching Burning a day later, if only to catch some of the subtleties in the director’s quote. The pristine Well-Go Entertainment Blu-ray adds only a six-minute meet-the-characters featurette.

The Clovehitch Killer
At first glance, frequent collaborators Duncan Skiles and Christopher Ford (“The Fuzz”) have conspired to make a movie that fools potential viewers into thinking The Clovehitch Killer is another addition to J.J. Abrams’ “Cloverfield” franchise. No two of those movies appear to belong in the same series and it took my tired eyes a few moments to distinguish “Clovehitch” from “Cloverfield.” I could be completely wrong about such a manipulative marketing strategy, but, of all the knots in the Boy Scout handbook, why choose the clove hitch, instead of, say, the similarly tied “double half hitch” or “two half hitch” knot? Brevity, I suppose. Even then, why not the bowline or hangman’s knot. As The Clovehitch Killer begins, viewers are told of a serial killer, who terrorized a small Kentucky community 10 years earlier, leaving behind a small piece of rope attached to a nearby object by a clove hitch. Mysteriously, the killer’s disease has lain dormant for an entire decade, giving residents a false sense of security. While the title alludes to the Clovehitch Killer’s return to action, Skiles and Ford are in no hurry to reveal the villain or villains’ identity or modus operandi. As obvious as they may be to seasoned fans of murder mysteries, however, the real action doesn’t occur until well after the halfway point. By that time, we assume that the sociopath probably resembles any other normal, law-abiding citizen and family man, whose trigger point lies deeply hidden within his psyche. That description easily covers Don Burnside (Dylan McDermott), whose passive 16-year-old son, Tyler (Charlie Plummer), is struggling to come of age on his own terms. Don has narrowed Tyler’s horizons to activities pertaining to church, scouting and leadership camp.

On a rare night away from home, his companion, Kassi (Madisen Beaty), finds a disturbing photograph under the front seat of his dad’s pickup truck. The boy has no idea how the picture got there, but he insists that it doesn’t belong to him. Even so, hallway gossips accuse him of being a pervert. Coincidentally, Kassi has spent the last few years studying the Clovehitch murders and recognizes something in the photograph that relates to the killer’s M.O., which includes bondage and a fascination with torture porn. Although he’s perplexed by the unfounded rumors, Tyler decides to do some investigating of his own. After some digging and moving heavy objects around his dad’s workshop, in the backyard, he discovers a trove of S&M magazines. Tyler doesn’t want to believe that someone in his family might be the infamous serial killer and, after Don notices signs of Tyler’s sleuthing, he already has a credible excuse: the cache belonged to his long-dead brother. Kassi isn’t convinced. After she persuades Tyler to continue digging, he discovers a torture dungeon under the garage. At the same time, killer begins to crawl out of his shell, leaving a clove hitch at the home of a perspective victim. Sure enough, the teenagers’ investigation crosses paths with the killer’s stalking. Something ugly is destined to happen, but viewers are never sure how things will play out. The Clovehitch Killer has conveniently been pigeonholed as a horror thriller, even if the gory stuff takes place off screen and the monster isn’t likely to resemble any genre prototype. In fact, the story appears to have been inspired by Dennis Rader (a.k.a., the “BTK killer”), who was a Cub Scout leader, president of the church council, census-compliance supervisor, dog catcher and security-alarm installer. He led a seemingly normal family life, but also created pornographic collages, collected his victims’ driver’s licenses and posed in his victims’ underwear … just like the movie’s antagonist. He eluded capture for 30 years. Even if The Clovehitch Killer may be a tad slow and bloodless for some genre buffs, the gradual uptick in tension and dread is palpable. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette.

The Vanishing: Blu-ray
Any filmmaker obsessed with making claustrophobic thrillers could do a lot worse than setting a movie on a wee island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. In director Kristoffer Nyholm’s thrilling The Vanishing (a.k.a., “The Keepers”), a lighthouse atop a steep, 150-foot cliff in the Flannan Isles is as much a character as any of the heroes and villains. With its craggy inlets, forbidding weather and ever-circling seabirds, it provided a perfect starting place for a mystery never destined to be solved. This one came ready-made with an unsolved disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in the same group of islands, dating back to 1900. Here, two experienced lantern keepers and an apprentice endure murderous winds, capable of smashing gulls into the tower’s walls; Nordic marauders, searching for a lost cache of gold; hidden jealousies and family secrets; the threat of mercury poisoning; and a broken short-wave radio. Veteran Scottish actors Gerard Butler (Olympus Has Fallen) and Peter Mullan (My Name Is Joe) look right at home on the isolated piece of rock, while relative newcomer Connor Swindells (“Sex Education”) appears to feel as out of place as a misguided flamingo. After a storm, Donald (Swindells) discovers a comatose sailor and his battered lifeboat lying at the bottom of a cliff. He’s given the task of inspecting the scene to see if the man’s dead or alive. Once there, he’s attacked by the sailor, who’s been playing possum. A brutal fight ensues, when Donald attempts to abscond with the box.

Once the crate is retrieved, Thomas (Mullan) can’t resist the temptation to open it. No surprise, it contains gold bars of dubious provenance. As if on cue, a trawler carrying nasty-looking sailors arrives, determined to claim their shipmate’s body and the purloined box. While the keepers have a pretty good story prepared – based on legal protocol — it fails to satisfy the intruders (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Gary Lewis). They pretend to leave for the nearest port but are spotted returning to finish the job they started. Like Vikings, from another era, they plan to lay waste to the island. Although they’re visibly tougher and more ruthless than the Scots, it’s two against three and the keepers have movie-luck on their side. Fans of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre will know what to expect next. (On their way to finding pay dirt, Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs asks Tim Holt’s Curtin, “Do you believe that stuff the old man was saying … about gold changin’ a man’s soul so’s he ain’t the same sort of man as he was before findin’ it?” Neither man is willing to imagine how gold would change them, even when the prophesy becomes fact.) At first, the keepers simply disagree as to how to get the gold to the mainland and when to begin spending it. Then, it becomes a matter of the mercury-addled James trusting Thomas, an old salt haunted by memories of previous misdeeds. It’s difficult to predict with any certainty on which of three men, if any, will survive the ordeal. Nyholm (“Taboo”) and writers Joe Bone (“The Alienist”) and Celyn Jones (Set Fire to the  Stars) wisely decided to give The Vanishing as open-ended a climax as the 1900 mystery. Ultimately, learning what happens to the gold hardly serves any useful purpose. The Blu-ray adds the featurette, “Emerging From the Darkness.”

Marquise: Blu-ray
Lavish historical dramas and comedies never go out style. Among the things that lure fans to such elaborate period pieces as The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots – nominees in the Oscars’ Costume Design category – are the museum-quality fashions and production design, layer-cake hairstyles and bizarre cosmetics applied to the male and female characters, alike. Part of the appeal is to imagine how much research, time and manual labor were invested into scenes, ranging from picnics and croquet, to grand balls and royal receptions. (Typically, the storylines aren’t nearly as compelling as speculation over whether the actors are wearing historically correct underwear.) In Véra Belmont’s tantalizing French-language dramedy, Marquise (1997), viewers are invited along a Grand Tour of 17th Century fashions – the wigs are singularly captivating – ranging from the costumes worn by street performers, to the gowns and foppish finery favored at the court of the Sun King, Louis  X1V (Thierry Lhermitte). Born into poverty, Marquise (Sophie Marceau) is a promiscuous young entertainer, who uses her exquisite beauty and seductive dancing to earn a living … on and off stage. The distinguished, if impoverished playwright and actor, Molière (Bernard Giraudeau), falls under the spell of the sultry dancer and part-time prostitute (a.k.a., Marquise-Thérèse de Gorl and Mlle. Du Parc), even knowing that she turns tricks between acts. Similarly enchanted is the wealthy, if not-remotely-handsome Gros René (Patrick Timsit), who proposes to Marquise while she’s servicing a dreadful old geezer. She agrees, but only if he convinces Molière to take her to Paris and perform legitimate works with his troupe.

Marquise would love to discontinue the hoochie-coochie dancing, along with the hooking, but it attracts the attention of members of the royal court, who recommend her to the Louie XIV. Although she loves her tubby, kind and generous husband, she sees nothing unethical about sleeping her way to the top. This includes an affair with the budding playwright, Jean Racine (Lambert Wilson), who offers her private acting lessons. When the king bans Molière’s “Tartuffe,” for offending the archbishop, Racine is commissioned to write a new tragedy, “Andromaque.” While it made stars of Racine and Marquise, she becomes so exhausted that it ruins her health. It doesn’t help matters, when she jumps into a Versailles fountain (in her britches) to give the king a long-needed bath (in his skivvies). By avoiding discussions of war and politics, Marquise maintains an air of mirth throughout its 122-minute length. Unlike the comparatively drab British royals, who don’t like to be upstaged, the Sun King surrounds himself with colorfully dressed twits and coquettes, whose principal duties include keeping him in good spirits. The hair designs, themselves, are almost worth the price of admission. (When the king takes off his faux-poodle wig, revealing a few unruly strands of hair, it serves the same purpose as a jump-scare in a horror movie.) While all the actors are terrific, Marceau gives the most memorable performance, demonstrating comedic chops and an ability to act while dancing and screwing. Bonus features include an interview with director Belmont and an essay by Laurence Marie-Sacks.

Kalifornia: Collector’s Edition: Blu-Ray
The early 1990s dripped with blood and irony, thanks to such offbeat neo-noir thrillers as Dominic Sena’s Kalifornia (1993), Tony Scott’s True Romance (1992), Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994), Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), and, stretching the time frame, Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). It was the decade that changed everything in the crime genre, freeing a generation of film-school misfits to think outside the box and push the limits on MPAA guidelines. It was fun while it lasted, but, like everything else, the subgenre became larded down with copy cats, unhinged violence, slinky molls in black thigh-high stockings and, of course, cocaine. Occasionally, a good one will sneak through, but they’re few, far between, underfinanced and limited to festival exhibition. Kalifornia is best remembered as a launching pad for the still-very-active Michelle Forbes (“Berlin Station”), Juliette Lewis (“Camping”), David Duchovny (“The X-Files”) and Brad Pitt (Deadpool 2), who plays a distant white-trash cousin to the adorable thief and gigolo, J.D., in Thelma and Louise (1991). Brian Kessler (Duchovny) and Carrie Laughlin (Forbes) are artsy-fartsy types, who’ve run out of ways to please their publishers and agents.

Brian comes up with a scheme to embark on a cross-country road trip, during which they’ll visit scenes of notorious murders and interview the locals. Carrie, whose photography is inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe, will capture the scenes of the crimes on black-and-white film. It’s not a bad setup for a book based on a borderline-tasteless subject. Before hitting the road, they hope to find passengers to help them pay for gas, by posting a notice at a local college. Enter, Early Grayce (Pitt) and Adele Corners (Lewis). He sports a shaggy beard, greasy hair and a Make Dixie Great Again cap … OK, it’s simply a rebel-flag patch on a red baseball cap. She’s sweet, loyal, gullible and dumb as a box of rocks. Moreover, Adele’s completely unaware of the fact that she’s fallen  passionately in love with a sociopath. It takes a while for the hipster couple to figure out Early’s  problem, as well. They finally smell a rat when Early’s image is shown on a TV set, walking away from the office of a gasoline station, whose owner he’d just killed for gas money. Because it’s difficult to get rid of passengers in midtrip – especially when one of them is armed – Brian and Carrie are stuck with him until, 1) they reach L.A. or 2) they’re shot and killed en route. Sena effectively maintains a constant aura of dread. The location scenery is interesting, as is most of the pulpy dialogue. The problem for me, anyway, came down to sitting through depictions of horrifying acts of violence –frequently involving innocent bystanders – two decades after they ceased being fashionable. Somehow, whatever message Kalifornia is trying to convey no longer resonates in a society horrified and frightened by random slaughter in schools, federal buildings, synagogues, stadiums and nightclubs, no matter who’s wielding the AK-47. The bonus features include a new interview with Sena; the theatrical and unrated cuts; an original featurette; and cast interviews.

Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival
Before watching Fabrizio Terranova’s lively documentary, Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, I was completely unaware of her work and station in the hierarchy of educators and other deep-thinkers. I wondered why she was deemed she worthy of an 81-minute, mostly one-woman show. That’s my problem, however, not her’s. Upon further examination, I learned that she’s previously appeared in a pair of documentaries — The Cyborg Cometh (1994), No Gravity (2011) – but, like most other self-described postmodern feminists, appears not to have received any invitations to be a guest on a late-night talk show. (She’d be considerably more charismatic and entertaining than most celebrities a third her age.) More to the point, Haraway is a Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department and Feminist Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. That fact, alone, explains why I’ve sailed through my adult life without being exposed to her specialized knowledge and teaching. Of all the schools I might have chosen as a possible setting for her seminars and research, however, among the top two or three would have been U.C.S.C., an institution widely known for the eccentricities of its students, teachers and curriculum. Its outside-the-mainstream reputation has attracted like-minded students and scholars, ever since it was established, in 1965. Haraway’s thoughts on gender, cyborgs, animals and post-colonialism, as well as explorations into her own life, influences and ideas, probably have combined to make her one of the college’s most popular lecturers. Terranova structured his film around a series of discussions on such subjects as capitalism, science fiction, unconventional marital and sexual relationships, the role of Catholicism in her upbringing, dogs, the suppression of women’s writing, the history of orthodontic aesthetics and the need for new post-patriarchal narratives. She is a passionate and discursive storyteller, who reminds me a bit of Mr. Natural and Fred Rogers … and I don’t mean that in a bad way.Terranova’s video effects, including an enormous jellyfish that floats in and out of Haraway’s study, adds another light, if bewildering touch to the proceedings.

AMC: Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season: Blu-ray
Hallmark: When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Blessing
Nick Jr: Meet the Baby Animals
Nickelodeon: Top Wing: Eggcellent Missions
Like its companion frachise, “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s super-popular zombies series, “Fear the Walking Dead,” shuffled through its fourth season, with no signs of needing resuscitation or a bullet in the head. The season premiere featured the first crossover between the two shows, setting up Morgan Jones’s move from Virginia to Texas. After ignoring the advice of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the main protagonist of “The Walking Dead,” Jones (Lennie James) connects with John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) in the Lone Star state. The next day, they’re captured by a group of Survivors, but are saved by journalist Althea (Maggie Grace), who drives a SWAT vehicle and wants to tell their stories on camera. John tells Althea that he is on a mission to find his girlfriend, Laura – wait until the new season’s fifth episode — but eventually agrees to participate. Their vehicle stops when they see a woman, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), crawling along the ground. Morgan, John and Althea are then surrounded at gunpoint by Nick, Strand, and Luciana. The season also features new showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian B. Goldberg (“Once Upon a Time”), and a new filming location, Austin. In Season Four, as well, shocking things happen to Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her family. The converging groups find safe haven inside a baseball stadium, but only until they’re threatened by a group of antagonistic Survivors known as the Vultures. Jenna Elfman (“Dharma & Greg”), whose career could really benefit from a hit show, is also among the new cast members. The Blu-ray carries all 16 episodes from the bifurcated season and a few commentary tracks scattered throughout the set.

When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Blessing” aired on Christmas Day, 2018, before an appreciative audience of G-rated families and collectors of Hallmark cards. As usual, it’s well-made and consistantly entertaining, even if it lacks the sort of pleasures that attract R-rated families, like mine. Here, as the holiday approaches in Hope Valley, newly widowed Elizabeth (Erin Krakow) anticipates the birth of her baby, while Abigail (Lori Loughlin) prepares for the town’s Christmas gathering. The town welcomes a group of orphans and their caretakers, who have been stranded on their journey to a new orphanage. All goes charitably, until Bill (Jack Wagner) makes a troubling discovery about the newcomers and is forced to make a difficult decision, which will affect all their lives. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, Abigail and Rosemary (Pascale Hutton) get stuck in a storm and face a Christmas Eve emergency. The episode is the introduction to the series’ spin-off, “When Hope Calls,” premiering in August 2019 on Hallmark Movies Now, the Hallmark Channel’s digital streaming service.

In Nick Jr.’s “Meet the Baby Animals,” preschoolers can meet some adorable cartoon newcomers in episodes of such fan favorites as “PAW Patrol,” “Bubble Guppies,” “Blaze and his Monster Machine” and “Shimmer and Shine.” It features seven episodes from seasons 1-3.

Fans of “Top Wing: Eggcellent Missions” are invited to join the high-flying “Top Wing” cadets on eight egg-citing missions. as they save Sandy Stork’s eggs, recover their vehicles from Cheep and Chirp’s cousins, and help Rod prove he’s a rooster, not a chicken. The DVD includes eight Season One episodes, as well as “Top Wing” stickers.

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Gary J Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Peppermint, Wild Boys, Un Traductor, Await Instructions, Lizzie, Coby, Afghan Love Story, Elizabeth Harvest, Brutal, Holiday Horror, Sound & Fury … More

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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