MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Ritual, She Wolf, Over the Top, Dark River, Man’s Best Friend, Mr & Mrs Adelman, Mad Dog & Glory, A.I. Rising, Deadly Mantis, Watch Over Me … More

Ritual: Una storia psicomagica
She Wolf
The words “arthouse” and “horror” aren’t often mentioned in the same sentence. Two that qualify are Let Me In (2010) and its American remake, Let the Right One In (2008), both based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. So do Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995), Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas’ Good Manners (2017) and Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983). Add to that list the newly-released-on-DVD She Wolf  (2013) and Ritual: Una storia psicomagica (2013) and you’d have a pretty good head-start on a high-end Empowered Women in Horror festival, perfect for any  upcoming Women’s History Month commemoration. Female characters have played key roles in the horror and sci-fi genres since James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935), at least. Here, however, the accent would be on fully realized women protagonists/antagonists, who aren’t merely interchangeable substitutes for archetypal characters previously created for and by men, within genre norms. Any programmers wary of being accused of trivializing women’s history could point out how rare it is to find empowered women in genre films – who don’t resemble Pamela Anderson or Jenna Jameson anyway — especially those driven by arthouse conceits. Or, to appease the doubts, they can add copies of the completely unrelated documentary, RBG, to gift bags handed out at the awards’ ceremony.

From Argentina comes Tamae Garateguy and co-writer Diego Fleischer’s belated arrival, She Wolf (2013), which combines elements from Nunnally Johnson’s The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Ferrara’s The Addiction. Ms. 45 (1981) and Bob Rafelson’s Black Widow (1987). Without giving too much of the story away, the title character is a drop-dead-sexy serial killer — alternately played by Mónica Lairana, Luján Ariza and Guadalupe Docampo – who stalks the steamy streets and sardine-can subway cars of Buenos Aires, exuding pheromones that confuse men into thinking she’s coming on to them. She is, of course, but her idea of a happy ending won’t correspond to their expectations. Things get sticky when a police detective tracks her down, unaware that witnesses’ descriptions of the killer won’t square with what he sees before his eyes. Each of woman’s individual selves look different from the other two and have different personalities. Neither are they all drawn to the same kind of man. When the reckoning comes, viewers might get the impression that Garateguy chose aura and tone, over narrative closure. Even so, her ability to maintain a shadowy and intensely erotic texture throughout most of She Wolf is commendable. Kudos also apply to Sami Buccella’s original punk-rock soundtrack, Catalina Rincon’s edgy editing and Pigu Gomez’ stark black-and-white photography. If the film dissuaded any Argentine horndogs and low-rent lotharios from hitting on women they encounter in public, Garateguy’s mission was served.

Giulia Brazzale and Luca Immesi’s Ritual: Una storia psicomagica is another late arrival to these shores – thank you, Film Movement — although it’s difficult to understand why. The chief selling point is spelled out on the jacket: “Inspired by the philosophy of, and featuring an appearance by the father of ‘psychomagic,’ Alejandro Jodorowsky.” The marketing team might just as easily summoned the memory of Luis Bunuel, if only because the movie’s characters and setting – Italy, but it could be Spain or Mexico – are right out of the master surrealist’s  sketchbook. Anyone expecting a reprise of the pyschomagic exhibited in such outrageous entertainments as El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973) and Santa Sangre (1989) might be disappointed, but only mildly so. Fragile Lia (Désirée Giorgetti) and her sadistic boyfriend, Viktor (Ivan Franek) – he recalls Marcel, the twisted antagonist, in Bunuel’s Belle du Jour (1967) – are involved in a long-term relationship that’s equal parts passionate and cruel. It’s sometimes difficult to tell when their sex is consensual and when it fits the legal definition of rape, however. When Lia tells Victor that she’s pregnant, he replies with a straight face that he’ll “take care” of the abortion he’ll force her to undergo. Victor is such a vile person that viewers will want to see him murdered, sooner than later, even if it means that Lia and her supernaturally gifted Aunt Agata (Anna Bonasso) might wind up in jail. Shortly after the procedure, Lia asks Victor to join her in a visit to Veneto, as is recommended by her shrink (Cosimo Cinieri). He turns down the offer and demands she stay at home. Instead, she attempts to kill herself. When Lia sneaks away from home and arrives at her aunt’s 18th Century villa, Agata immediately senses that the abortion caused her to sink deeper into her depression. When Lia begins to imagine hearing crying babies and eerie songs – inexplicably, she even takes a bath in a tub already occupied by a couple dozen goldfish — Agata decides to play her ace in the hole. The widely respected healer encourages Lia to regress into childhood, to the momentary shame and confusion she felt upon her first period, to discover the roots of her depression. This is when the real fun begin, with a pair of neighborhood kids acting as fairy godchildren. A witch will attempt to use a baby – or lifelike doll – to lure Lia into a cave, but Agata steps in before that can happen. Just as it appears as if Lia’s depression is receding into something resembling happiness, Victor shows up to enforce his will on her. One drunken night out, his true colors begin to shine through his faux-pacific exterior. Jodorowsky, as the ghost of Agata’s former Chilean husband, arrives one evening to offer his advice … healer to healer. Part of Ritual’s appeal derives from the petite Milanese actress, Giorgetti, navigate her way through mood swings that range from despondent to sexually compliant. As Agata, Bonasso nearly steals the entire show.

Over the Limit
It will probably be a long time before a Russian sports authority invites another foreign documentary maker to examine the star-making machinery that powers the country’s Olympic teams. As if the scandal over an illegal, state-backed doping operation hadn’t done enough damage to the country’s reputation – causing the IOC to ban its athletes from representing Russia in the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang – along comes Marta Prus’ troubling documentary, Over the Limit, to seal the deal. Filmed during the runup to the 2016 Summer Olympics, held in Rio de Janeiro, it confirms long-spread rumors about other kinds of physical and mental abuses at Russian training camps. Like the subject of Over the Limit, Margarita Mamun, Prus competed as a rhythmic gymnast and her allegiances to the sport and its competitors are clear. Even so, the filmmaker was severely tested by her subject’s sadistic coaches, Irina Viner, and, to a lesser degree, Amina Zaripova. Although Viner’s credentials speak from themselves, she’s a harridan in the same league as Cruella DeVille – whom she resembles – and a foul-mouthed brute, in same coaching category as former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight. While it isn’t difficult to respect a coach who’s tough, domineering and strives for the unattainable goal of perfection – Vince Lombardi comes immediately to mind – any coach who publicly belittles her star athlete with profane slurs, icy cold stares and personal insults, as Viner does here, deserves a special place in hell. She’s married to Alisher Usmanov, the richest man in a country whose oligarchs have a hotline to the highest reaches of the Kremlin and, presumably, the White House. Therefore, it’s fair to believe that her behavior, as showcased in Over the Top, won’t cause an alarm to go off at the offices of the Russian Olympic Committee.

Among other things, Usmanov is the president of the FIE, the international governing body of fencing, and a chief backer of the sport worldwide. His mining conglomerate, Metalloinvest also sponsored the soccer club, Dinamo Moscow. Before the Sochi games, Usmanov donated $130 million to the  Olympic Organizational Committee. I can’t remember his name being mentioned in Prus’ doc. Certainly, Viner played a crucial role in Mamun’s development and that of other top rhythmic gymnasts. It does not, however make her behavior in Over the Top any more palatable. If Viner felt comfortable berating her sport’s top competitor – her assistant coach, too – imagine what she gets away with while training lesser lights. Even when Mamun is frustrated and peeved by Viner’s behavior – she tells the gymnast to use her father’s losing battle with cancer as motivation – the 20-year-old Muscovite’s dedication and patience are admirable, and her routines are as beautiful as they get in the niche activity. We also meet some of Mamun’s teammates and are given a glimpse into her personal life, if mostly by eavesdropping on her constant texting and phone calls. Over the Top is a powerful document, whose message probably wouldn’t be lost on aspiring athletes around the world and their parents, especially when compounded by reports of sexual abuse by top gymnastic, tennis and soccer coachess. The Film Movement DVD includes the delightful Chinese short film, “Iron Hands,” directed by Johnson Cheng, about a girl weightlifter attempting to qualify on the boys’ team, and the valuable advice she receives from a surprising source.

Monsieur & Madame Adelman
Despite the best intentions of co-writer/co-star Doria Tillier and co-writer/co-star/director Nicolas Bedos, their debut as multihyphenates is tough sledding for audiences looking for a reason to care about the protagonists. Watching Monsieur & Madame Adelman in one sitting felt a bit like joining warring spouses over dinner and being forced to listen to them cut each other to ribbons for two hours. In this way, viewers serve as surrogates for the contemporary iterations of Nick and Honey, who, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), were treated to a master class in marital discord from George and Martha. Indeed, the same question arises, as to how two highly educated and respected pillars of society – and, of course, alcoholics — could put up with other’s verbal and mental abuse for this length of time. There’s little relief from the palpable aura of unfettered dysfunction and frayed nerve endings. Some marriages thrive on such constant aggravation, while others end with one or both the principles on a slab in the morgue. At its least interesting, Monsieur & Madame Adelman is simply a French adaptation of  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, absent such esteemed actors as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis, and a director as perceptive as Mike Nichols. (Can you imagine having to sit through a poorly mounted stage production of Edward Albee’s play at a summer playhouse? That’s kind of what happens here.) I watch movies that most people would consider to be distasteful, highly irritating or amateurish. Typically, though, I rarely feel like asking for my investment in time to be refunded by the film’s producers, but that’s what I wanted to do after watching Monsieur & Madame Adelman. Too much creative talent is on display here to dismiss it out of hand, because the script and direction suck.

I’ve read that Bedos and Tillier are “companions,” at least, and, as multihyphenates, are required to carry the weight of the production on their slender shoulders. The lack of genuine feelings shared by their characters is probably attributable to not being able to see the forest from the trees. A more seasoned director and script doctor might have helped smooth the rough patches and stem the overacting. The couple’s epic depiction of the roller-coaster marriage of Victor de Richemont dit Adelman and Sarah, his wife of 45 years, is told in flashback from the early-1970s forward. It opens during Monsieur Adelman’s outdoor funeral at the family plot, from which Madame Adelman escapes as soon as his friends and admirers begin their testimonials. A journalist approaches her, hoping to secure an interview he hopes will precipitate a biography of her much-honored husband. In the same amount of time it takes for reporter Jerry Thompson, in Citizen Kane, to find someone willing to speculate on the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s  final utterance — “Rosebud” – Madame Adelman begins to chronicle her atrocious marriage. A meet-cute opening is denied viewers by a meet-ugly courtship that threatens to split his haute bourgeois family. Sarah cuts Victor a lot of slack as he struggles to sell his first manuscript. If she is enamored by his artistic potential, Sarah also shares the audience’s abhorrence of his volcanic outbursts, which, like road rage, are triggered by perceived slights, extreme frustration, impatience, misdirected jealousy and bad internal chemistry.

Then, skip ahead a few years, to when Victor’s career begins to skyrocket, while Sarah stays home with the dogs, servants and a developmentally challenged and largely ignored son. When their bright, happy and perfectly “normal” daughter comes into picture, the Adelmans effectively sweep the boy under the carpet and wish him away from the narrative. Not surprisingly, either, Victor’s insatiable appetite for fame and money begins to grate on Sarah. He demands to be worshipped by everyone in his orbit, including his family, and he never allows himself to stop and smell the roses. Although his suspicions aren’t backed by evidence, Victor assumes that Sarah either wants the sleep with his closest friends or already is. When she does take a pleasant and suitably wealthy over, Sarah’s too shell-shocked to distinguish between his kindness and her addiction to fireworks. Monsieur & Madame Adelman is described as comedy/romance, but precious little of either genre is revealed, unless it’s accompanied by pain. Therefore, only dyed-in-the-wool Francophiles are likely to stay with the movie until the end. Tillier, whose character tests the limits of our empathy, makes the most of a desperately unpleasant narrative, growing more beautiful and sage as she begins to reach her MILF-y period. The somewhat surprising climax salvages much of what leads up to it, but not the memory of Victor’s outbursts and insults. Oddly enough, one of the things that bothered me the most was the makeup adjustments made to Victor’s face, as time passed. By the time he entered middle age, his face began to resemble Dustin Hoffman’s elderly Jack Crabb, in Little Big Man.

Dark River: Blu-ray
Although Surrey-native Rita Wilson broke into the acting dodge in 2006, playing Jewel Diamond in Channel 5’s wacky “Suburban Shootout” and Jane Eyre, in in the BBC mini-series, she only broke out of the pack here in the Showtime drama, “The Affair.” I have to believe that viewers had a difficult time deciding whether her sultry, working-class character, Alison Bailey, was a shameless homewrecker and adulterer, or a sucker for the dubious charms of novelist Noah Solloway (Dominic West). All could agree that the real victim in “The Affair” was poor little rich girl, Helen Butler (Maura Tierney), if only for two of the show’s four seasons. Seriously depressed since the drowning death of her child — with local hero Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), in the waters off Montauk — Wilson convincingly conveyed the damage done by Alison’s unending series of emotional upheavals. Wilson’s haunted character in Dark River, Alice Bell, is only a couple of degrees removed from Alison’s tortured demeanor in “The Affair.” Set in the brilliantly green and gently rolling hills of North Yorkshire, Dark River opens in the choppy wake of Alice’s father’s death. She returns home to family farm for the first time in 15 years, to claim the tenancy rights she believes are rightfully hers. Once there, she is confronted by her ill-tempered, hard-drinking brother, Joe (Mark Stanley), who insists that the farm already belongs  to him, via his investment in sweat equity. Joe dismisses her compromise offer, by which they would share the farm’s modest assets and labor. If he weren’t such a drunken bastard and bully, it would be easy to sympathize with Joe’s position. As it turns out, Alice has invested her own fair share of blood, sweat and tears into the property. Through a series of inescapably horrific flashbacks, we witness a father/daughter relationship that went several degrees past being merely dysfunctional. Even before Alice could comprehend what was happening to her at night and why it was wrong, her father (Sean Bean) filled the vacuum left by wife with his daughter, as sexual surrogate, whipping girl and household slave. Cruel memories of her nightly hell are as deeply etched in her mind as Joe’s claims of ownership are solidly entrenched in his own. When Joe is awarded tenancy rights, he decides to sell the whole kit and caboodle, starting with the sheep. A violent confrontation with a truck loader is the catalyst for both a terrible accident and a rapprochement, of sorts, between the siblings. Writer/director Clio Barnard (The Arbor) took several great liberties with Rose Tremain’s novel and Lila Rawlings’ original adaptation. If you didn’t read the book, you won’t notice the changes, which would have made Dark River look like a British remake of Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams (2015),  which was about a serious rivalry between elderly brothers on a sheep farm in rural Iceland.

Man’s Best Friend: Blu-ray
Life in the Doghouse: Blu-ray
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my dogs-on-DVD collection has grown to the point where I need a kennel to keep them from cross-fertilizing with every new batch of movies about zombies and comic-book superheroes. Among them are sub-groupings dedicated to service animals, canines trained for military duty, skateboarding bulldogs, lip-syncing chihuahuas and flu-inflicted mixed-breeds exiled to a floating garbage dump (Wes Anderson’s Oscar-nominated Isle of Dogs). Man’s Best Friend (1993) does them all one better. Imagine, if you can, a creature feature in which the top dog is genetically linked to Beethoven, Cujo and The Terminator: cuddly one moment, vicious the next and trained to be an indestructible cyber-assassin. The protagonist/antagonist star of Man’s Best Friend is Max, a product of a mad scientist, Jarret (Lance Henriksen), so incensed by street crime that he’s genetically engineered a Tibetan mastiff to use its superpowers against evil. Among them are superior sight and hearing, robotic strength, uncanny intelligence, blistering speed and an ability to leap over cars and fences. In the right hands and on the correct meds, Max can also be a trusted companion or a faithful watchdog. Ally Sheedy, who looks as if she’s still a dues-paying member of the Hollywood Brat Pack, falls into the latter category. As crusading TV reporter Lori Tanner she breaks into a research facility that she believes is involved in vivisection, just like what happens in The Island of Dr. Moreau. After videotaping the holding cells, containing a diverse collection of wild beasts, she’s confronted by a security guard. While attempting to escape his grip and save her footage, Lori inadvertently frees Max from his cage. To show his appreciation, Max races to her vehicle and hops into the backseat. On the way home, Lori is mugged outside a supermarket by a Hispanic punk straight out of Central Casting. (He could double as poster child for President Trump’s Build the Wall campaign.) It takes Max a few seconds to figure out how to unlock the back door and frighten the thug into running away. A few minutes later, the dog returns to the parking lot with Lori’s purse in his mouth.

What Lori doesn’t know, of course, is that she’s the only adult who Max responds to with affection, and he’s in desperate need of a booster shot of neuropathic drugs to keep him sane. In his hysteria to re-capture his monstrous guinea pig, Jarett reluctantly enlists the police department – including the wonderful character actor, Robert Costanzo – to help him identify and track down Max’s liberator. Sadly, in his decreasingly stable state of mind, Max can’t parse the difference between people in the neighborhood – her too-amorous boyfriend, a paperboy on his bike, a Mace-happy mailman and hissing cats and a collie in heat – and the ones attempting to find Lori and put him back in his cage. Man’s Best Friend didn’t do well with critics in its theatrical release. I suspect that its undeserved R-rating (ostensibly for “terror and violence, involving a household pet”) confused them as to the intended audience demographic and less-than-graphic violence. In fact, it’s one of the few scary movies of the period that kept the attacks off-screen – or clearly were simulated – and was legitimately funny. (Before Max has his way with the collie, the choice in soundtrack material is Paul Anka’s “Puppy Love.”) I don’t know why distributors don’t contest such egregiously out-of-touch ratings for DVD editions. Probably because they want horror fans to think a picture like Man’s Best Friend is gorier and more anti-social than it is. I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed it, though. It was written/directed by John Lafia, who made his bones on Child’s Play (1988) and Child’s Play 2 (1990).

Dog-rescuers Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta knew that their saintly dedication to rescuing dogs had bared fruit when a breeder of whippets and show dogs admited that he didn’t like them very much. The reason: the men’s ability to find homes for abandoned, mistreated and overbred rescue animals was cutting into his business. Twenty years ago, people looking for canine companions wanted them to come with papers that traced their lineage to the Mayflower, and they were willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for pedigreed pups. Besides being status symbols, owners convinced themselves that purebred AKC dogs would pay for themselves, as show dogs, breeders or studs. Ultimately, the hobby turned out to be more expensive, time-consuming and frustrating than it was worth. At about the same time as this was happening, well-organized greyhound-adoption programs demonstrated that, with a little TLC, many past-their-prime racers made wonderful pets. “The Price Is Right” host Bob Barker also began to cap each show reminding viewers, “To help control the pet population, have your pets spayed or neutered. Life in the Dog House is a documentary that is both uplifting and inspirational.

Although they also maintain a training and coaching facility for show horses and jumpers, Robertshaw and Danta have dedicated themselves to rescuing, healing and preparing for adoption dogs that would otherwise be euthanized, as are millions of other canines each year. Their outreach began in 2005, after watching news reports about family pets left stranded and abandoned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In addition to delivering aid to survivors, they rounded up as many of the dogs as their horse trailer would carry and drove them back to their South Carolina training facility. Since then, they’ve effectively rescued and re-situated more than 11,000 doomed animals. What makes their story unique is the TLC that they bring to their mission. At any one time, as many as 125 dogs might be living under the same roof with Robertshaw and Danta. The free-range critters are taught to behave, outside their pens, and maintain a high standard for personal hygiene and manners. Their staff analyzes every application for adoption and showcases their most likely candidates at contests, fairs and other gatherings around Camden, South Carolina, and Wellington, Florida. The before-and-after footage in Life in the Doghouse is nothing less than remarkable. Anyone who thinks raising AKC-level dogs is difficult and sometimes prohibitively expensive will marvel at the amount of work and money – food, worming, sheltering, daily cleaning – it takes to prepare a mutt for new homes and maintain a heart-tugging website that introduces potential adoptive parents to the latest class of graduates. It helps that the two men treat the animals as if they, themselves, had studied under Fred Rogers, who made every one of his neighbors and fans feel essential. And, of course, part of the message here is the continuing need for funding and grants that also eats up big chunks of the men’s time. Abandoned animals and euthanasian laws are problems that won’t go away any time soon. Director Ron Davis’ previous work includes the well-regarded docs, Harry & Snowman (2015) and Pageant (2008). The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and a photo gallery.

Mad Dog and Glory: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Speaking of dogs, the only one visible in John McNaughton’s romantic “urban fable,” Mad Dog and Glory (1993), is the ironically nicknamed police photographer, Wayne “Mad Dog” Dobie. The second half of the title refers to Uma Thurman’s character, Glory, who’s “given” to the cop by a gangster whose live Dobie saved. When he isn’t imitating Al Capone, Frank Milo (Bill Murray) does comedy spots at the club he bought for just that purpose. They meet in a convenience store that’s being robbed by a suspect in a double-murder. Even though he’s got a gun pointed at his head, Milo berates Dobie for his less-than-forceful negotiating tactics. They work, however, saving both Milo and the killer’s life, if only for a few hours. The only string attached to Milo’s gift is the distinct possibility that Wayne and Glory will find a reason to fall in love before her expiration date requires the gangster to take her out of circulation … or try to, at least. Richard Price’s atypically uplifting script combines sharp dialogue, gritty urban backdrops and natural police/criminal tension in the service of an appealing odd-couple conceit. Casting the lead actors against type was a risk McNaughton was willing to take, even if test audiences wondered why the star of “Raging Bull” allowed himself to be beaten up by Lisa Loopner’s boyfriend, Todd. Murray’s only other more-or-less-straight role, in The Razor’s Edge (1984), flopped at the box office, while De Niro had yet to prove to audiences that he could be funny. Thurman was still just another a pretty Hollywood blond, waiting to be taking seriously. It wouldn’t take long. For Windy City viewers, Mad Dog and Glory plays like a 97-minute edition of “Lost Chicago,” with its many familiar locations and a cast loaded with veterans of the city’s thriving theater and movie scene. They include Tom Toles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer),  J.J. Johnston (Fatal Attraction), Guy Van Swearingen (The Negotiator), Jack Wallace (Homicide), Chuck Parello (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), Tony Fitzpatrick (Primal Fear), Bruce Jarchow (“Weird Science”), Kevin Hurley (Henry II: Portrait of a Serial Killer), Paula Killen (Walls in the City), Tony Castillo (“Watch Over Me”), Brian Reed Garvin (Centurion AD) and former CPD cops Anthony Cannata and  John Polce. Also prominent are Mike Starr (Miller’s Crossing), Kathy Baker (Street Smart), Richard Belzer (“Law & Order: SVU”) and David Caruso, who went from “Mad Dog” to “NYPD Blue.” Director and Chicago native John McNaughton, of course, had just survived the ordeal of getting Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer distributed. Special features include fresh commentary with  John McNaughton; a brief making-of featurette; interviews conducted with Murray, De Niro and producer Martin Scorsese, in the latter’s apartment; sound bites with Thurman, McNaughton and  Scorsese explores the “urban fable” tone of “Mad Dog and Glory.”

A.I. Rising
Judging solely from its cover art, marketing pitch and Eastern European roots, Lazar Bodroža’s debut feature, A.I. Rising, belongs on the same web pages Netflix and Amazon Prime reserve for such sci-fi oddities as Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988), Dark Star (1974) and Spaceballs (1987). The presence of adult-film goddess, Stoya (a.k.a., Jessica Stoya Stoyadinovich), would argue, as well, for a place alongside Not of This Earth (1988), with Traci Lords in her mainstream debut; ditto, Sasha Grey, in The Girlfriend Experience (2009); Sunny Leone, in Pirate’s Blood (2008); Belladonna, in Inherent Vice (2014); Jenna Jameson, in Zombie Strippers (2008); and Nina Hartley, in Boogie Nights (1997). Feel free to throw in Scott Schwartz, who made the leap from A Christmas Story (1983) to Scotty’s X-Rated Adventure (1996) and, in 1999, returned to the mainstream, and national treasure Ron Jeremy, who received a credit in 52 Pick-Up (1986), along with Tom Byron, Herschel Savage, Amber Lynn and Sharon Mitchell. None of the actors embarrassed themselves – or the movies – and some continue to appear in non-adult roles. It may not sound like much to say that Stoya delivers an excellent portrayal of an android, programed to help and give pleasure to an astronaut making the lonely journey from Earth to Alpha Centauri. And, like the movie itself, the astronaut, Milutin (Sebastian Cavazza) is of Serbian descent, hired from the Yugoslavian space agency – that’s right – by the Ederlezi Corporation of the “Reformed USSR” to “export a non-communist ideology” to its inhabitants. Milutin is an old-school cosmonaut, who’s been around the solar system a time or two, and doesn’t like taking orders from anyone, including robots. Still, it’s a long trip and Nimani (Stoya) is willing to do anything – yes, anything – to make it feel like a walk in the park.

Unfortunately, Nimani is “too compliant” for Milutin’s taste. He’d prefer that she/it pretends to enjoy the sex (like the girls back home), at least, or pretends to resist his advances. Nimani isn’t programmed to do anything, besides give pleasure, keep Milutin healthy, support the mission and abide by Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.” Eventually, Milutin attempts to rejigger her software to accommodate his wishes. Big mistake. It triggers an alert to company officials, who’ve anticipated such behavior and programmed Nimani to shut down when her circuits are molested. The circuitry built into the android demands answers to some of the same questions asked by HAL 9000, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as the cyber-emotions it expressed as it was dying. Of course, if the cosmonaut’s tinkering shuts down Nimani’s software, the entire mission will be threatened, along with Milutin’s longterm sanity. A.I. Rising also examines the importance or lack-thereof of sexual relations on extended space missions. (The issue was given a spin in 2016’s Passenger, when early-risers played by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are facing 90 years of boredom, until the other passengers are awakened from their deep sleep. In 1981, Gerard Damiano’s sex romp The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue also addressed the question of android/human sex,) If Stanley Kubrick were to arise from his deep sleep, I think he would find nice things to say about Kosta Glusica’s cinematography, Aljosa Spajic’s production design and Nemanja Mosurovic’s music. Despite Stoya’s background in adult films, the sex in A.I. Rising is somewhat less than explicit. There’s plenty of android nudity, but its impact is tempered by the actress’ matter-of-fact demeanor and “boyish” figure. (No offense, intended. It hasn’t hurt Stoya’s career.) The DVD adds several deleted scenes, interviews and making-of featurettes.

The Last Man: Blu-ray
Despite the presence of Harvey Keitel and Hayden Christensen, Rodrigo H. Vila’s The Last Man challenged the few critics who’ve seen it to choose between blowing up their players or watching the movie again, to see if they’d missed something that might redeem it. That’s a courtesy sometimes accorded genre pictures that feature the work of artists they admire, but who must have had a very good reason for signing a contract: medical bills, college costs, their manager’s financial malfeasance or the opportunity to spend a couple weeks in a delightful location, in this case Argentina. Who reads the reviews of direct-to-DVD movies, anyway? Keitel and Christensen’s name on a listing probably carries some weight with genre buffs looking for something to stream late at night. For the record, The Last Man isn’t close to being the worst dystopian thriller I’ve seen lately. The Blade Runner-inspired set designs are appropriately grimy and gritty, while the genuinely menacing neo-Nazis resemble the Alex’s droogs in A Clockwork Orange. The tagline says it all: “Set in a world where climate change has brought about the apocalypse.” That could describe any number of Syfy movies-of-the-week and disaster flicks, from such big-budget mediocracies as The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009) and Geostorm (2017), to the hit documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and less-successful, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017). For those still interested, though: Christensen plays Kurt (a.k.a., Tov Matheson), a combat veteran suffering from PTSD, who comes home to a city and civilization in ruins. Local street prophet, Noe (Keitel), says things will get even worse when a catastrophic storm hits. Kurt heeds Noe’s advice, by constructing a secret shelter just below the remains of a mega-store. At approximately the same time, he meets the sultry redhead, Jessica (Liz Solari), with whom he worked at a security firm. Together, they face Noe’s bleak predictions, with some supernatural and arguably Christian stops, along the way.

The Deadly Mantis: Blu-ray
I’ve encountered praying mantises in the wild a couple of times in my life, usually in the woodlands of Wisconsin and, once, chillin’ over the front door of my San Gabriel Valley home. Each time, I was impressed by their impeccable camouflage, deceptive strength and neon-green color. I’m pretty sure that a mantis wouldn’t last two minutes buried inside an iceberg in the Arctic Circle. Periodical cicadas (a.k.a., magicicadas) burrow themselves inside trees, feeding on xylem fluids, returning annoyingly to life in the outside world 13-17 years later. Cicadas are noisy, not frightening or particularly cinematic. As harmless as they look, mantises have heads ad faces that extraterrestrials would envy, are deadly predators and have inspired a Chinese martial art known as the Southern Praying Mantis. Unlike most praying mantises, who usually top out at six inches, the prehistoric monster in Nathan Juran’s beyond-campy creature-feature, The Deadly Mantis (1957), is as big as a house and, for some reason, pissed off as hell. The calving of an Arctic iceberg releases the giant bug, whose hunger causes it to attack an Alaskan outpost of the U.S. Distant Early Warning System, to eat its occupants. The monster, then, finds its way to the Eastern Seaboard, where the weather is more conducive to ravenous feeding. Unfortunately, its size also scares the crap out of residents of one of the most densely populated regions of the country. Paleontologist William Hopper (20 Million Miles to Earth) and voluptuous photographer Alix Talton (“My Favorite Husband”) join forces with the military – in the person of Craig Stevens (“Peter Gunn”) — to render it extinct. End of story … except to mention the 2K remastering of the film; new commentary with McNaughton and film historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter; the “MST3K” episode, “The Deadly Mantis,” from 1997; and a stills gallery.

Someone to Watch Over Me: Blu-ray
Although Ridley Scott’s highly stylized visual presentation was widely praised by critics, they found Someone to Watch Over Me’s plot and narrative less impressive. The romantic stakeout thriller didn’t make any money in its theatrical release, but, I suspect, it’s done very well in VHS and DVD. Unlike Tom Berenger, who impressed casting directors with performances in Platoon (1986), Rustlers’ Rhapsody (1985) and The Big Chill (1993), the delicately-balanced female protagonists, Mimi Rogers and Lorraine Bracco, had yet to emerge as stars in their own right. Working from a neo-noir screenplay by Howard Franklin (The Name of the Rose) – and three different renditions of the classic Gershwin title ballad — Scott inserted Berenger’s newly minted NYPD detective, Mike Keegan, smack-dab in the middle of a two-sided love triangle. He’s the only character on the big screen – or viewers, for that matter – who couldn’t anticipate the quandary that would develop when his tough-as-nails wife, Ellie (Bracco), gets winding of the society princess, Claire (Rogers), he’s guarding. Keegan’s been assigned to protect the headstrong socialite, who’s witnessed a murder and is being stalked by the bailed-out suspect (Andreas Katsulas). Naturally, the cop’s devotion to duty evolves into an obsession with the vulnerable witness, while his wife’s jealousy turns out to be entirely justified. Finally, both women are threatened by the same hoodlum, simultaneously, and their protector can’t be in two places at the same time. The tension rises to a violent crescendo that provides two satisfying resolutions. Not surprisingly, Scott’s visual instincts perfectly complement Steven Poster’s camerawork. The brilliantly restored Blu-ray adds fresh interviews with writer Howard Franklin and Poster.

The Craft: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
I don’t know when the never-ending parade of movies featuring teenage witches, vampires and Satanists began, although Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976) probably would be a good place to start looking. Heathers (1988) described just how dangerous teenager girls could be when threatened by peer pressure and social conformity. The supernatural aspects of teen angst picked up again a few years later, with the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) and, in 1996, the slightly darker television series of the same title. The flood gates really opened with the releases of such kindred fantasies as Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Jawbreaker (1999) and Scary Movie (2000). Newly re-released by Scream Factory in a special Blu-ray collector’s edition is The Craft (1996), one of the most influential entries in the sleepover-cinema sub-subgenre. It opens with the introduction of troubled-teen Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney), whose father and stepmother have relocated to L.A., from San Francisco. The parochial school has a strictly enforced social order with cliques, dividing the freaks and geeks from the brainiacs, jocks and “popular” kids. Although she’s hotter than all the cool girls combined, Sarah naturally finds her level among the misfits: Neve Campbell (Wild Things), Fairuza Balk (American History X) and Rachel True (Half Baked). Individually, Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle are the least-empowered girls in the school. As a group, however, they maximize each other’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. When Sarah exhibits a supernatural power, her new friends believe that she will complete their coven. In fact, she helps turn it into a single-minded entity capable of righting wrongs and punishing perceived slights. The rest of The Craft depicts what happens when the wannabe Wiccans lose control of their newly acquired powers. The bonus material adds new interviews with co-writer/director Andrew Fleming, producer Douglas Wick, co-writer Peter Filard and makeup- effects supervisor Tony Gardner; commentary with Fleming; two making-of featurettes; and deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary.

Showdown: Special Edition: Blu-ray
The stated purpose of the MVD Rewind Collection is to celebrate “cult classics and more from the video store” in special-edition Blu-ray and DVD collector’s sets, loaded with special features. They’re packaged to resemble the original VHS box, minus the scratchy cassette, tracking problems and fees charged for not rewinding. In 1993, the cover of Showdown was dominated by martial-arts superstar Billy Blanks, an African-American gentleman. Here, the cover features the young, white protagonist, Ken (Kenn Scott), and equally white protagonist, Tom (Ken McLeod), although Blanks is the heart and soul of Showdown. Otherwise, it’s The Karate Kid all over, again. Transfer student Ken Marks moves from Kansas to Phoenix, where he’ll enter high school as a second-semester senior. By trying to make friends with a cute classmate, Julie (Christine Taylor), he infuriates her boyfriend, who’s a highly trained kick-boxer. The more often Tom kicks the crap out of Ken, the closer Julie is drawn to the newcomer. This leads to the final showdown, where Tom is encouraged to kill Ken. Between their first encounter and the last one, however, Ken is coached by the school’s janitor, Billy (Blanks), who, as a cop, accidentally killed the brother of the brutal sensei of a local dojo. He immediately quit the force and, seven years later, found work at the school. One of the biggest problems with Showdown is the high school’s student body, whose median age appears to be 30 years old. None of the students appears to be intimated by vice-principal Kowalski, played by veteran hard-ass, Brion James (Blade Runner), who’s one of the scariest actors alive. The fights that aren’t one-sided beatdowns are well choreographed and exciting. As crappy and cliché-ridden as Showdown is, the supplement package is surprisingly generous and informative. The making-of featurette, alone, is 98 minutes long.

History: Ancient Aliens: Season 11, Volume 2
Perry Como’s Music Hall
Pat Boone & Family Springtime & Easter Specials
Nickelodeon: Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The title, “Ancient Aliens: Season 11, Volume 2,” appears not to be completely accurate. According to episode lineup on, it should be “Ancient Aliens: Season 13, Volume 2,” which ran from July 20, 2018, to January 7, 2019. I can’t explain the discrepancy, except to point out the show’s mission, which is to demonstrate how much of an impact that extraterrestrials have had on mankind and its greatest achievements. That could include new math. Among the highlights: in Egypt, new technology has detected a previously unknown void in the Great Pyramid; on the island of Sardinia, ancient statues of giants with robotic faces are being shown to the public for the first time; abduction stories around the world are analyzed; a look at suspicions that the U.S. and Russia have been working together to prepare for an extraterrestrial encounter; ancient cultures believed that meteorites were not merely rocks that fell from the sky, but sacred stones imbued with the power of the gods; in the north of England, scientists claim to have discovered what could be biological evidence of alien life; and, 50 years after the publication of “Chariots of the Gods,” is Erich Von Daniken about to be proven right?

MPI Media Group adds to its collection of easy-listening TV specials from traditional favorites, Perry Como and Pat Boone. In “Perry Como’s Music Hall,” which was broadcast in color in April 1967, the crooner “Perry Como’s Music Hall,” broadcast in color, the crooner welcomed then-rising comic George Carlin, pop-jazz singer Nancy Wilson and young ballerina Joyce Cuoco. In prime form, Perry sings his latest hit, “Stop! And Think It Over,” as well as “A Taste of Honey,” “How Beautiful the World Can Be,” “Dindi,” “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze” and “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” with Nancy. Carlin performs his fast-spinning disc-jockey routine, and the Ray Charles Singers join Perry and cast for a rousing Tax Day 1967 finale of “The Money Tree,” “Pennies From Heaven” and
“The Best Things in Life Are Free.”

Pat Boone & Family: Springtime Special”  brings together guests Parker Stevenson (“The Hardy Boys Mysteries”), Dick Van Patten (“Eight Is Enough”), The Unknown Comic and cameo appearances by comedians George Burns and Don Rickles. Pat performs a heart-warming “You & Me Against the World to his grandson; Debby and Parker duet on “Love Story”; the Boone sisters hit the dance floor; and the entire family teams up for “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher & Higher.” “Pat Boone & Family: Easter Special” celebrates the holiday at home, as the Boones welcome fellow ABC-TV stars Ted Knight (“Too Close for Comfort”) and Katherine Helmond (“Soap”) in addition to comic/impersonator John Byner. Bonus features: “The Boone Girls in Performance,” “Pat Boone: Irish Medleys,” “Pat Boone: Patriotic Songs”; “Debby Boone Promo”; and original TV promos.

Emerging from their hidden lair in the sewers for the very first time, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are ready to explore the hostile streets of New York City. In Nickelodeon’s “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” fans are invited to join Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, as they face enemies more dangerous, and taste pizza more delicious, than anything they could have imagined. The seven episodes are “Mystic Mayhem,” “Origami Tsunami,” “Donnie’s Gifts,” “War and Pizza,” “Mascot Melee,” “Shell in a Cell” and “Minotaur Maze.”


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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