MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter’s Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More

To Sleep With Anger: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Not to belabor the obvious problems on display in this past weekend’s Oscar-cast, but something really has to be done to correct at least one of the many injustices now committed annually by AMPAS. To appease the ratings-addicted executives at ABC, the academy continues to present its “prestigious” Governors’ Awards off-screen, well away from the spotlight. The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award and Honorary Awards are handed out in November. The less-prestigious Scientific and Engineering Awards and Technical Achievement Awards are presented earlier in February, while the Student Academy Awards and the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting are reserved for October. In its wisdom, too, AMPAS only elects to anoint Hersholt and Thalberg recipients in years that it’s located sufficiently worthy candidates. It’s a problem that’s never plagued Major League Baseball, when it comes time to pick winners of the Cy Young Awards and Golden Gloves, or the scholarship-granted at the Miss America contest. Does Hollywood suffer from a lack of noteworthy candidates?

After watching Criterion Collection’s upgraded edition of Charles Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger – and being familiar with his other significant works – I wondered if he’d ever been honored by AMPAS or received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The answers: yes and no. Two years ago, the Mississippi-born, Watts-raised multihyphenate was granted an Honorary Award by the organization’s gubernatorial board. As of yet, however, no star. I’d missed the minute or two devoted to such honorees, during the 2018 Academy Awards broadcast ceremony, and incorrectly assumed that he hadn’t made the cut. Good for him and good for the academy. Oscar Micheaux, perhaps the greatest of all African-American filmmakers and producers, was given a star on Hollywood Boulevard, 36 years after his death, and a 44-cent commemorative stamp, in 2010. Nothing from AMPAS, whose members conspired to segregate the motion-picture industry, forcing Micheaux to focus on making “race movies.” It’s still not too late, I suppose. Without Micheaux, there wouldn’t have been a Charles Burnett, and, without Burnett, an entire generation of African-American filmmakers might have had to wait another 10 years for their work to celebrated. If you want to know why Burnett deserved such an honor, you’ll have to pick up a copy of To Sleep With Anger and stay tuned for the splendidly rendered supplementals. To Sleep With Anger was released in 1990, 12 years after Burnett’s UCLA master’s thesis, Killer of Sheep, debuted at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and began a festival tour. Even though the $5,000 film won the FIPRESCI Prize, awarded by critics, at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival, it was denied distribution. His sin: Burnett couldn’t afford to pay the tariff for proper legal permits, music-rights acquisitions and anything more than 16mm prints. Thirty years later, these hurdles were finally cleared. Rights were secured and a new 35mm print of Killer of Sheep was restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive, clearing it for festivals, retrospectives and video. The Library of Congress has declared Killer of Sheep as a national treasure and one of the first 50 on the National Film Registry. The National Society of Film Critics selected it as one of the “100 Essential Films” of all time. Among other things, Burnett helped convince a generation of African-American filmmakers – many of them in attendance at last weekend’s Oscars ceremony — they could make the movies they wanted, independently and without studio interference. Ironically, because To Sleep With Anger didn’t contain any of the then-current images of thug life in the ’hood, as exemplified by such surprise hits as Boyz n the Hood (1991) and New Jack City (1991), only the Samuel Goldwyn Company was willing to give it a ride, albeit on a strictly limited marketing budget.

The PG-rated To Sleep With Anger features three of Burnett’s favorite themes: family, community and tradition. It is set in a middle-class section of South-Central L.A., before the Watts riots changed the outside world’s perception of the LAPD and the willingness of residents to stand up for their community. We know from the jump that Gideon and Suzie (Paul Butler, Mary Alice) were raised in the Deep South and are surrounded by many other people who made the same westward  journey to find jobs and dignity. They share certain traditions, beliefs and superstitions that survived the Middle Passage and were passed along by their ancestors, who, of course, were enslaved. Although they live perfectly normal lives, otherwise, Gideon and Suzie made sure their sons respected such traditions. Now fully grown, however, Babe Brother (Richard Brooks) and Junior (Richard Brooks) are as different in temperament as Cain and Able. Out of nowhere, sportin’ man Harry Mention (Danny Glover) arrives at the family abode. It makes everyone happy and ready to pull the “good” corn liquor out of the cupboard. By now, it’s apparent that happy-go-lucky Harry’s presence is likely to precipitate a series of events that aren’t divinely inspired. The centerpiece here is a well-attended welcoming party, during which much soul food is devoured, memories are swapped, blues songs are sung and everyone who hasn’t been “saved” gets drunk. Later, many of the same folks will gather to pray over Gideon, who’s suffered a severe heart attack. Meanwhile, too, Babe Brother and Junior have come to loggerheads over issues that began in childhood. It also affects their wives (Sheryl Lee Ralph, Vonetta McGee), who, being modern Angelinos, recognize the source of the problem and wish Harry would simply go away. By the time the 102-minute story ends, the whole package will be tied together in a neat bow, but not in any predictable way. Naturally, without a link connecting To Sleep With Anger to the gang-banger trend, the distributor couldn’t decide how to market the movie for crossover consumption – it belonged in the mainstream, after all — and, five years later, it finally received a VHS sendoff.

This occurred, despite the fact that the $1.4-million To Sleep With Anger – partially financed by a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant to Burnett — won several awards, including best screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics. It also took home Independent Spirit Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay, the AFI’s Maya Deren Award, the Special Jury Recognition Award at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival, a special award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and nominations for both Burnett and Glover by the New York Film Critics Association. The Criterion Blu-ray package represents its long-awaited reward from the greater film industry. Special features and technical specs include a 4K digital transfer, approved by Burnett, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack; a new interview program, with Burnett, Glover, Ralph and associate producer Linda Koulisis; a nearly feature-length, “A Walk With Charles Burnett,” with filmmaker Robert Townsend, revisiting shooting locations; a short video tribute to Burnett, produced for the Governors Awards ceremony; and an essay by critic Ashley Clark.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Blu-ray/4K UHD
The Little Mermaid: Signature Collection, Blu-ray/4K UHD
Liz and the Blue Bird: Blu-ray
The trio of animated films discussed here represents three different periods in the medium’s evolution. The success of the mostly hand-drawn The Little Mermaid (1989) brought Disney’s animation division, under Jeffrey Katzenberg, a solid victory, after nearly 20 years of miscues. (Two years earlier, Who Framed Roger Rabbit signaled a return to glory, as well.)  Ralph Breaks the Internet shows how far Walt Disney Animation Studios has come, not only from The Little Mermaid, but also in the realm of digital production. Not long after the merger with Pixar, many observers theorized that John Lasseter — chief creative officer and executive producer on most projects – would eliminate the redundancies and pretty much make the then-struggling Animation Studios subservient to the Pixar juggernaut. Today, both subsidiaries have retained their own fingerprints and continue to deliver features that impress audiences, critics and animation buffs. The corporate roots of Naoko Yamada’s Liz and the Blue Bird (2018) extend all the way back to contributions Kyoto Animation made on Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Porco Rosso (1992). In 1996, Ghibli announced a international distribution deal with Disney, covering its films and home-entertainment products. In this way, Disney helped introduce anime and manga to people who’d grown up on Mickey Mouse, who’d long been a superstar in Japan.

Ralph Breaks the Internet follows by six years the mayhem chronicled in Wreck-It Ralph. In the latter, video-game palooka Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and the vexing “glitch,” Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), conspire to raise their profiles in the arcade community by eliminating the nasty Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch). Here, when Vanellope admits to being bored with the Sugar Rush game’s predictability, Ralph creates a secret bonus track for her confectionary kart races. When Vanellope, being Vanellope, overrides player control to test the track, the resulting conflict causes a crash in which her car’s steering wheel is broken. Since the company that manufactured Sugar Rush is defunct, one of the kids scours the Internet for a used replacement part. It’s found on the bidding site, eBay, ready for auction. If he deems the part to be too expensive, Mr. Litvak (Ed O’Neill) will have no choice but to unplug Sugar Rush, leaving the game’s characters homeless. Instead, Ralph and Vanellope decide to enter the brave new world of the World Wide Web – for them, anyway – and go directly to land of eBay. The problem, of course, is that they lack the basic skills needed to make winning bid. Neither do they understand the difference between a dollar and points. The trouble begins when they begin to outbid each other, even after their nearest competitor dropped out 20,000 cyber-dollars earlier. In Sugar Rush, Vanellope knows that 40,000 points is easily attained. In the real world of eBay transactions, not so much. They’re given 24 hours to find the money, collecting transferable points in all kinds of branded websites. Normally, I can’t stand product placements in movies. Here, however, it’s all done in the name of fun. Adult viewers, especially, will enjoy identifying the various logos of defunct and active companies, as well the lampooning of Internet tropes. The best things about Ralph Breaks the Internet, besides the witty script and voice acting, are the brilliantly vibrant colors on display in the 4K UHD universe. The Blu-ray adds “Surfing for Easter Eggs,” “The Music of Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “BuzzzTube Cats,” the 35-minute “How We Broke the Internet,” deleted scenes and music videos, performed by Imagine Dragons and Julia Michaels.

The first thing to know about the Signature Collection release of The Little Mermaid is that it predates all the straight-to-video prequels and sequels. Neither is it related to last year’s bargain-basement live-action The Little Mermaid or, for that matter, the filmed version of Disney’s theatrical musical, which opened on Broadway in 2008. Rob Marshall’s CGI and live-action remake — with new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda – still awaits a delivery date. Nope, the 30th anniversary Signature Collection edition simply represents the latest iteration of Disney’s beloved classic, which had been on the studio’s to-do list for more than 50 years … same great characters, music and interpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen’s story. That, and a bright, newly upgrade visual and audio presentation. It also adds new featurettes, “Alan Menken and the Leading Ladies,” with Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Belle, Beauty and the Beast), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas), Lillias White (Hercules) and Donna Murphy (Tangled); “What I Want From You Is …Your Voice,” with the actors who voiced Sebastian, Scuttle, Urusla and Ariel; “Stories From Walt’s Office: Gadgets and Gizmos,” which takes viewers inside Uncle Walt’s office and explores his various collectibles — mostly miniatures — that people gave to him after it was revealed that he collected them. Six other featurettes have been ported over from previous editions, alongside an exclusive digital extra, “‘Part of Your World’: A Look Back,” in which Menken and Jodi Benson discuss the song’s impact and early plans to cut the song from the film. Missing are “The Little Match Girl,” “John & Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other,“ “Animators Comment on their Characters” and “The Little Mermaid Handshake,” which fans probably have already seen. I’m fortunate to have a combined Blu-ray/4K platform, which allowed me to compare the formats, without having to move any further than the distance from my couch to the TV. If you can remember the difference between the VHS cassette and the first DVD and Blu-ray discs, you might be surprised to learn how much better The Little Mermaid looks and sounds in 4K UHD. Although some of the original analog portions are only noticeably more clear, clean and visually appealing, everything else in HDR is strikingly better, especially the depth-of-color and artistic precision. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack also is a welcome addition.

With its wispy, hand-painted texture, Naoko Yamada’s Liz and the Blue Bird will remind anime buffs of early Miyazaki. The look is of a piece with “Sound! Euphonium” (2015-16), the manga and TV series that chronicles the lives and complexities of the students participating in Kitauji High School’s music club. It also resembles “K-On!” (2009-10), which followed five girls, who become friends through the Light Music Club at a fictional Japanese school. These feel-good series were based on popular novels, most likely targeted at girls who grew up obsessed with all-things-“Hello Kitty.” Because Liz and the Blue Bird is a standalone spin-off of Ayano Takeda’s “Sound! Euphonium,” teens and pre-teens are advised not to jump into the feature film cold. (Episodes are available through various streaming platforms.) Here, best friends Mizore and Nozomi prepare to perform a complex musical duet inspired by the fairy tale “Liz und ein Blauer Vogel,” for oboe and flute. Though they play beautifully together and have been friends since childhood, Mizore and Nozomi are having trouble squaring plans for graduation with rehearsals for a difficult duet. Interspersed with their story is a more lushly animated fantasy tale, drawn in the style of a storybook, that contrasts with the crisp, uncomplicated realism of the scholastic storyline. Yamada does a nice job weaving the distinctly different artistic styles into the fabric of the musical presentation. In the TV series, Mizore and Nozomi were background characters. Here, with the spotlight on their endangered friendship, young viewers are encouraged to consider issues relating to connection and loss. Yamada had already proved her skill in depicting young adults in “A Silent Voice” (2016), “Tamako Love Story” (2014) and “K-On! The Movie” (2011).

Jupiter’s Moon
Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s supernatural thriller, Jupiter’s Moon, screened in competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Three years earlier, he won top prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar for White God, a film in which a city’s canine population rebels against the inhumanity of humans. In 2005, Mundruczó’s musical drama, Johanna, was nominated there, as well. In it, a young drug addict emerges from a deep coma with an ability to miraculously cure patients by offering sexual favors. As offbeat as those premises seem, Jupiter’s Moon tops them, if only because its story is linked inexorably to refugee crises elsewhere. It opens as a young immigrant from Homs, Syria, is shot by border guards while attempting to cross into Hungary with his father. Just as we begin to assume Aryan Dashni (Zsombor Jéger) is dead, his corporeal body levitates above the scene of the mass arrests. Aryan is unable to remain aloft long enough to avoid capture, however. Thrown into the hospital ward of a nearby refugee camp, he is smuggled out by Dr. Gabor Stern (Merab Ninidze), whose kindness masks a scheme to sell medical reprieves to immigrants threatened with immediate deportation. Stern needs the money to pay off the family of an aspiring athlete, who, while the surgeon was drunk, died from procedural mistake.

After witnessing Aryan’s extraordinary power,  Gábor comes up with an even more devious plan to bail himself out of charges of medical malpractice. He offers Aryan a deal: in exchange for money and legal papers, Gábor will bring Aryan to Budapest to reunite with his father, who may or may not have survived the border altercation. In fact, the corrupt doctor will present himself as a spiritual healer, using Aryan as an assistant capable of curing  people with terminal diseases. Meanwhile, the same police officer who shot Aryan and, coincidentally, despises Stern for trying to cover-up the athlete’s death, steals the doctor’s cellphone. It contains a video showing Aryan levitating. The brutal cop, László (György Cserhalmi) dedicates himself to unmasking Stern’s scheme and using Aryan’s powers to his own benefit. A terrorist attack at the Budapest train depot opens an entirely new can of worms, again involving stolen papers. In the mayhem that follows the suicide bombing, Aryan takes advantage of his powers to float away, landing on a nearby rooftop. A woman who witnesses the otherworldly event assumes that Aryan is an “angel,” who “flew to the sky,” and is worthy of her prayers. Before the movie concludes, thousands of other people will witness the same miracle and assume that a heavenly superhero is now among them. We’ve all seen enough illusionists pull off the same trick on stage to remain skeptical of the source of Aryan’s powers: heaven, magic or Krypton. Regardless, Mundruczó and cinematographer Marcell Rév (“Paterno”) have created a cinematic world that encourages viewers to suspend their disbelief for the 129 minutes it takes for us to buy into anything they want to sell us. I can easily imagine a scenario, in which an enterprising Hollywood producer invests in an adaptation of Jupiter’s Moon – the title is more metaphorical than indicative of a sci-fi thriller – that switches the location from the Hungarian border to the Rio Grande valley, where some of the same things probably happen on a routine basis, minus the magical realism. Given a bit more editorial guidance, Mundruczó probably could handle the change in scenery.

The Possession of Hannah Grace: Blu-ray
Between Worlds: Blu-ray
In Diederik Van Rooijen’s nearly out-of-control American debut, The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018) — written by Brian Sieve (“Scream: The TV Series”) – a demonic presence rises from the seemingly dead, to terrorize a nearly empty Boston medical facility. The devil may possess Hannah Gray’s soul, but her body is residing on a slab in the facility’s morgue. It’s there that former cop Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is weaning herself from the substances she takes to ease the pain of PTSD and panic attacks. On her first night on the graveyard shift, Hannah’s putrefying corpse is wheeled in on a stretcher. She died in an exorcism that didn’t quite work. No sooner is her cadaver locked inside the stainless-steel refrigerator than the usual array of loud and crazy things begin to happen around her. Not the least of them is the arrival of a disheveled guy at the hospital’s entrance, demanding to be allowed inside the morgue to kill – again? – Hannah, this time for eternity. They almost manage to stuff the body into the crematorium, when Hannah pulls a switcheroo on the invader. Strangely enough, the purification process begins to reverse itself, turning Megan’s first night into a nightmare of biblical proportions. That becomes obvious when Hannah begins stalking the hallways like a contortionist possessing the DNA of a spider. However disappointing the action is, there’s no question of dancer/gymnast Kirby Johnson’s ability to imitate a possessed woman. There’s nothing else in the movie that comes close. The Blu-ray adds on-set interviews.

Maria Pulera’s sophomore thriller, behind Falsely Accused (2016), is an unredeemable mess, except as a direct appeal to Nicolas Cage’s most rabid fans, who might love it. In Between Worlds, he plays a mangy, down-on-his-luck truck driver, who’s haunted by the memory of his recently deceased wife and child. While stranded at a truck stop, Joe rescues a fellow trucker, Julie (Franke Potente), from being strangled by a guy she’s hired to do just that. Apparently, she’s come to believe that the only way to pull her daughter, Billie (Penelope Mitchell), out of a coma is to feign the kind of near-death condition she experienced as a child. Even though Joe’s act of misguided kindness ruined her little scheme, Julie brings him home, as if he were just another abandoned hound to keep her couch warm at night and keep her company. They also engage in some unbridled sexual healing. Apparently, their gyrations woke the genie slumbering  in a magic lamp hidden under Julie’s mattress. Billie miraculously emerges from her coma, catching the adults in the afterglow of orgasmic bliss. Because Joe can’t afford to bail his truck out of hock, he agrees to remain with Julie, making repairs around the house. While Julie’s on the road, however, Billie entices her mother’s lodger into replicating scenes from Poison Ivy. It has less to do with his being unsatisfied or insatiable – in either case, he’s not – than the possibility that the teenager possesses the reincarnated spirit of his ex-wife, Mary (Lydia Hearst), right down to shared memories and personal trivia. Revealing anything more about Between Worlds would only serve to spoil the fun for members of Nic’s fan club. Suffice it to say, the action is as hot, heavy, loud and bizarre as anything he’s been involved in since Wild at Heart. At one point, Joe is even shown reading passages from “Memories by Nicolas Cage” to Billie/Mary. It’s impossible to say whether Pulera came up with the conceit herself or Cage pulled it out of his bag of tricks. Besides that, the highlights are limited to Angelo Badalamenti’s musical score and costume designer Bonnie Stauch’s choice of lingerie for Billie/Mary to seduce the house guest. (Nic’s brief might have come from a Good Will repository.)

The Unseen
Willard: Blu-ray
In his first foray into world of writing and directing feature films, makeup-effects wizard Geoff Redknap (“The X-Files”) puts an inventive twist on the time-honored legend of Universal’s Invisible Man. Instead of being able to turn his invisibility on and off — like Claude Raines, Steve Guttenberg, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Kevin Bacon in similar circumstances – lumber-yard-worker Bob Langmore (Aden Young) is unable to prevent his body from decomposing, piece by gruesome piece. By the end of Redknap’s The Unseen – an example of Canuxploitation creativity at its most Canadian – Langmore is barely there, at all, although his innards are on nearly full display. Bob notices the first manifestations of his unexplained malady while working at a sawmill in northern British Columbia. He’s been battling extreme anxiety and depression caused by rough working conditions at and the residual pain precipitated by his separation from his wife and daughter, eight years earlier. When in public, Bob uses caps and jackets to strategically hide the parts of him that have vanished, adding more layers when needed. After getting a call from his ex-wife (Julia Sarah Stone) about their daughter, Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), Bob decides to visit the girl whose memory of him is no more stable than his visibility. Adding to the intrigue is a contrived arrangement with a local drug dealer, who fixes Bob’s truck in exchange for a bit of smuggling. When the task isn’t performed, as ordered, the gangster begins to threaten Bob’s family. While Redknap’s screenplay may contain as many holes as his protagonist, the special effects are creepy enough to keep most viewers interested.

Like Redknap, Willard’s writer/director/producer Glen Morgan and producer James Wong can credit stints with “The X-Files” for some of their success, at least. Morgan’s re-adaptation of Gilbert Ralston’s 1971 screenplay, was based on Stephen Gilbert’s 1968 novel, “Ratman’s Notebooks,” as was its turnaround sequel, Ben (1972). The original starred Bruce Davison as the protagonist, Willard Stiles, with Ernest Borgnine, Elsa Lanchester and Sondra Locke along for the ride. Framed images of Davison appear throughout the sequel. Willard is credited with launching the 1970s’ creature-feature renaissance. Morgan’s Willard take some liberties with the original, but not many. At its core is a story about a young man (Crispin Glover), who falls in love with the vermin in his basement. What Willard doesn’t take into consideration is the animals’ propensity to reproduce exponentially. He will employ his varmint army to avenge his firing by his boss, Frank, played by R. Lee Ermey in full-tyrant mode. Laura Elena Harring (Mulholland Drive), former adult-movie queen Ashlyn Gere (Body and Soul) and poor old Jackie Burroughs (Avonlea)  also contribute to the fun. More than anything else, however, is the introduction of spanking-new CGI effects into the mix, allowing a few rats to represent a multitude, without any measurable rutting. Despite some good reviews, Willard failed to match the performance of the original, which explains why Ben wasn’t accorded a sequel of its own. That, and the near extinction of drive-in theaters, which, in 1973, were still a force in exhibition. The Scream Factory release adds a 2K remaster of the film; new commentaries with Morgan and DP Robert McLachlan and animal trainers Mark Harden and David Allsberry, of Animals for Hollywood; “The Road to Willard,” a fresh interview with Morgan; “Destination Willard,” a new interview with McLachlan; “The Rat Trainer’s Notebook,” with behind-the-scenes footage from Animals for Hollywood; vintage commentary with Morgan, Wong, Glover and Ermey; “The Year of the Rat,” a making-of documentary; “Rat People: Friends or Foes?,” a documentary on real-life rats; deleted/alternate scenes, with optional commentary; the music video, “Ben,” by Crispin Hellion Glover, with optional commentary; and behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the electronic press kit.

The Mole People: Blu-ray
The Return of the Vampire: Blu-ray
The Vengeance of She: Blu-ray
Scream Factory is also responsible for the Blu-ray release of several other near classics and cheesy cult faves. Like so many other mid-century sci-fi/horror flicks, The Mole People imagines a world so far from anything resembling reality that it might as well be listed at Netflix under comedies. I don’t know if it was inspired by Superman and the Mole-Men (1951), but it could have been. No matter, because director Virgil W. Vogel hired educator/TV-personality Frank C. Baxter to introduce The Mole People with 10 minutes of mumbo-jumbo about the possibility of entire civilizations existing and flourishing underground. Hence, the title. The mole people are only one of several obstacles facing archaeologists John Agar (Attack of the Puppet People), Hugh Beaumont (“Leave It to Beaver”) and Nestor Paiva (Creature From the Black Lagoon), when they come upon an unusual race of albino beings living on the tippy-top of a mountain in the Himalayas, untouched by Noah’s great flood. They shun all forms of light – including “magical cylinders of fire” (a.k.a., flashlights) – and keep mutant mole men as their slaves. The archaeologists are treated like gods, until they try to liberate the mole people. Can they escape this hallowed mountain, with an underground kingdom and sophisticated system of tunnels, or will they live long enough to commit other cinematic crimes? The mind boggles. The Blu-ray offers two presentations of the film: in 1.85:1 and 2.00:1 aspect ratios; new commentary with film historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter; the featurette, “Of Mushrooms and Madmen: The Making of The Mole People”; the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episode, skewering The Mole People, in standard definition; stills galleries; movie stills, posters and lobby cards; and a theatrical trailer. It’s perfect for stoned viewing.

The Scream/Shout catalogue now also includes Columbia’s 1943 cult favorite  The Return of the Vampire and Hammer’s The Vengeance of She, which, even by 1968 standards, feels as if it might have fit a drive-in double bill with The Mole People. In the former, Armand Tesla (Bela Lugosi) is a 200-year-old Hungarian vampire, who, as is his wont, prowls the English countryside, feeding from the jugulars of the villagers. His reign of terror is interrupted by a pair of scientists, Lady Jane (Frieda Inescort) and Sir John Ainsley (Roland Varno), who drive a railroad spike through his heart and bury him. Flash forward 20 years, to the early days of WWII, when German bombers and blimps were leaving holes throughout the English countryside. Collateral damage includes a casket revealed to a couple of groundskeepers, who don’t see any harm in removing a spike – yes, the very same one – from Tesla’s chest. Along with his werewolf servant, Andreas Obry (Matt Willis), the famished vampire now plots vengeance on the family that put a halt to his earlier nocturnal feasting. At a crisp 69 minutes, there isn’t much more room for an elongated storyline. Special features and technical specs: new audio commentaries with film historian Troy Howarth, author/film-historian Gary Don Rhodes and historian Lee Gambin; a silent and much-abridged 8mm presentation of the film; and a stills gallery.

H. Rider Haggard is the author of the serialized adventure novel, “She: A History of Adventure” (1886), from which The Vengeance of She and a dozen other female-empowerment movies were adapted. They range from Georges Méliès’ 1899 short film, The Pillar of Fire, to Clive Nolan’s rock-opera/musical version of She, which was recorded live in 2007, in Katowice, Poland, and released on DVD a year later. The Vengeance of She is a sequel to She (1965), which benefitted from the pairing of Ursula Andress and stud-muffin John Richardson. No such luck for the sequel, in which Richardson, as King Killikrates, was paired with Olinka Berova, a blond bombshell whose greatest challenge was fitting into her abbreviated Grecian costume. Berova’s Carol appears to be possessed by the spirit of Queen Ayesha. She’s drawn to the lost city of Kuma, where the spirit of Ayesha yearns to be reunited with Killikrates and reclaim her domain. Probably due to the lack of T&A, the movie died a slow, painful death at the box office. The Blu-ray arrives with fresh interviews with assistant director Terence Clegg, visual effects artist Joy Cuff and clapper/loader Trevor Coop; new commentary by the Monster Party podcast hosts, Matt Weinhold, Shawn Sheridan, Larry Strothe and James Gonis; a delightful return to the 1960s, in “World of Hammer: Lands Before Time”; the theatrical trailer; TV spots; and a stills gallery.

Legally Blonde Collection
With the release of Legally Blonde 3 set for Valentine’s Day, 2020, what better way to begin beating the drums than with a fresh re-packaging of the surprisingly successful 2001 original and its 2003 sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde. Both movies made money, but Legally Blonde received far better reviews. Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Cauffiel are set to return for “LB3.” (There’s still time to retitle it “Legally Blond 3: MILFs on the Move.”) One thing that “LB3” will have going for it that the sequel didn’t claim is the return of writers Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, who also co-wrote Ella Enchanted (2004) and The House Bunny (2008). The director’s name hasn’t been announced yet, but Robert Luketic is probably still available. In “LB1,” SoCal Dreamsicle Elle Woods makes the unprecedented leap from USC sorority queenbee to Harvard Law graduate, shedding her worthless boy-toy for Luke Wilson along the way, In “LB: 2,” the crusading attorney takes Washington by storm in her Jimmy Choo pumps and fashionably square pink and lavender suits. (Pink is red-hot right now.) Her mission is to lobby for  legislation prohibiting the use of animals for testing consumer goods. If the plot feels more than a little bit obvious, the movie benefits from the addition of Sally Field, Regina King, Bruce McGill, Bob Newhart and the retention of Witherspoon, Cauffiel, Wilson, Jennifer Coolidge, Alanna Ubach, Bruce Thomas, James Read and Tane McClure. In addition to those features, the Elle Woods saga includes a Reese-free 2009 direct-to-DVD spin-off, Legally Blondes; and “Legally Blonde: The Musical” (2007). The collection’s only new featurettes are fresh interviews with Cauffiel, along with upgraded visuals.

Acorn TV: Bang: Series 1
Acorn TV: Ackley Bridge: Series 2
Acorn TV: 800 Words: Season 3, Part 2
Once again, Acorn Media is sending out sets of popular mini-series from the Commonwealth, or what passes for it these days. “Bang” is a crackerjack police-procedural that arrives in Welsh and English (subtitles recommended). It is set in the smoggy coastal town of Port Talbot, Wales, which is dominated by a steelworks. The police force, whose officers look as if they were recruited from the cast of “Misfits,” is involved with investigations into at least two murders, the disappearance of a stolen gun and drug- and human-trafficking, dating back to 1990s. Romantic entanglements border on the incestuous. At last count, Port Talbot is home to some 37,276 people, a number that wouldn’t fill most soccer stadiums. It stars Jacob Ifan (“Cuffs”) as Sam Jenkins, a loner who becomes entangled in a web of lies after coming into possession of a gun. He barely recalls the murder of his father, years earlier on a local beach favored by surfers, but the scars of growing up without him still show. His sister, Gina, played by Catrin Stewart (“Doctor Who” and, yes, “Misfiits”), works out her separation anxiety as a member of the police force. When a local bigshot is found dead, suffocated with a plastic bag and submerged under his boat, Gina discovers a trail that leads back to her father’s own criminal past. Another storyline involves her mother, Linda (Nia Roberts), and her thuggish second husband, who threatens to evict Sam from his grandmother’s house after she dies. Because the mini-series plays out in eight 60-minute episodes, “Bang” isn’t as complicated as it sounds. The actors are excellent and little time is left between plot points for any paint to dry. Watching “Bang” made me wonder what Dick Wolf might be able to come up with if he were asked to create an eight-hour mini-series, featuring characters from various “Law & Order” series. The Brits have it down to a science. The package comes with a making-of featurette.

The second season of the Channel 4 drama series, “Ackley Bridge,” continues to follow the lives of the staff and pupils at the fictional multi-cultural academy school, Ackley Bridge College, located in the fictitious Yorkshire mill town of Ackley Bridge. It’s grown from six episodes in Season One, to 12 in Season Two, and eight in the upcoming Season Three. In the opening stanza, we watched what happens after budget cuts force the merger of two schools in a racially divided British and Pakistani community. As such, it explores “the turbulent school experience, covering the challenges of prejudice and cultural issues in the school environment, as well as the humor, relationships and conflict had by the pupils, teachers and parents.” With key characters and plotlines already established, the writers were able to dig deeper into issues common to the students, teachers and community. “Ackley Bridge” has been compared favorably to the BBC’s long-running school dramas, “Waterloo Road” and “Grange Hill.”

The Australia/New Zealand co-production, “800 Words,” is a dramedy series about George Turner, a popular newspaper columnist and recent widower, who decides it’s time for a big change in his life. (The title relates to the mandated length of his columns.) After his wife dies, he buys — over the internet and sight unseen – an unfinished home in the wee seaside town of Weld, N.Z. It’s where his parents took him on holiday as a child. The first dilemma he faced came when he had to break the news to his two teenage children, Shay and Arlo. The second involved his new neighbors, who, while colorful, are nosy and disruptive. The soap-opera atmosphere is balanced by situations unique to small towns in exotic locales. The bad news is that “800 Words” – a staple on many PBS affiliates – has been canceled after three seasons.


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2 Responses to “The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter’s Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More”

  1. Larry K says:

    You got me excited for a moment – I thought The Blue Bird with Liz Taylor was finally being released.

  2. Gary Dretzka says:

    If only …


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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