MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More

Bumblebee: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Fans of the Transformers spinoff, Bumblebee, may not be aware that the film’s transforming mecha protagonist and title character is only now coming of age, 35 years after it was introduced in the original rollout of branded merchandise from the Japanese toy company Takara Tomy and America’s Hasbro label. The popularity of such “Generation 1” products as Go-Bots, Transformers, the 1984 animated television series and comic books spread to other foreign markets, spawning an animated feature film (1986), video games, books, shirts, costumes and collectibles. It wasn’t until Michael Bay’s live-action adventure Transformers (2007) achieved blockbuster status worldwide – on a production budget of $150 million — that the venerable franchise found new wings. Buoyed once again by huge foreign sales, the six-chapter Paramount/DreamWorks series passed the billion-dollar barrier two times. Budgets would surpass or tease the $200-million threshold four times. In 2017, Transformers: The Last Knight, which cost $217 million to make, grossed a comparatively anemic $605 million, 78.5 percent of those dollars coming from outside the U.S. Clearly, something had to be done to preserve the franchise, before playing the straight-to-video card, anyway. Bumblebee was developed as either a spin-off or prequel, and later declared a reboot. The studio and now-producer Bay decided to downscale the size of the sixth installment, by reducing the budget drastically, bringing in fresh behind-the-camera talent (Travis Knight, Christina Hodson), keeping the running time under 120 minutes for the first time in 12 years, putting the focus on fewer characters and de-emphasizing the brand in the publicity material. It would promote the presence of a formidable teenage heroine (Hailee Steinfeld), alongside the already popular Bumblebee and formidable  Decepticon enemy, and add a malleable American warrior (John Cena). Neither did the atypically favorable reviews hurt Bumblebee’s chances  at the box office. By re-setting the action in 1987, it also serves as an origin story for those fans whose only knowledge of Transformers derives from Bay’s quintet.

On faraway Cybertron, the Autobot resistance, led by Optimus Prime, is on the verge of losing the civil war against the Decepticons. When a Decepticon force intercepts evacuees, Optimus sends his scout, B-127, to Earth to set up a less vulnerable base of operations. When B-127’s pod crash-lands in California, it disrupts a training exercise by a secret government agency that monitors extraterrestrial activity here. Sector 7 Colonel Jack Burns (Cena) assumes B-127 is a hostile invader and pursues him. To mask his escape, B-127 scans a Willys MB jeep and heads toward a mine. A Decepticon Seeker will ambush the Autobot there and interrogate it. When B-127 refuses to reveal Optimus’ whereabouts, Blitzwing tears out the alien’s  voice box and damages it’s memory core. Despite this, B-127 manages to kill Blitzwing with one of his own missiles. Before collapsing from his injuries, B-127 scans a nearby 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. Flash ahead to 1987, when a teenage mechanic, Charlie (Steinfeld), finds a yellow Volkswagen Beetle in a scrapyard. Unaware of the VW’s identity, the  owner gives it to her as an 18th-birthday present. When she attempts to start “Bumblebee,” Charlie unknowingly activates a homing signal that is detected by Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick, as they interrogate and execute the Autobot, Cliffjumper, on one of Saturn’s moons. The pair heads to Earth, where the shapeshifters pretend to be peacekeepers, so as to convince Sector 7 agents Burns (Cena) and Powell (John Ortiz) to help them capture B-127. Bumblebee concludes with a series of action sequences designed to test the mettle of Charlie and Burns, who’s smelled a rat and joined B-127’s mission to protect Optimus Prime. Together, they will endeavor to keep the planet safe for humans and transformative allies, alike. The Paramount 4K UHD is a treat for the senses, thanks, in large part, to the 2160p/Dolby Vision and Atmos soundtrack. The bonus material contained on the Blu-ray disc includes deleted and extended scenes, outtakes and the featurettes, “Sector 7 Archive,” “Bee Vision: The Transformers Rrobots of Cybertron” and “Bringing Bumblebee to the Big Screen.”

On the Basis of Sex: Blu-ray
While on the subject of superheroes, Mimi Leder’s inspiring bio-drama, On the Basis of Sex, is the origin story of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones), who’s maintained he seat on the Supreme Court after surviving several bouts with cancer, broken bones and the 2010 loss of her husband and collaborator, Marty (Armie Hammer). In some circles, the 86-year-old Brooklyn-native is known by her superhero alias, Notorious RBG. On the Basis of Sex recalls Ginsburg’s Harvard education and breakthrough case, which was widely considered to be a non-starter, simply because no one had successfully challenged the legal system’s Good Ol’ Boy cabal at its own game. For as long as anyone could remember, women were forced to accept positions of subservience to their male peers, no matter how qualified and successful they were. Ironically, the case involved the ability of a man to claim tax breaks as the caretaker of his ailing mother. Women caretakers could claim such deductions, but, incredibly, not men. If that sounds like a no-brainer today, no lawyer in the mid-1960s wanted to touch the case. Even the film’s ACLU attorney (Justin Theroux) had to be coaxed into supporting it. If, at times, Jones appears to be channeling Sally Field, in Norma Rae (1979), it doesn’t’ detract from her performance. On the Basis of Sex followed by only a few months the release of Oscar-nominated bio-doc, RBG, into niche theaters. By then, Ginsburg had already become a pop-culture icon, referenced in “SNL,” “New Girl,” The Lego Movie 2, Deadpool 2 and labels of Samuel Adams’s limited-edition beer, “When There Are Nine.” The Blu-ray adds three short production featurettes.

The Charmer
Co-writer/director Milad Alami and Ingeborg Topsoe’s twisty psychological drama, The Charmer, measures the lengths to which some immigrants and guest workers will go to secure citizenship in their adoptive homelands. Although the hurdles facing refugees are very much in the news these days, there’s never been a shortage of movies about immigrants – men, especially – who see marriage as the quickest way to secure green cards and citizenship papers. They practically constitute a subgenre of comedies and dramas of their own. When we meet Esmail (Ardalan Esmaili), the young Iranian has already been in Denmark for several years. Despite a history of holding menial pa-time jobs, Esmail appears to have had no trouble hooking up with local ladies of marriageable age, solid finances and open minds. Each time, however, something in Esmail’s standoffish personality queers the deal at the last minute. It isn’t until he befriends a young Iranian woman, whose family has lived in the country long enough to have sunk roots in the soil, that Esmail appears to have hit the jackpot. Although he had no intention of getting involved with an Iranian woman – why, we wonder? – a pair of sexy Persian party animals grab his attention at a club. The less-cynical Sara (Soho Rezanejad) takes an immediate shine to the unpretentious outsider, although primarily  as a companion. Soon enough, however, Sara will use their friendship to avoid meeting her mother’s smothering expectations. It will evolve, as well, from best-buddy status, to friends-with-benefits, to mutually dependent lovers. It’s at precisely this point that Alami and Topsoe pull the rug out from everyone’s feet with one fell swoop, including our own. The twist changes everything, except our appreciation of the filmmakers’ imaginations and the cast’s ability to keep us guessing. Bonus features include Pearl Gluck’s excellent short film, “Summer,” about two teenage girls attending a Hasidic sleepaway camp, where a forbidden book poses questions about sex that the uptight counselors are reluctant to answer.

The Great Buster: A Celebration: Blu-ray
Way back in television’s Pleistocene Age, silent comedies and vintage cartoons often filled the gaps between local news reports and network programming.  There simply wasn’t enough original material available and the syndication market was beginning to blossom. Until the mid-1960s, “Popeye” cartoons, “Three Stooges” shorts, Mickey Mouse and Saturday  morning kiddie fare added words and sound effects to the mix … then, the bottom fell out, entirely, leaving a gap for imported anime. Nothing topped the classics, though. I only mention this here as a way to encourage anyone born after, say, 1980, to check out  Peter Bogdanovich and Cohen Film Classics’ delightful bio-doc The Great Buster: A Celebration, which explains why Buster Keaton – Hollywood’s “Great Stone Face” – Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and Harold Lloyd, remain only slightly less essential today than before they handed the baton to radio- and stage-based comedians. Unless one lives near a theater specializing in silent entertainment – or watches TCM on “silent nights” – it would be easy to think that physical comedy sprung from the brows of such post-silent comics as Jerry Lewis, John Candy, Jim Carrey and generations of “SNL” cast members. Among the many actors and comics bearing witness in The Great Buster: A Celebration is Johnny Knoxville – co-creator of MTV’s stunt- and prank-heavy “Jackass” – who freely acknowledges the debt he owes Keaton. The “Jackass” crew nearly killed themselves attempting the same gags Keaton invented and made look easy.

The doc is filled with impeccably restored material from the Keaton achieves.  It also delivers a fascinating recounting of Buster’s beginnings on the vaudeville circuit, where his dad used him as a fall guy and punching bag, and development of his trademark physical comedy and deadpan expression. He would struggle with  alcoholism and bad business advice to succeed as a director, writer, producer and star of his own short films and features. The loss of artistic independence and career decline, as the talkies took hold, are also covered by Bogdanovich, before focusing on Keaton’s extraordinary output from 1923 to 1929. It yielded 10 remarkable feature films — including The General (1926) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) –that are among the greatest of all time. Also shown are snippets from Samuel Beckett’s  Film (1965), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and his final silent short, The Scribe (1966),  Interspersed throughout are interviews with nearly two-dozen collaborators, filmmakers, performers and friends, including Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Werner Herzog, Dick van Dyke, Dick Cavett, Bill Irwin, Norman Lloyd  and Carl Reiner. The Blu-ray adds the nearly inaudible post-screening Q&A, “Conversations From the Quad,” an exclusive interview with Bogdanovich, and intro by Charles S. Cohen.

A Silent Voice: Blu-ray
No Alternative: Blu-ray
Bullying in our schools is one of those issues that concerns parents, teachers and children, equally, but won’t be solved until administrators and juvenile authorities are allowed to isolate the perpetrators and deal with them, without fear of being sued or retaliated against by delusional moms and dads. Social media has only exasperated the problem, by making the bullies invisible and the victims more vulnerable. Apparently, the plague knows no boundaries. Director Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice, which was adapted from Yoshitoki Oima’s manga, “Koe no katachi,” bypasses the after-school-special approach by refusing to sugarcoat the issue or find a quick fix in melodrama. Veteran voice actor  Miyu Irino (Spirited Away) plays class-clown Shôya Ishida, who’s fooled himself into believing that he’s popular, just because the cool kids think his antics are funny. When his mocking of a newly arrived deaf girl, which extends to stealing her earplugs, Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami), turns his classmates’ equally cruel laughter to scorn, Shôya begins to understand the meaning of, “what goes around, comes around.” What makes A Silent Voice exceptional, however, is the beautifully rendered animation, poignant narrative and empathetic characters. After Shoko drops out of school and Shôya’s shunning continues apace, he sets out to find her and offer his sincere apology. Yamada doesn’t make it easy for him to find redemption. As if bullying weren’t a serious enough problem to address in an anime, suicide will inevitably compound the narrative. The soft colors and evocative music add to the drama, which is genuine and heartfelt.

No Alternative is another coming-of-age drama that deals with the most serious of teen traumas. It’s set in a middle-class community in Upstate New Yok, in the direct wake of Kurt Cobain’s death, by suicide, in 1994. It struck teenage fans everywhere with the same devastating punch as the untimely deaths of Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and, three years later, Princess Diana. As a historically depressed individual and survivor of previous suicide attempts, Kobain was a tragedy waiting to happen. The lyrics to Nirvana’s songs sometimes read like invitations to oblivion. Writer/director William Dickerson adapted No Alternative from his 2012 debut  novel of the same title. It was informed by his own experiences as a youth and those of his late sister, Briana. “She suffered from borderline personality disorder and used the character of gangster rapper Bri Da B to channel her emotions and get outside of her own turbulent mind. A movie about this preppy white girl, who becomes this gangsta rapper, could have ended up being a broad comedy. I wanted it to show how my sister was suffering and how she dealt with it.” Thomas (Conor Proft) and Bridget Harrison (Michaela Cavazos) are determined to use music to escape the pressure of being lorded over by their politically ambitious father. Thomas wants his band to take a grungier approach to the band’s music. Dickerson allowed Bridget to adopt his sister’s stage name, Bri Da B. The conceit is as ludicrous as it sounds, primarily because she elects to make her debut at a coffeehouse, where the entirely white audience is flummoxed by the act. Blessedly, Dickerson pulls a rabbit out of his hat, with an ending that doesn’t necessarily condemn Bridget to an untimely death.

At the Drive-In
From sleeping under the concession stand, to working for free, the quirky film fanatics (a.k.a., nerds) at the struggling Mahoning Drive-in faced uncertainty when Hollywood distributors announced they would switch to digital projection for all new movies. Unable to purchase an expensive digital projector, the multigenerational gang pins its hopes of survival on showing vintage 35mm prints of their favorite movies on their original 1949 projectors. God bless ’em. At the Drive-In relives the underdog story to save a less-than-iconic Pennsylvania drive-in, old-school exhibition and imaginative programming. More to the point, it is a documentary about the magic of movies and the people who love them … on their own terms. Special features include more than 17 minutes of deleted scenes; three commentaries; and a Q&A from a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers.

Cam Girl
I don’t know enough about the Internet-enabled sex-chat business to say if anything about the enterprise depicted in Cam Girl makes sense financially and operationally. My guess is that it bears some likeness to the billion-dollar industry’s earliest iterations, when all one needed to make money was a Skype connection, a 900-number and prominent position on a powerful search engine, like Google or Yahoo. Early concerns about the legality and ethics of profiting from such sketchy endeavors temporarily provided openings for organized-crime elements from Eastern European – and young exhibitionists who recognized a quick and reasonably anonymous buck when they saw one — to prosper. Now, though, phone- and Internet-sex operations constitute a borderless industry that piggybacks on free- and subscriber-backed sites and offers large and diverse selections of models, kinks and fetishes. By comparison, fledgling companies that continue to rely on magazine ads and search-engine listings can’t remain competitive. What differentiates the models in Cam Girl from those found on a thousand other sites, today, is their extraordinary beauty, poise, naivete and girl-next-door appeal … if one lives next-door to the Playboy Mansion or a haute-couture fashion house in Paris. Neither does their generous sexuality ever wander beyond the bounds of Cinemax T&A.

Desperate after losing her dream job in advertising, Alice (Antonia Liskova) is advised by a fiend, Ross (Alessia Piovan), to consider joining or starting a webcam site. She enlists two other similarly gorgeous friends to take a chance on going broke or getting rich: struggling waitress, Gilda (Sveva Alviti), and aspiring basketball player, Martina (Ilaria Capponi). The business is headquartered in one of the girls’ apartment, which becomes awfully crowded after models from other webcam sites decide to switch teams. And, the business is tremendously successful … until, suddenly, it wasn’t. Now, Alice keeps running out of money to pay the employees or find more comfortable accommodations. It doesn’t take long before the ladies abandon ship. Some even begin to date clients on the side. If there’s a lesson buried under the T&A here, I couldn’t find it. Neither did I miss it.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires: Blu-ray
I’m not going to waste a lot of time trying to sell you on Shout!Factory’s splendidly restored edition of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, a 1974 hybrid of Hammer Films trademark  horror and Shaw Brothers martial-arts action. Hammer’s original uncut version is being presented here for the first time in high-definition, 40 years after it was released in the U.S. in an edited version. “The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula.” In the movie’s English-language lifetime, alone, it’s been presented as “Seven Golden Vampires: The Last Warning,” “The Last Warning,” “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires,” “The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula,” “The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula,” “7 Brothers Versus Dracula” and “7 Brothers and a Sister Meet Dracula.” If that weren’t sufficiently confusing, consider that Peter Cushing’s character in the film is sometimes mistakenly referred to as Professor Lawrence Van Helsing, when he is actually playing a different member of the Van Helsing family. All of Cushing’s scenes take place in 1904, even though Van Helsing was killed in 1872, in a previous edition in the Hammer franchise. After learning about the seven golden vampires of Ping Kuei, Hsi Ching (David Chiang), Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege) and Mai Kwei (Szu Shih) offer to guide Van Helsing and his son to the village, where he’s expected to free it from the curse of Count Dracula (John Forbes-Robinson). The group encounters several attackers before arriving at the golden vampires’ derelict temple. Once there, Van Helsing and Count Dracula begin the “ultimate clash between good and evil.” The count had traveled to the remote village, disguised as a warlord, to show his support for the vampires, who’ve been dispirited after the loss of a seventh member of their cult. Coincidentally, Van Helsing is in China on a lecture tour. Let the fun begin. The Shout! package also contains commentary with author/historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck; new interviews with actor David Chiang and Hong Kong film expert Rick Baker; and the alternate U.S. theatrical version, in high-def.

Nazi Junkies
While Adolph Hitler’s addiction to stimulants is common knowledge among historians, war buffs and biker gangs, the extent to which his fellow Germans were similarly hooked on der Führer’s little helpers — methamphetamine, cocaine and muscle relaxers — remains largely unknown. It explains why Hitler sounded so impassioned and inexhaustible  in speeches that seemed to go on forever. Inspired by Norman Ohler’s revelatory book, “Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich,” Christian Huleu’s fascinating documentary, Nazi Junkies – sounds like “Nazi Zombies,”  doesn’t’ it? — explains how Pervitin pills put the blitz in blitzkrieg and gave his soldiers and pilots superhuman energy and stamina. Until the negative effects of the meth inevitably took hold, Pervitin served as the Reich’s secret weapon and stimulant of choice for soldiers, warmongers and housewives, alike. (Technically, the use of drugs was anathema to Nazi principles, but so were the opiates given soldiers to relax after combat and living on the down-low.) Hitler’s personal Doctor Feelgood was one of the first to recognize the negative signs of Pervitin abuse and immediately began the search for less-toxic substances to fill his patient’s insatiable hunger. They would include an assortment of medications, including vitamin cocktails, cocaine, opiates and steroids. Like Ohler’s best-selling book, Huleu relied on the secret journals of Hitler’s personal doctor, Théodore Morell, as well as archival documents and testimonies from historians, scientists and World War II experts. The practice didn’t end with pill-popping Nazis, either. Allied troops and pilots in Europe and Korea chowed down on Benzedrine, amphetamines and speed balls,  an injectable mixture of amphetamine and heroin. Chinese fighters were given an anti-sleep pill, referred to as “Night Eagle,” to enable soldiers to stay awake for up to 72 hours. In Vietnam, it was heroin, marijuana, LSD and alcohol that kept them buzzing. Today, the number of desert-war veterans suffering from an addiction to crystal meth is staggering, too frequently ending in jail sentences or suicide attempts, when they come home. Although there’s some disagreement on the extent to which Japanese combatants used uppers before engaging the enemy or kamikaze missions, having formulated meth in the 1890s, it isn’t likely they would curtail its use in World War II. More recently jihadists have been reported to consume the powerful stimulant  Captagon pervasively, while also taking powerful opioid painkillers and hashish.

The Prisoner: Blu-ray
No sooner were the Nazis defeated in World War II than the Soviet Union began to create a buffer zone between the communist east and democratic west, using Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the Baltic states, as Stalin’s first line of defense against  capitalism. Basically, though, Eastern Europe was handed to him on a platter by two war-weary American presidents, over the objections of Winston Churchill. In most respects, Stalin was just as domineering a presence in Eastern Europe as Adolph Hitler and just as willing to use force and atrocities to put down rebellions there. Puppet governments and kangaroo judiciaries were installed to maintain the status quo. Western democracies did their best to put down left-leaning liberation movements, as well, often bowing to American demands for autocratic, pro-capitalist leaders. Made in 1955, The Prisoner probably was informed by the ordeal of Polish Archbishop Stefan Wyszynski, who was a war hero and religious leader of millions of Roman Catholics. Like Alec Guinness’ character in The Prisoner, Wyszynski had made accommodations with the communists, pledging to maintain a balance between Church and state, in return for property seized after the war and the ability to perform religious rites. As pro-democracy protests in Polish cities spread, the government demanded of Guinness’ cardinal that he encourage restraint – perhaps, even, rat out resistance leaders – or risk being arrested, put on trial and, worst case, executed for treason. In prison, his Interrogator (Jack Hawkins) is determined to get a confession from the strong-willed Cardinal and destroy his power over his flock. The verbal and psychological debates are gripping and powerful, even when the Interrogator’s bosses’ demand results, at all costs. When the Interrogator finds his Achilles’ heel, the Cardinal is faced with an even greater challenge. The harsh black-and-white set designs emphasize the barrenness of the ideology on display. It’s interesting that director Peter Glenville and writer Bridget Boland’s The Prisoner — both on stage and screen — was deemed sufficiently controversial to be banned from the Venice and Cannes Film Festivals, for ideologically opposite reasons. The Prisoner would make a terrifying lead-in to a double-feature from political hell, with Orson Welles’ equally disturbing, The Trial (1962). For anyone who’s ever wondered what it takes for a work of art to be considered “Kafkaesque,” the pairing would make the distinction painfully clear. Franz Kafka admitted being heavily influenced by Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov.” The Arrow package adds selected scenes, with Philip Kent’s commentary, and a well-appointed insert booklet.

Terra Formars: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Takashi Miike’s many over-the-top entertainments don’t always arrive on these shores at the same time as they do in foreign markets. It doesn’t look as if his 2016 sci-fi extravaganza, Terra Formars, found a place to land here, even on the festival circuit. It isn’t difficult to see why. Terra Formars is too arthouse for genre buffs and too genre for arthouse habitués. Like Audition, the Dead or Alive trilogy and Blade of the Immortal, which it doesn’t remotely resemble, Terra Formars is a Miike film … plain and simple. Ken Russell, Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch come to mind, but not many other filmmakers, even of the auteur persuasion. Like so many other Japanese films, these days, the space adventure is based on a popular manga series of the same title. Terra Formars also is something of a cautionary tale for those who want to colonize Mars in their lifetimes. It opens in the mid-26th Century, 500 years after scientists seeded the planet with algae and cockroaches, to create an atmosphere conducive to habitation by humans. A manned mission has arrived on the red planet with the sole purpose of eliminating the bugs. Turns out, however, la cucarachas are just as difficult to kill on Mars, as they are on Earth. The team of Japanese space explorers finds itself confronted by a horde of huge anthropomorphic cockroaches, capable of wielding weapons and shape-shifting. (All those years away from Raid and the soles of shoes has allowed them to evolve naturally.) Miike must not have had much money to spend on special effects, because the cheapo green-screen work distracts from the action sequences. Everything else is fun, though. The Arrow Blu-ray adds the feature-length “The Making of Terra Formars,extended cast interviews, footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere, outtakes, an image gallery, a reversible sleeve and a fully illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Tom Mes.

Mélo: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Alain Resnais’ stagey slow-burn melodrama, Mélo, is typical of the French auteur’s work in his late period, when he began challenging himself and audiences by integrating material from other forms of popular culture into his films, drawing especially on music and the theater. While his work has always been influenced by the theater, Resnais’ adaptation of Henri Bernstein’s 1929 play of the same name – a shortening of “melodrama” – was extremely faithful to the source material. He  emphasized its theatricality by filming in long takes, on sets that could hardly be more artificially designed or lit. As such the narrative is almost entirely driven by dialogue and facial expressions. Like a play, too, the film’s acts are divided by the fall of a curtain and snippets from a playbill. Needless to say, viewers are left at a distinct disadvantage throughout much of Mélo’s first act, at least. It opens in the 1920s, in the courtyard of a home in a posh Paris suburb, where two old fiends are enjoying drinks after dinner. The distinguished soloist, Marcel (André Dussollier), has just returned from a long concert tour, during which he endured a cruel breakup with his lover. In the meantime, his longtime friend, collaborator and host, Pierre (Pierre Arditi) has fallen in love with and married a coquettish younger woman, Romaine (Sabine Azéma), who’s pretty, personable and not outwardly flirtatious. i Marcel s happy for his fiend’s good fortune and seemingly unaffected by Romaine’s charms. That lasts until the next afternoon, when Romaine pays a visit to Marcel’s apartment and lets Bach clear the way for some hanky-panky. The more  Marcel  resists her overture, the deeper the hook is set. Romaine takes his decision to return to touring badly and everyone’s affected by her response. Three years later, Pierre pays Marcel a visit to clarify their friendship and demand the truth. It’s here that the intimacy of the cinema returns to the forefront. Arrow Academy’s restoration adds a newly filmed introduction by critic Jonathan Romney; archived interviews with director Alain Resnais, producer Marin Karmitz, actors Pierre Arditi and André Dussolier, script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot, set designer Jacques Saulnier; a reversible sleeve, featuring original artwork; and, first-pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet, with new writing by Bilge Ebiri.

Iguana With the Tongue of Fire: Special Edition: Blu-ray
In 1971, the animal-in-the-title trend in giallo films – following Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage — was just beginning.   Riccardo Freda (Caltiki, the Immortal Monster) decided to further test the newborn genre’s elasticity by staging his thriller in Ireland and raising the ante on fetishized violence inflicted upon women. The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire is a gloriously excessive giallo that boasts a rogues’ gallery of perverse characters of both genders and, of course, a veritable orgy of red herrings and potential killers … probably too many, in fact. “Iguana” opens audaciously with an acid-throwing, razor-wielding maniac brutally slaying a woman in her own home. The victim’s mangled corpse is discovered in a limousine owned by Swiss Ambassador Sobiesky (Anton Diffring) and a police investigation is launched. When the murders continue and the ambassador claims diplomatic immunity, tough ex-cop John Norton (Luigi Pistilli) is brought in to jump-start the investigation. Benefitting from a sumptuous score by Stelvio Cipriani (Death Walks on High Heels) and exuberant supporting performances from Valentina Cortese (The Possessed) and Dagmar Lassander (The Black Cat), “The Iguana”  isn’t for beginners. It adds new commentary by giallo connoisseurs Adrian J. Smith and David Flint; a newly filmed video appreciation by the cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer; “Considering Cipriani,” a new appreciation of the composer by soundtrack collector, Lovely Jon; “The Cutting Game,” a new interview with assistant editor Bruno Micheli; “The Red Queen of Hearts,” a career-spanning interview with actress Dagmar Lassander; an image gallery; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys; and a collector’s booklet, featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich.

Penny Points to Paradise
There are a couple of very good reasons to check out Penny Points to Paradise, the first in a series of vintage British films from Juno and MVD. It marked the feature-film debut of the stars of “The Goon Show”: Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. And, it’s available for the first time, on disc, in North America. It was directed by Tony Young, who later produced “The Telegoons” for BBC Television. After a big gambling win, Harry Flakers and his friend Spike Donnelly decide to go to the same shabby seaside boarding house that they have always patronized for their summer holiday. The other guests include two young women out to marry money, a dodgy investment adviser, a master forger and his assistant. They’re intent on taking the money from the Goonies, one way or another. Also included is the 32-minute short, “Let’s Go Crazy,” also starring Sellers. It’s a “madcap comedy,” set in a nightclub where variety acts are interwoven with comedy sketches. Neither is representative of the group’s later work.

We Die Young: Blu-ray
President Trump deserves partial screenwriter credit for Lior Geller’s hit-and-run gangland drama, We Die Young. Desperate for a quickee campaign issue, POTUS only had to investigate crime in his own backyard, where Mara Salvatrucha (a.k.a., MS-13), a gang of Central American criminals, ruled drug-running and child prostitution along the Eastern Seaboard. He unjustly equated the multi-tattooed hoodlums with immigrants seeking sanctuary and employment here. Naturally, the crisis disappeared, when a different bug crawled up his ass. In We Die Young, Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) is a 14-year-old boy who was inducted into the gang life in Washington, D.C., but determined to prevent his 10-year-old brother from following the same trap. When a down-and-out Afghanistan war veteran (Jean-Claude Van Damme) comes into the neighborhood to score drugs, an opportunity arises. While We Die Young is loaded with clichés, it accomplishes what the federal government couldn’t, by disrupting a multinational syndicate. Strong performances by Van Damme and villain David Castañeda, who plays the brutal MS-13 gang leader, Rincon, add a few sparks to the proceedings.

Rachel (Charlie Blackwood) and her husband, Matt (Scott Vickers), are on a drive through the Scottish countryside, when Matt hits a tree. The pair decides to get out and walk, despite Rachel being 9-months pregnant. They soon come to a farmhouse owned by the same jerk (Alan Cuthbert),  who refused them a ride earlier.  At first, the farmer, Bob, once again rudely turns them away. When he sees that Rachel is with child, though, he insists that they come into the house.  There, they meet Bob’s wife, Agnes (Julie Hannan), and their sinister sons, David (Thoren Ferguson) and Luke (Martin Murphy).  While the family gives off an odd vibe, Rachel and Matt appreciate their hospitality. Before long, however, Rachel’s intuition tells them to leave, pronto. They also realize their hosts’ daughter was, in fact, abducted and made headlines when she went missing years earlier. In his first feature, writer/director Scott Vickers displays a flare for raising goosebumps.

Enigma: Blu-ray
The cold war was still in full forward gear, when Jeannot Szwarc’s espionage thriller, Enigma, opened, in 1982. From some perspectives, though, it was easy to see that the end was near. If Apocalypse Now (1979) had made Marin Sheen a star, he still wasn’t ready to pull off playing a spy of the caliber  of Harry Palmer  (The Ipcress File), Alec Leamas  (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), James Bond (Dr. No) or George Smiley (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Neither would Vick ever play in the same big leagues as novelists John le Carré, Len Deighton or Ian Fleming. Nobody could. Nonetheless, fans of the genre may want to make room for Enigma, which also features fine performances by Derek Jacobi, Sam Neill, Brigitte Fossey and Michael Lonsdale. In it, the CIA discovers a KGB plot to assassinate five Soviet dissidents on Christmas Day, but it doesn’t’ know their names. East German defector and radio activist Alex Holbeck (Sheen) is recruited in Paris by the CIA and sent to East Berlin to find and warn the intended victims and steal the code-scrambler machine, Enigma, still used by Soviet intelligence for communications. On his arrival, Holbeck discovers that the KGB and the East Germany government know that he’s in town and his contacts have been arrested. Holbeck meets his former lover, the lawyer Karen Reinhardt,  (Fosse), and she gives keys to a safe house to him. The Russian agent Dimitri Vasilikov (Neill) and the East German agent (Limmer) try to find Holbeck, while Karen seduces Dimitri to get the information about the location of the suspects that Holbeck needs. Enigma has is moments – including a clever chase scene and dangerous CIA trick — although no enough of hem.

Banned in France following the 2016 attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, Jihadists goes to the dark heart of Islamic extremism, where men with guns, explosives and swords interpret the Koran for everyone else in the world. That includes the tens of millions of Muslims who belong to sects other than the Salafi movement and hundreds of millions of other infidels they’re willing to kill in the name of Allah. A pair of Western filmmakers were granted unparalleled access to fundamentalist Sunni clerics, who proselytize for a purer form of Islam in Mali, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan and the imposition of sharia law. Jihadists paints a stark portrait of everyday life under jihadi rule and the lectures could hardly be more tedious.

The Dick Cavett Show: Inside the Minds of … Volume 3
BBC: The Highway Rat
PAW Patrol: Ultimate Rescue
Since 1968, Dick Cavett has hosted his own talk show, in a variety of television and radio formats and several different panel configurations. At a time when all such hosts played to a wide cross-section of views – and others began to play to the cheap seats — Cavett wasn’t reluctant to put his IQ and high-end tastes on full display, sometimes to the point of overshadowing his guests’ input. “The Dick Cavett Show: Inside the Minds of … Volume 3” contains conversations, with  Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, in which his attempts to be as hip as thou bordered on self-parody. Regardless, enough good stuff sneaks into the chats to make them worthwhile. In addition to individual conversations, Foxx appears on a panel with Patty Duke, Richard Attenborough and James J. Kirkpatrick, from July 14, 1969, and Gregory is part of a panel with Alan Arkin, from May 5, 1972. Murphy sits with Cavett on November 4, 1985, shortly after departing “SNL” and while celebrating the success of Beverly Hills Cop. Already an accomplished multihyphenate, Pryor joins Cavett shortly before the release of his semi-autobiographical ”Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling.”

Based on the beloved children’s book, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the Annie-nominated The Highway Rat tells the tale of a ravenous rat who craves buns, cookies and all sweet things. Tearing along the highway, he searches for sugary treats to steal from the harvests of everyday people he meets on the highway. It’s only a matter of time before his sweet tooth leads him to a sticky end. Previous Magic Light Pictures productions for the BBC include Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo and Revolting Rhymes. Rob Brydon narrates, alongside David Tennant, Frances de la Tour, Tom Hollander, Nina Sosanya and Husaam Kiani. The making-of material is longer than the film itself, but quite worthwhile.

Nick Jr’s “Paw Patrol: Ultimate Rescue” is comprised of Season Five episodes, “Pups Save the Royal Kitties,” with Chase and his Ultimate Police Truck; “Pups Save the Tigers,” with Skye and her Ultimate Helicopter; “Pups Save the Movie Monster,” with Marshall and his Ultimate Fire Truck; “Pups Save a Swamp Monster,” with Zuma and his Ultimate Swamp Vehicle; and “Pups and the Hidden Golden Bones,” with Rocky and his Ultimate Tow Truck.”

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2 Responses to “The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More”

  1. GDA says:

    The Mahoning Drive-In is in Pennsylvania.

  2. Gary Dretzka says:

    That’s right, I’ll fix …


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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