MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: What Men Want, Blaze, Banjos, Bauhaus, Scientology, Lily Chou-Chou, Glass, Grand Duel, George Carlin, Agatha Raison … More

What Men Want: Blu-ray
Not surprisingly, Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) is the best reason to pick up a copy of What Men Want, Adam Shankman’s re-imaging of Nancy Meyers’ hit comedy, What Women Want (2000). Tracy Morgan’s always fun to watch, but his character is only partially developed. In the original, Mel Gibson plays a chauvinistic advertising executive, whose life is turned around by a fluke accident that enables him to hear what women think. At first, all he wants to do is rid himself of this curse, which his psychiatrist convinces him can be used to his advantage. His primary target is the woman (Helen Hunt) that got the promotion he wanted. Naturally, love gets in the way of any plans for revenge. Henson’s Ali Davis is a successful sports agent for an Atlanta firm whose focus is on early first-round draft choices and male and female athletes with championship rings. The daughter of a boxer (Richard Roundtree), who named her after a great champion, Ali expects to be handed the promotion that goes to a white agent, whose head is stuck up the ass of their boss (Brian Bosworth). Her BFFs recommend that Ali visit their local pot-dealer/psychic – nuttily played by Erykah Badu – who gives her a liquid concoction that accords her the same powers that Gibson’s character gained in What Women Want. If the insights aren’t nearly as funny as those he gleaned in the original, it’s because Ali’s male co-workers are constructed from cardboard and the story’s romantic angle makes her look like as if she’s trying to squeeze up her boss’ butt, alongside her rival.

Her boyfriend, Will (Aldis Hodge), is a handsome bartender and single dad who’s too good to be true. Unwisely, if true to her character’s overly ambitious nature, Ali devises a way to use Will and his adorable son to impress a potential blue-chip client (Shane Paul McGhie) and his lame-brain manager, Joe “Dolla” Barry (Morgan). When Will discovers how he’s being played, Ali suddenly is left without a potential husband and a valuable client. She also loses the confidence of her friends (Tamala Jones, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Phoebe Robinson), when she gleans private information on their husbands and boyfriends and decides to reveal it at inappropriate times. As What Men Want winds down to its most-likely conclusion, the subplots crash into each other in ways that Meyers typically handled in a better way. Even so, cameos by sports stars Lisa Leslie, Devonta Freeman, Mark Cuban, Shaquille O’Neal, Kristen Ledlow and Grant Hill keep things interesting for a while, while co-stars Josh Brener (The Internship) and an uncredited Pete Davidson (“SNL”) add a light, gay touch to the proceedings, thereby touching all of the bases of modern rom-coms. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Shankman; deleted and extended scenes, as well as a gag reel, with an introduction by Shankman; and featurettes, “The Dream Team,” “Flipping the Narrative,” “What DO Men Want?,” “Poker Night,” “Ali + Athletes” and “Sister Spills the Tea,” with Badu.

Blaze: Blu-ray
In 1981, less than a year after Urban Country introduced line-dancing and mechanical-bull riding to a milieu already filling up with trend-followers and goat ropers, Barbara Mandrell recorded the Fleming/Morgan answer-song, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” The song, which featured an uncredited contribution by George Jones, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in July of that year. Blaze Foley, the real-life subject of Ethan Hawkes’ unconventional musical drama, Blaze, mocked the craze by placing duct tape on the part of his cowboy boots that urban cowpokes and some Nashville stars reserved for pointy silver tips. That included the boot-scooters who made Gilley’s massive nightclub, in Pasadena, Texas, one of the nation’s hottest tourist attractions. Later, perhaps in response to the run on Nudie’s custom-made apparel, Foley made a suit out of duct tape and wore it around town. It became his trademark. At his funeral, on February 1, 1989, friends of the troubled 39-year-old singer-songwriter coated his casket with duct tape. He had died after being shot in the chest by the son of Foley’s friend, Concho January, after Blaze accused him of stealing his father’s veterans’ pension and welfare checks. If that isn’t sufficiently country for you, Townes Van Zandt once recalled how he and other musicians went to Foley’s grave to dig up his body, because the pawn ticket for Townes’s guitar was still in his pocket. (Friends also considered digging up his body and duct-taping it to a wall in a club, where a benefit concert was being held.)

There’s no way anyone could mistake John Travolta or, for that matter, John Denver, for Foley. He was a mountain of a man, fully bearded, and unadorned by the usual conceits of country musicians. He was aligned with the Austin/Dallas school of Outlaw country artists, like Van Zandt, who’d been heavily influenced by Waylon Jennings’ album, “Honky Tonk Heroes”; Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger”; Kris Kristofferson’s  first two LPs on Monument Records; and Shaver’s own. “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” (Anyone inspired by Blaze and the Austin scene should check out Heartworn Highways, Heartworn Highways Revisited and Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt.) Not knowing Foley’s story or being unfamiliar with his songs shouldn’t embarrass anyone, especially fans of mainstream country. Even though he recorded three albums, at least, none was released in his lifetime. Master tapes from his first studio album were confiscated by the DEA, after the executive producer was caught in a drug bust. Another studio album disappeared when the master copies were stolen with his belongings from a station wagon in which Foley was living. The master tape for Foley’s third studio album fell victim to posthumous legal wrangling and, yes, disappeared. Fortunately, his songs have been recorded by John Prine (“Clay Pigeons”), Merle Haggard (“If I Could Only Fly”) and Lyle Lovett (“Election Day”), and such contemporaries as Lucinda Williams, Van Zandt and Gurf Morlix have written odes to him in “Drunken Angel,” “Blaze’s Blues” and “Music You Mighta Made.” Country rockers Kings of Leon wrote the song “Reverend” as an homage to Foley.

Alia Shawkat (“Transparent”) is terrific as Sybil Rosen, whose memoir, “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley,” informed Hawke and Rosen’s screenplay. (Rosen appears in the movie as her own mother, who couldn’t quite fathom the eccentric musician’s appeal.) After serving as Foley’s companion, wife and muse, Rosen decided he was a lost cause and moved away to pursue her own artistic goals.) Portrayals of women attempting to live with alcoholic husbands, or struggling to save drug-addicted lovers from themselves, have become a staple of bio-pics on country, rock and jazz musicians. Hawke has filled Blaze with music indicative of his dark moods, bad habits, faded loves and life on the road. It’s as good as advertised. Musician/actor Ben Dickey (The Kid) delivers a restrained, yet highly sympathetic portrayal of Foley, who wasn’t always easy to love. Also excellent is musician/actor Charlie Sexton (Boyhood), who plays Van Zandt in various stages of disrepair.

Banjos, Bluegrass and Squirrel Barkers
Hardly anyone associates San Diego with bluegrass or, for that matter, any other particular genre of music. Mariachi’s popular there, but only because of its proximity to the border. That’s why Rick Bowman’s hourlong documentary, Banjos, Bluegrass and Squirrel Barkers, is such an unexpected treat. More influenced by the Kingston Trio than Flatt & Scruggs, the San Diego-based pickers we meet in the film learned their licks off records newly available in the folk-revival period and at hootenannies. Psychedelic rock was just taking off in Los Angeles and San Francisco — Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions would evolve into the Grateful Dead – and surf music was at its height, as well. In 1962, members of the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers found loyal followers in San Diego’s military melting pot, as well as veterans of the Okies’ migration west, during the Dust Bowl period. The selling point of the documentary, however, is knowing that the Squirrels provided an early launching pad for Chris Hillman (The Byrds), Bernie Leadon (The Eagles), Kenny Wertz (The Flying Burrito Bros.) and Larry Murray (“The Johnny Cash Show”) and Grammy-winning band, Nickel Creek. Mason Williams, who would later write and record the hit song, “Classical Gas,” and singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton, also hung out a local guitar shop. San Diego would provide an early home for the country-rock subgenre, which emerged from the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” featuring Graham Parsons. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the city is the longtime home of Greg and Janet Deering, whose Deering Banjos “has delivered the finest hand-built American instruments to over 100,000 happy musicians and counting … one banjo at a time.” The interviews here are folksy, informative and fun. (Apparently, Bowman’s next project is, “The Holstein Dilemma: Heritage Breed Animals and the Need for Biodiversity.”)

My Scientology Movie
If there’s a subject that causes more American eyes to close than the Kardashians, Trumps and British royals, it would have to be Scientology. The media spends more time obsessing over these three topics than covering global warming, the health-care crisis and the country’s deteriorating infrastructure. News outlets have convinced themselves that Americans are too stupid to understand complex issues, so they feed us more of what they think we want, in addition to commercials for processed foods, cosmetics and diet drinks. Organized religions always warrant close scrutiny, but, unless celebrities are involved, why bother? Tom Cruise gets plenty of screen time in Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie and, as usual, he looks ridiculous in the company of the faith’s hierarchical leaders. Still, it’s difficult to condemn anyone who believes so earnestly in something whose appeal has never been completely articulated. From the outside, Scientology is best described as a religious Ponzi scheme, which preys on its own members and contradicts or ignores most tenets espoused in the bible, Koran and Talmud. Without the celebrities, it wouldn’t exist. As I understand it, Scientology’s greatest crime is using extortion and intimidation to prevent members – those who’ve provided a steady revenue flow, anyway – from leaving the fold or asking their spouses to come with them. It’s then that the church’s intimidation tactics and interaction with outsiders turns ferocious and its lawyers earn their fees. Beyond that, Scientology has had zero impact on my life.

My Scientology Movie was completed almost simultaneously with Alex Gibney’s incisive “Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief” and the launch of A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” Both have provided closer inspections of church machinery than Leroux’s only occasionally revelatory doc. Theroux has a better reputation in the UK than here, for his work as a documentary filmmaker, investigative journalist and broadcaster. In “Weird Weekends” (1998–2000), Theroux covered marginal, mostly American subcultures — survivalists, black nationalists, white supremacists, porn — often by living among or close to participants. His feature-length specials for BBC Two covered such topics as gambling addiction, the notoriously hateful Westboro Baptist Church, American prisons and facilities for the criminally insane, Michael Jackson and extreme cosmetic surgery. Even though I haven’t seen any of them, I can’t imagine that Theroux had a more difficult time producing them than he experienced on My Scientology Movie. For some reason, Theroux’s producers anticipated a warmer reception from church leaders than was accorded the dozens of other journalists who hoped to crack its egg. He failed, as well, but elected to find another route to the something close to the truth. Among other things, Theroux hoped to address questions raised by the alleged physical attacks perpetrated by Grand Poohbah David Miscavige, even on his most trusted lieutenants. He might also have wanted to grill Miscavige on Scientology’s sweetheart deals with the IRS, which even managed to raise President Trump’s eyebrows, before he forgot to pursue the matter. Theroux could have focused on the Ponzi scheme, itself, which allows acolytes to profit from every dollar brought by new members, in the form of fees for tests and “educational” products.

Instead, he’s reduced to staging meetings and tantrums witnessed by high-level defectors and recording the verbal harassment he receives from street-level defenders of the faith when he closes in on church outposts. He also attempts to enter a Scientology studio, located in the high desert, where the church’s cornball propaganda is produced. After about an hour of such futile nonsense, John Dower’s 99-minute documentary hits a wall. Some viewers will chose other avenues, as well, including watching the scathing “South Park” episode, “Trapped in the Closet,” in which a Cruise lookalike comes to believe that Stan is the reincarnation of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. The episode also mocked Cruise’s acting abilities and insinuated that he was gay. When Cruise bullied Paramount into pulling repeat showings from the schedule, South Park Nation rallied to get the studio to rescind that decision. What do they say about there’s no such thing as bad publicity? Theroux reminds me of CBS News’ too-clever-by-half correspondent, Mo Rocca, physically and their approach to similarly offbeat subject matter.

Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus
Several decades ago, humorist/musician/painter Martin Mull observed, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” It has since been repeated so often that few people remember who uttered it first and what it means. The original title for Willard Carroll’s Playing by Heart (1998) was “Dancing About Architecture,” as was a short-lived Australian talk show and Jacob Potashnik’s musical/dance exploration of the principles behind Habitat ’67, architect Moishe Safdie’s model community built as part of Montreal’s Expo ’67. Niels Bolbrinker and Thomas Tielsch’s enlightening documentary, Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus, contains much celebratory and explanatory dancing about architecture. Literally and figuratively, it is employed to explore concepts advanced by the Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. The German art institution, which operated from 1919 to 1933. Tbe movement combined crafts and the fine arts to create architecture, communities, furniture, gadgets and objects that were, at once, beautiful and functional. Not surprisingly, the incoming Nazi leadership frowned upon such concepts and made things difficult for Bauhaus students and faculty. Before that happened, however, Gropius recruited such luminaries as Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, László Moholy-Nagy, Otto Bartning and Wassily Kandinsky. As much as Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus looks back at the school’s historical significance and the work of its disciples, the film also looks forward, by providing answers for overcrowding in cities and the improvement of life for their citizens. The creation and implementation of “tiny houses” is an idea whose time has certainly come. The deployment of modular units, vertically or horizontally, also makes more sense today than ever. The irony derives from the fact that anything carrying a Bauhaus designer’s pedigree is likely to become prohibitively expensive, as soon as they’re put up for sale. The same thing happened with Montreal’s Habitat ’67 development, which was designed for economical living, but quickly became unaffordable. This, even though from certain angles, the still vital community could be mistaken for a hillside shantytown or favela. It’s still an answer waiting for a question.

Never Ever
Directed by Palme d’Or-nominated French director Benoît Jacquot (The School of Flesh) and co-starring Un Certain Regard winner Mathieu Amalric (Barbara), the fantasy/drama Never Ever barely raised a ripple of excitement when it was released three years ago, in European and Asian markets. It isn’t difficult to understand why the film – loosely based on the Don DeLillo novella,  “The Body Artist” – didn’t find any traction here. The story’s supernatural underpinnings allow for too many real-life questions to go unanswered and the lithesome Julia Roy – she also adapted the screenplay — lacks the heft of a young Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert or Isild Le Besco.  This is especially apparent when her performance-artist character, Laura, loses her much older lover – the self-centered filmmaker, Jacques Rey — and she’s left in a black hole of grief.

Amalric plays the director, who, during a museum retrospective of his films, wandered into an adjoining gallery, where he becomes mesmerized by Laura’s winsome beauty and fluid movements. Although Jacques arrived at the screening with his longtime leading lady and lover, Isabella (Jeanne Balibar), he’ll leave with Laura sitting on the back of his gender-affirming motorcycle. In DeLillo’s book, the director is 64 and his wife, Lauren, is only described as much younger. Amalric is 53 and Laura doesn’t look a day over 19 or 20 years old, so there’s no mystery as to what her initial appeal is to him. At first, Laura probably sees in the more accomplished director someone able to mentor her artistically and introduce her to all the right people. Instead, she immediately begins playing house with her venerable mentor, washing dishes and making sandwiches. The house is in a lovely oceanside setting, where there’s no pressure on her to hone her art. In Never Ever (a.k.a., “À jamais”), only three months pass before a terrible traffic accident takes the careless motorcyclist out of the picture early. Or, does it?

Obviously distraught, Laura doesn’t feel any immediate pressure to leave the leased house. Instead, she begins to hear noises that indicate to viewers, anyway, that the attic is either occupied by noisy raccoons or is haunted by a clumsy poltergeist. In the novella, Lauren’s fantasies involve entirely new characters, whose interference in her life dredges up memories of Jacques and prompts her to renew her career. In order to facilitate a more saleable romantic fantasy – think Ghost, without the clay – Never Again brings Jacques back from the dead, making us wonder if Laura has completely lost her mind or some ghosts are more resilient than others. Frankly, it feels as if Jacquot lost interest in the movie after Jacques is killed, deciding to feature Roy in an early showcase role. Francophiles will want to check out Never Ever, if only to observe Jacquot’s latest work and a bright young actress who’ll likely appear in better movies. I probably would encourage her to stick with acting and leave the adapting of intricately plotted novels to others … for the time being, at least.

All About Lily Chou-Chou: Blu-ray
For many years, western audiences viewed Japanese students and other young people through a prism that makes them look as regimented, rule-abiding and colorless as many American parents would like their own kids to be. In the 1960s, depictions of Japanese juvenile delinquents, greasers and gangs frequently incorporated such American tropes and clichés as tight jeans, motorcycle boots, wild hairdos and rockabilly music, with lyrics that rarely made any sense in translation. The bad girls wore fashions adopted from movies exported from the U.S., with poodle skirts and bobby sox. The trend didn’t last long, but, somehow, you knew that the characters would soon graduate to jobs with the yakuza or as B-girls, overserving the GIs and other rubes who stumbled into bars run by the yakuza. In the 1990s, teens were used as fodder for ghosts, ghouls and other malevolent spirits. In Takashi Miike’s Fudoh: The New Generation (1996), the son of a yakuza lieutenant witnesses his father killing his older brother to settle a business debt. Otherwise a model student, Fudoh vows to create a new and powerful gang controlled by talented teenagers and small children, who murder one old boss after another in creative ways. In Kinji Fukasaku’s controversial bloodfest, Battle Royale, groups of rebellious ninth-graders are forced by a government edict to compete in a deadly battle for survival on an island that is considered to be escape-proof. The annual Battle Royale, which may have inspired The Hunger Games (2012), pits students against each other in a no-holds-barred game to the death, until one survives the ordeal or all are dead.

In 2002, All About Lily Chou-Chou took on a problem – bullying – that wouldn’t be given a proper airing in western movies and television shows for several more years. The Internet angle made the subject sexy. Shunji Iwai’s film stands out for effectively combining experimental and arthouse conceits, with early attempts to merge Internet iconography and social-media graphics into the narrative. The story revolves around a pair of incoming junior-high boys, Yuichi and Hoshino, who meet in the school’s kendo club, which serves as a sanctuary for kids attempting to escape the usual classroom mayhem. They become close friends, with Hoshino proving kind and very communicative, in contrast to the timid, introverted Yuichi. On a summer trip to Okinawa, Hoshino experiences a near-death experience that affects him in an unexpected way. Starting next term, he becomes a harsh manipulator of everyone around him, including Yuichi, and even prostituting a classmate, Shiori. None of the adults wants to admit that they’ve lost control of their students and children, but the bullies know what’s up. Yuichi’s only solace is pop star Lily Chou Chou and the fan site he’s dedicated to her New Age-y music. Although Chou Chou’s a fictional and never-seen character, her ethereal songs appear to soothe the wounds of alienated students. As sung by Salyu and composed by Takeshi Kobayashi, the music might remind some viewers of Bjork, Sarah McLachlan, Kate Bush and other Lilith Fair veterans. At an exhaustive 146 nonlinear minutes, All About Lily Chou-Chou allowed Iwai plenty of time to address other issues affecting contemporary Japanese society, such as JK Business (dating and sexting between horny older men and adolescent girls, who are paid for their services), liberal interpretations of rape and assault, abuses of social media and idol worship. Bonus features include a making-of featurette and essay by Stephen Cremin, New York Asian Film Festival. Aiwa’s earlier success include the animated, Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (1995) and Ghost Soup (1992), and live-action Love Letter (1995) and Swallowtail Butterfly (1996).

Glass: The Brivido Giallo Trilogy: Blu-ray
Last month, I introduced readers to Vince D’Amato’s “Brivido Giallo Trilogy,” which he created to update the venerable Italian genre, by adding more sex, violence and micro-mini skirts than censors would have allowed in the 1960-70s. Or, for that matter, the mid-1980s horror anthology mini-series, “Brivido Giallo,” directed by the Italian master of horror, Lamberto Bava. Unfortunately, D’Amato’s contributions to the form are short on story, but long on psycho-sexual violence and leggy actresses … which, as far as I know, isn’t a crime, yet. Glass tells the tale of a well-off young couple, Mike and Zarana (Casey Manderson, Tirra Dent), who decide to cut themselves off from social media and stay put in their glass-walled apartment overlooking Vancouver. After she witnesses her neighbor’s murder through a mail slot, Zarana is consumed by paranoia and terrible nightmares. Soon, she finds herself relentlessly stalked by the enigmatic killer. The Blu-ray adds a pair of short films and music videos, as well as “Yoga With Tirra.”

The Grand Duel: Special Edition: Blu-ray
When asked by to name his top-20 SW titles of all time, Quentin Tarantino came up with a list that includes a half-dozen movies that everyone who enjoys Westerns already loves and a dozen, or so, only obsessives would recognize. The request coincided with the release of the maestro’s Django Unchained (2012), which clearly was influenced by Sergio Corbucci‘s The Great Silence (1968) and Django (1966), and Giulio Petroni‘s Death Rides a Horse (1972). The latter film starred genre stalwart Lee Van Cleef, as does Giancarlo Santi‘s The Grand Duel (1972), the latest addition to Arrow Video’s Spaghetti Western Corral. It came in at No. 15 on Tarantino’s list. Apart from being made at the tail end of the genre’s reign, The Grand Duel is an archetypal example of the form, featuring such classic hallmarks as furiously staged shootouts, wild stunts and climactic showdowns. Van Cleef plays the gnarled ex-sheriff, Clayton, who comes to the aid of young Philip Vermeer (Alberto Dentice), a fugitive framed for the murder of “Patriarch” Samuel Saxon (Horst Frank). In a well-choreographed series of confrontations, Clayton helps Philip fend off attacks from bounty hunters. Before making their way to Jefferson for Vermeer’s date with destiny, they’ll also be required to deal with the revenge-minded Saxon brothers and clear up the question of who killed their old man. The complex tale of revenge was penned by prolific giallo writer Ernesto Gastaldi (Torso). The portentous score is by composer Luis Bacalov (Django). Much of The Grand Duel was shot in Uliveto Terme, near Pisa, in what appears to be a marble quarry. The new 2K restoration is from the original 35mm camera negative. It adds commentary by film critic, historian and theorist Stephen Prince; fresh interviews with Santi, Gastaldi, actor Alberto Dentice (a.k.a., Peter O’Brien), producer Ettore Rosboch and assistant director Harald Buggenig; a fresh video appreciation by the academic Austin Fisher; a comparison between the original cut and the longer German cut; an obscure sci-fi short film directed in 1984 by Bernard Villiot and starring Marc Mazza; marketing material; and an illustrated booklet, featuring new writing on the film by Kevin Grant and original reviews.

Bachman: Blu-ray
In Mark 10:25, Jesus told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” I wouldn’t know. Two millennia later, it can be argued that it will be easier for Jann Wenner to pass through the eye of a needle than for another Canadian rock band to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Considering the inclusion of Rush, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, the Band, Leonard Cohen and individual members of U.S.-based bands, Hall of Fame officials would argue against such an assertion. Fans of the Guess Who/Bachman Turner Overdrive, Steppenwolf and Paul Anka could point to Getty Lee and Rush’s 2013 induction as the exception that proves the rule. Their nearly 30-year wait for satisfaction shows no sign of ending any time soon. In the meantime, acts with fewer credentials have been clouted into the hall by their record labels and the pull of influential board members, including Wenner. Indeed, individual members of important bands have been repeatedly awarded for separate projects, presumably to ensure higher ratings for the televised ceremony.

John Barnard’s entertaining 2017 rockumentary, Bachman, makes a very good case for Randy Bachman’s induction, individually or as a founder of two exceedingly influential and commercially successful bands, the Guess Who and Bachman–Turner Overdrive, and he’s still rocking. But, don’t take my word for it. Listen to testimonials Neil Young, Paul Shaffer, Peter Frampton, Alex Lifeson (Rush), Buffy Sainte-Marie and Sam Roberts, none of whom sound as if they’re pimping for Bachman’s nomination. Speaking for themselves are such hits as “American Woman,” “These Eyes” and “Laughing,” with the Guess Who, and “Takin’ Care of Business,” “Let It Ride,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” and “Roll on Down the Highway,” with BTO. Interviews with family members, friends and fellow rockers paint a portrait of a musician, who, while surviving many winters in Winnipeg, followed a route to stardom not unlike the paths walked by countless other artists. The exception is his early dedication to Mormonism and a commitment to sobriety and traditional family values. It’s something, as Young points outs, that was anathema to rock musicians in the 1960-70s. The low-key doc also points out Bachman’s commitment to excellence, hard work and history, through the instruments he’s chosen to use and save. Bachman adds extended interviews and deleted footage.

George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy
Arrow: Agatha Raisin: Series Two
PBS: Sesame Street: Awesome Alphabet Collection
Enough time has passed since George Carlin died of cardiac arrest, at 71, for nearly an entire generation of young people to have forgotten why he’s still worshipped, alongside Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce, as one of the greatest comedians of all time. It came in 2008, 48 years after he and fellow comic Jack Burns moved to Los Angeles, from Fort Worth, to pursue a career in comedy. The act only last about two years, but Carlin’s ability to create wacky characters — Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie Weatherman, and the doofus disc jockeys at “wonderful WINO radio,” among them – impressed bookers for late-night talk shows, variety specials and nightclubs. It was a different world then for comedians, as evidenced by his being detained for questioning on one of the nights Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity. Carlin simply was an audience member, but his lack of a government-issued ID was deemed sufficiently subversive to transport him to jail with Bruce in the same vehicle. A historic moment, indeed. On July 21, 1972, Carlin was arrested after performing “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, and charged with violating obscenity laws. Not only were the charges dropped, freeing countless comics and deejays from self-censorship, but the routine sent Carlin’s already soaring career into show-biz orbit. In between those landmark events, Carlin stopped wearing a coat-and-tie while performing and let his beard and hair grow, a la mode. If he lost some older fans along the way, the casual look endeared him to another generation of listeners, viewers and club-goers. His frequent ingestions of cocaine probably contributed to the heart problems he experienced during a five-year layoff in the late 1970s. His longtime relationship with fledging HBO began in 1982.  His 10th showcase, “George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy,” debuted there in 1997. The 50-minute special contains a 27-minute stand-up performance – including new bits,  “Advertising,” “Pets” and “American Bullshit” — a retrospective celebrating Carlin’s career and an interview with the host Jon Stewart. Short, but sweet, it showcased his ability to explain America to Americans, and the English language to consumers bombarded by the exaggerations and outright lies fed to them in commercials and advertising. It also provided a forum for his political activism, social views, boyhood recollections and history with drugs. The comedian’s 10th special for the pay-cable network was broadcast live from the Wheeler Theater in Aspen, Colorado. Another hour of material could have been gleaned from his acting in movies and television shows.

I suspect that many fans of Acorn TV’s “Agatha Raison” fell in with it for the same reason as the title character, a big-city PR executive, moved to the pastoral Cotswolds countryside, in the first place. She wanted to escape the crime, violence and mayhem associated with urban life, as much as viewers want to escape the same things on prime-time television. The mini-series is set in the fictional village of Carsely and shot in Biddestone, Wiltshire, a region that attracts tens of thousands of tourists for its natural beauty and quaint architecture. Until Raison’s arrival, Carsely had yet to experience a murder. “Après Agatha, le deluge.” In the pilot episode, “Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death,” the retirement-minded newcomer was forced to embark on an alternative career when she becomes a suspect in a murder case involving the village’s Annual Fete and Quiche Baking Competition. The fortysomething Agatha is played with great relish by the veteran comic actress, Ashley Jensen (“Ugly Betty”), who’s nothing like Agatha Christie’s protagonists. Raison’s famously blond hair figures in the first 90-minute episode in the second-season package, when her new stylist is found dead and her hair is “poisoned.” She suspects the arrogant stylist is blackmailing clients with their darkest secrets. There are two more episodes and a making-of featurette.

PBS’ “Sesame Street” has always used individual letters and numbers to facilitate its audience’s transition from pre-school, to real school and beyond. “Awesome Alphabet Collection” features such classics as “The Beetles Perform Letter B” and “C is for Cookie,” plus animation, parodies and the best segments from recent seasons. Celebrating the alphabet alongside their furry friends are Norah Jones, duetting with the letter Y; Tori Kelly, trying a little kindness; Pharrell Williams, belting it out for the letter B; Maya Angelou stops by to share hugs; Sheryl Crow helps “I” soak up some sun; and Ricky Gervais attempts a lullaby. “Elmo’s Amazing Alphabet Race” is included as a bonus feature.

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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