MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Charlie Says, Reflecting Skin, Girl in the Fog, Souvenir, Girls of the Sun, Deep Space Nine, Sweet Alice, Penguin Highway, Jamestown, Patrick Melrose … More

Charlie Says: Blu-ray
Released in May, between the arrivals of Daniel Farrands’ exploitative The Haunting of Sharon Tate and Quentin Tarantino’s vastly overhyped, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner’s decidedly underhyped, underexposed and lower key, Charlie Says, got lost in the wash. In the 50 years that have passed since the Tate–LaBianca murders, no touchstone anniversary or fruitless probation hearing has been allowed to pass unnoticed in the media. Almost three dozen movies and TV series have used the killings as a central motive, at least, and dozens of books and novels have been written about the perpetrators, victims and court cases. Only Che Guevara and Mickey Mouse have sold as many T-shirts as Charles Manson in the same period. The numbers tell us more about our appetite for scandal and other people’s pain than anything revelatory about the events of August 9 and August 10, 1969. The motivations behind such slaughter remain unfathomable. It was a freakish occurrence in the Season of the Witch … far less portentous than the current wave of massacres at Walmarts, schools and garlic festivals. That’s why no California governor since Ronald Reagan has dared allow the release from prison of several elderly women long deemed repentant and harmless to a society afraid of contagion. If music producer Terry Melcher – played in Charlie Says by Bryan Adrian — had been the highest profile celebrity murdered that night on Cielo Drive, instead of the pregnant blond wife of a Hollywood A-lister, the Manson Family would, by now, have been relegated to a list that includes such late-20th Century freakazoid cults as Heaven’s Gate, People’s Temple Jonestown, Branch Davidian, Order of the Solar Temple and Warren Jeffs’ polygamist collective.

Manson’s genius was for marketing madness and exploiting established brands: “Helter Skelter,” the Beach Boys, Life magazine, the Black Panthers, the lure of dune buggies in the desert. The trial, itself, provided a textbook example of how to stoke the coals of a media frenzy: Charlie inspired his “girls” to carve X’s into their forehead and maintain a noisy vigil outside the courthouse. He controlled the flow of leaked information to select reporters. Family member, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford with an unloaded weapon. Tate’s husband, Roman Polanski, couldn’t leave well enough alone, either. He added another 15 minutes of fame to Manson’s celebrity clock, by admitting to sharing Jack Nicholson’s Jacuzzi with a teeny bopper, not far the Cielo Drive slaughterhouse, and, then, skipping town. He continued to control the press from prison, by limiting access to reporters and talk-show hosts and, then, speaking to them in riddles. So far, only Tarantino’s revisionist opus appears to have caught the attention of audiences, and that may be attributable more to the presence of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio than anything else. Despite a slew of excellent reviews, it’s yet to crack the $100-million barrier domestically, on a budget estimated to be $90 million. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is still rolling out in foreign markets, though, and that’s where the money has been for QT in recent years.

Harron and Turner’s Charlie Says takes a different tack, by attempting to make sense of Manson’s hypermagnetic hold on the women in the family. The Spahn Ranch may have been the white-trash equivalent to the Playboy Mansion, but how to explain the girls’ glee when it came to “shopping day” excursions to the dumpsters behind local groceries? Brainwashing, LSD, imperceptible IQs, daddy issues. Was it that simple? How, for instance, was Manson able to convince them that they “don’t exist” and, as such, couldn’t have committed the heinous crimes for which they were convicted and sentenced to death. The movie argues that this bizarro belief lingered far after those two fateful summer nights in August 1969. The “girls” held on to it for years after the murders, even in the absence of their “father,” LSD and the orgies at the ranch. A better excuse would have been that psychotic aliens from Outer Space, borrowed the Tex and the girls’ bodies for a few hours, and did Charlie’s biding as a professional courtesy. Today, you could find a hundred lawyers to argue that defense.

Harron and Turner aren’t strangers to group psychosis and sociopathic male behavior. As an indictment of lingering Reaganomics and laissez-faire greed, their nihilistic American Psycho (2000) picked up where Wall Street left off, 13 years earlier. The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) demonstrated how pitifully men react when confronted with a free-spirited, sex-positive woman, who defies their hypocrisy by posing nude without shame or excuses. Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) told the story of radical feminist and author, Valerie Solanas, best known for writing the SCUM Manifesto, and attempting to murder Andy Warhol in 1968. Having spent the first 11 years of her life with the notorious quasi-hippie Lyman Family, Turner knows exactly what it means to be dominated by a fanatically authoritarian father figure (and, like Manson, a musician). She was raised in various communes around the U.S. with more than 100 devotees of the misogynistic Mel Lyman, who believed they would eventually live on Venus.

Turner based her screenplay for Charlie Says on former Fug Ed Sanders’s extremely well-researched and insightful “The Family” and Karlene Faith’s non-fiction, “The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten.” (The author is portrayed in the film by Merritt Wever.) Sanders’ book provided fodder for the scenes leading up to Tate-LaBianca murders, as well as the hippie mindset in the late-1960s. Faith’s research allows viewers to see them in prison, still parroting Manson’s wacko theories and waiting impatiently to be executed. When the death penalty was declared unconstitutional, it threw a huge monkey wrench into their plans. No longer was Charlie in control of their destinies. Having to come to grips with the fact that they must live in the Here and Now for the next 40 to 50 years forces them to accept the reality of their “existence” as grown-ass women … not girls, interchangeable sex toys or water sprites. Bummer. With only the sketchiest of hopes for parole available to them, Lulu (Hannah Murray), Katie (Sosie Bacon), Linda (India Ennenga) and Sadie (Marianne Rendón) begin to understand where Faith has been attempting to take them in the time together. That’s how Charlie Says  separates itself from most of the other movies and books about the murders that I’ve seen. Matt Smith, the 11th incarnation of  Doctor Who, does a credible job portraying the pipsqueak psychopath, Manson, while Suki Waterhouse (Billionaire Boys Club), Sosie Bacon (“13 Reasons Why”), Marianne Rendón (“Imposters”) and Kayli Carter (“Godless”) are excellent as minions. Wever (“Nurse Jackie”) and Annabeth Gish are better than fine as prison officials. The Blu-ray adds a short making-of featurette. Charlie Says isn’t perfect, by a long shot, but it does add some new twists to 50 long years of blah, blah, blah.

The Reflecting Skin: Blu-ray
Before the festival debut of The Reflecting Skin in August 1990, Philip Ridley was known for his ability to cross established media barriers and as a member of the visually audacious Young British Artists movement. As a novelist, the East Ender had already found success with “Crocodilia,” “In the Eyes of Mr. Fury” and “Flamingoes in Orbit.” While still a student at Saint Martin’s School of Art, he wrote the screenplay for Peter Medak’s acclaimed The Krays (1990), a fact-based gangster flick that starred brothers Gary and Martin Kemp, of Spandau Ballet. Needless to say, however, what Ridley really wanted to do was write and direct his own material, as artists David Lynch (Blue Velvet) and George Miller (Mad Max) had done. Julian Schnabel would add non-experimental filmmaking to his resume in 1996, with Basquiat. Surprisingly, perhaps, The Reflecting Skin failed to find wide exposure, even in arthouses, and languished in distribution purgatory for more than 20 years. The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995) Heartless (2009) wouldn’t do much better. The Reflecting Skin deserves a much better shot on Blu-ray, where its attributes can’t be denied.

At first glance, Ridley’s genre-bending drama resembles a direct homage to Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), which, had been shot in the same fields of wheat in Alberta, Canada. The centerpiece image of an isolated house in the middle of this sea of golden grain – one grand, the other not so much – is repeated in both movies, as well. They recall Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting, “Christina’s World.” (Malick was inspired, too, by Edward Hopper’s painting “House by the Railroad” and Benedict Family mansion, in Giant). The primary difference between the two landscapes comes in Ridley’s decision to paint the stalks of wheat a sunshine-bright shade of yellow and saturate the color balance. A cloudless blue sky adds yet another layer of color to the collage. Like Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler’s cinematography in Days of Heaven, Dick Pope’s contributions to The Reflecting Skin are breath-taking. Ridley diverts from Days of Heaven, as well, by adding another house to the property and, with it, a mystery. The inhabitants of the primary house look as if they might have blown there by the dust storms of the 1930s and stayed because they had nowhere better to go. Or, they could be descended from the farmer and daughter in Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” Ruth Dove (Sheila Moore) is strict on 8-year-old Seth (Jeremy Cooper), choosing to dote on her older son, Cameron (Viggo Mortensen), a soldier in the Pacific. Ruth barely tolerates her husband, Luke (Duncan Fraser), a mechanic shamed by a past scandal, in which the local sheriff found him and an underage boy “in full embrace.”

The cottage inhabited by the enigmatic blond widow, Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), stands as a memorial to her dead husband and his passion for whaling … 1,000 miles from the nearest large body of water. We’re introduced to her as she’s walking home from the nearest town and Seth and his friends play a shockingly grotesque prank on her. The boy has been fed a steady diet of horror stories by his father, causing him to believe that his almost translucent neighbor is a British vampire. He blames her for the recent disappearances and murders of his friends. Still, when Seth’s mother orders him to apologize to Dolphin, she welcomes him into her home and gives him a harpoon. Viewers will be given an alternate explanation for the murders, but Seth remains convinced of his neighbor’s passion for blood. When Cameron returns home from the Pacific, he’s a changed man. Haunted by photographs taken after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Cameron stokes his brother’s worst fears by seeking comfort in Dolphin’s arms. Seth feels it’s up to him to save Cameron from his friends’ fate. Just as Cameron’s mood begins to brighten, though, Ridley’s inescapable Cadillac of Doom pays one more visit to the farm. By the time Seth realizes the gravity of his role in the tragedies – telling lies that kept police off the trail of the most likely suspects – he feels as powerless, lonely and guilty as a boy could possibly be. The ending is extremely powerful. The filmmaker has described The Reflecting Skin as “Blue Velvet with children.” I thought I recognized elements of Harry Crews’ American-gothics. Bonus features include “Angels & Atom Bombs: The Making of The Reflecting Skin,” director’s commentary and a new essay by film writers Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche. Film Movement’s 2K restoration is little short of brilliant.

The Girl in the Fog
Here’s another dandy European mystery that opened at a festival to favorable notices but was denied a shot at success in U.S. arthouses. Novelist/writer/director Donato Carrisi adapted The Girl in the Fog from his own best-selling book, set in the frequently hazy village of Avechot in the Italian Alps. Too long by 10 to 15 minutes, potential investors might have felt the movie hewed too closely to the text and contained too many suspects and false leads for easily distracted Americans to follow. Because I enjoy reading mysteries as much as I do seeing them adapted for the big screen, I wasn’t bothered by the 128-minute narrative. Better that than adding a superfluous love scene or compressing two or three key characters into one. The natural setting and fine acting easily held my interest. When 16-year-old Anna Lou Kastner (Ekaterina Buscemi) disappears into the fog on her way to church, odds favor the likelihood that something terrible will or already has happened to her. Apparently, Italy is no more immune from such horrors as similar locales in the United States. The expert investigator Vogel (Toni Servillo) is called to the village to investigate and, wherever he goes, a media horde follows. Indeed, Vogel appears to welcome their disruptive presence and tendency to step on each other’s toes. Jean Reno (Léon: The Professional) plays the village’s psychiatrist, Augusto Flores, who believes that the investigation might be better served in the absence of TV cameras. Because Anna Lou vanished two days before Christmas, early suspicion  focuses on her parents, who belong to a Christian cult. Soon, however, it turns to a boy who reported the girl missing. In turn, he implicates Loris Martini (Alessio Boni), a married professor whose theories on crime fiction and a barely disguised fondness for female students attract Vogel’s scrutiny. He’s also heavily in debt and could have staged the abduction to collect a ransom. Annoying TV journalist Stella Honer (Galatea Ranzi) muddles things up in ways only someone with her own financial interests in the outcome could possibly do. In this regard, however, she’s not alone. These days, a bungled investigation can be as profitable as a successful kidnapping. Vogel recalls how a false presumption in a previous case earned the prime suspect a windfall profit for his ordeal.  Carrisi leaves open the possibility that Anna Lou will reappear, out of the haze, and either identify the culprit – the dreaded Man in the Fog — or hide her own motives for vanishing. Complicated, sure, but not confusing. Watching Servillo (The Great Beauty) and Reno play cat-and-mouse provides a great deal of dark humor to the proceedings.

The Souvenir
It’s rare to find as effete a movie as Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical The Souvenir receive as many 100-point scores on Metacritic as it has since its debut at Sundance 2019. Although Hogg previously attracted the attention of critics with Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013), she’s mostly known in Britain for her work in television serials.

While in her twenties, Hogg studied at the National Film and Television School, outside London, where her 1986 graduation piece, “Caprice,” starred a then-unknown Tilda Swinton. (Her debut feature, Caravaggio, would also be released that year.) Swinton and Hogg have been friends since they were 10 years old. The actor also witnessed first-hand the collapse of the relationship doomed to failure in The Souvenir. Most American observers, I think, would write off Hogg’s marriage as an example of what can happen to a privileged young woman, who falls so in love with a slightly older twit, that she doesn’t equate the track marks on his arm with heroin addiction. Curiously, her naivete doesn’t endear her to us. Neither does his heroin addiction. The natural trajectory of such a dysfunctional marriage plays out slowly, but inexorably throughout the length of The Souvenir. By the time Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) finally figures out what’s wrong with Frankie (Frankie Wilson), it’s too late. He surprises her by inviting his dealers to his home; begins to write checks she’ll have to cover when they bounce; overdoses; and stages break-ins to relief Julie of her heirlooms. Frankie redeems himself by being supportive of Julie’s creative endeavors – including a short film that is outside the parameters of her personal experiences. Ultimately, she’s as needy as he is.  Doomed marriages, like the one in The Souvenir, aren’t nearly as unusual in American lives and films  … or, for that matter, in such British films as Sid and Nancy (1986).

It’s Hogg’s intimate rendition of her own naivete, personal ambition and bourgeoise values that makes The Souvenir stand out from the pack. That, and her decision to cast Swinton and her real-life daughter, Honor, in roles that approximate Hogg’s relationship with her own mother. The entertainment media couldn’t be expected to ignore that happy coincidence. The title derives from a postcard replication of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 18th Century Rococo painting, which features a woman scratching the initials of her lover onto a tree. The gift probably was the most genuine token of her husband’s love and appreciation of Julie’s artistic sensibilities. Another, far more curious “souvenir” from Frankie’s travels is a lingerie ensemble that could have been ordered from a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. It might as well have been a straitjacket. Reportedly, all of the actors, expect Honor, were able to read the script before performing their scenes in front of the camera. Instead, Hogg provided her with personal diaries from the early 1980’s, along with notes, photographs, scripts and films she wrote and made at that point in her career. From these tools, Honor was told to improvise her lines and impulses, leaving the rest of the cast to react to them as well as they could. Hogg also gave Burke old letters, recordings and drawings from the man upon whom his character is based. Swinton, who’s played every conceivable role there is, perfectly fits the parameters of woman who might have shared her off-hours with Maggie Thatcher, playing canasta.

Girls of the Sun: Blu-ray
I don’t know if a feminist war movie – based on facts, not wishful thinking – could be made outside the specific experiences of women who’ve already survived hell and have nothing left to lose. No war in memory has so directly impacted women as ISIS’ ruthless attack on Kurdistan, during which non-Sunni Muslims, Yazidi and Christian males were slain outright and women forced or sold into sexual slavery. Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun introduces us to a contingent of female escapees, who have taken up arms against ISIS. They answer to a predominantly male military board, but are led by a woman, Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani). I can’t recall seeing anything like it. The achievements of individual female combatants have been displayed in such American wartime dramas as G.I. Jane (1997), Courage Under Fire (1996), Return (2011) and Home of the Brave (2006). The purported contributions of Red Army sniper Tania Chernova were acknowledged in Enemy at the Gates. Disney’s animated adaptation of the Chinese folktale, Mulan (1998), tells the story of a young Chinese maiden, who, when she learns that her weakened and lame father has been ordered to fight the invading Huns, takes his place, instead. (A live-action feature film, based on Mulan, is scheduled to open in March 2020.) Movies featuring women spies, ninja warriors, martial artists and comic-book heroines come and go with some regularity these days. Husson and co-writer Jacques Akchoti’s Girls of the Sun doesn’t claim to be based on any one person or battle to take back land. After coming across stories of women who escaped and took up arms, Husson decided to craft a movie that could be mistaken for a documentary, but, in fact, combined several different storylines. Girls of the Sun is such an inspirational film that it disappointed me to learn that the battle described wasn’t drawn from a single incident or specific group of women. It didn’t, however, detract from my enjoyment of the picture any more than the truth killed my enthusiasm for dozens of other Hollywood war films that I would learn were embellished.

Iranian-born Farahani (About Elly) is the leader of the platoon, which has been armed, outfitted and acknowledged by at least one faction of the Kurd military. If her character, Bahar, seems impatient to reclaim her former hometown, it’s because her son has been kidnapped and held in a school within view of her position on a hill above the city. It’s only a matter of time before ISIS will pull out, taking their prisoners with them or fighting until the last man on the battlefield is dead. The women decide to utilize a tunnel that leads from the hilltop to the school, where they hope to surprise the enemy. Knowing that the tunnel is booby-trapped, they convince a captured ISIS fighter to march ahead of them and point out places where explosives have been laid. There’s no reason to spoil how their mission goes. The conceit that prompted me to think that Girls of the Sun – the title refers to imagery on the Kurdish flag – might be real, however, is the inclusion of a war correspondent, with a patch over an eye damaged in a previous battle. Here, she’s a French photojournalist, Mathilde H. (Emmanuelle Bercot), but, in Matthew Heineman’s biographical A Private War (2018), she’s Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike). At first, it didn’t bother me. As time went on, however, I wondered if Mathilde H.’s constant presence wasn’t detracting from Husson’s depiction of Bahar’s mission, by putting equal weight on both characters. Special features include a Q&A session with Husson.

Penguin Highway: Blu-ray
It doesn’t take long for the magic in Makoto Ueda’s debut feature,  Penguin Highway, to reveal itself. Thousands of miles away from their natural habitats, several “waddles” of penguins suddenly appear in a small Japanese village. There’s no obvious reason for their exodus – a strong Southern wind or Pacific Ocean current – but neither is there one for the arrival of the giant silver orb that hovers above the ground in a meadow outside town.  A precocious fourth-grader, Aoyama-kun, takes it upon himself to investigate the mystery of the penguins in his village and how it relates to the oceanic orb and his attraction for a busty young dental hygienist, Onê-san, whose covered breasts are capable of bringing a pre-pubescent boy to his knees. (His undisguised longing is curiously handled in a film otherwise accessible to family audiences.) The mystery of their appearance deepens when Ayoama’s captured by bullies and tied to an isolated vending machine in the middle of nowhere. Onê-san pulls out cans of soda that inexplicably transform into penguins when tossed through the air. Even though she appreciates her ability to summon the birds, she can’t explain how it’s done. There are other miracles. Penguin Highway was adapted from a Tomihiko Morimi novel by Makoto Ueda. I hope that it’s recalled easily by Oscar voters when nominating panels meets later this year. The Shout Factory Blu-ray adds an English dub track and interviews with Ishida and Morimi.

Project Ithaca: Blu-ray
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’: Blu-ray
Born in the land of Canuxploitation, 38-year-old Dawson Creek native Nicholas Humphries churned out dozens of shorts and TV episodes, before trying his hand at genre features in 2014, with the slasher/horror/thriller Death Do Us Part. A year later, he turned in Mermaid’s Song, a twisted homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” set during the Dust Bowl. Typically, he leaves the writing to others. In Humphries’ gonzo alien-abduction thriller, Project Ithaca, those honors went to first-timer Kevin C. Bjerkness and veteran location assistant Anthony Artibello. I doubt that the director needs much more than a skeletal plot to get his creative juices flowing, however. Here, a group of strangers awakens aboard an alien spacecraft, restrained and orbiting Earth’s atmosphere. Each individual comes from a different place in time, ranging from the 1960s to 2050. The oldest captive, John (James Gallanders), was working with the American government, when he discovered an alien spacecraft that had crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, a few years earlier. An examination of the local populace reveals a woman carrying an unborn fetus that’s displaying serious abnormalities. After giving birth, the agents switch her baby with an infant whose mother died giving birth. The child will be used as a human guinea pig. On board the alien ship, the prisoners are able to determine their relative ages, places of birth and value to a snake-like creature that feeds off their fear. Having figured this out, the humans are able to stay one step ahead of the aliens, by thinking and retaining happy thoughts. This usually means returning to a time in their youth when they were most content. The aliens attempt to induce fear by forcing flashbacks to less pristine moments. The outcome of a final confrontation could be determined by the humans ability to kill fear with hope. In between, things on board the ship get a bit weird and sticky. At 85 minutes, the R-rated Project Ithaca could have benefited from a straighter throughline.

For those just tuning in to the nearly eternal “Star Trek” franchise, it’s worth knowing that Rick Berman and Michael Piller’s “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” originally aired from January 3, 1993, to June 2, 1999, in syndication, spanning 176 episodes over seven seasons. It was the fourth series in the television-based series. It is set in the 24th Century, when Earth is part of a United Federation of Planets, and the Deep Space Nine ship is parked in the vicinity of the liberated planet of Bajor, adjacent to a wormhole connecting Federation territory to the Gamma Quadrant on the far side of the Milky Way galaxy. Compared to the original series and “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” faced resistance from some diehard fans of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. It was criticized for being too “dark,” “edgy” and “the black sheep” of the Star Trek family. Others favored “DSN” for the very same reasons. The comprehensive retrospective documentary, “What We Left Behind: Looking Back at ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,’” takes a detailed look at the series, including brand-new interviews with members of the cast and crew; a dozen deleted scenes; behind-the-scenes featurettes, with the cast and crew; character studies; a discussion of the HD restoration process with the producers; a musical reunion with  composers Dennis McCarthy and Kevin Kiner; and a 50-minute roundtable discussion with directors Ira Steven Behr, David Zappone and the film’s producers. The  Shout Factory release should serve as an essential addition to any Trekkie’s library.

One Bedroom
After five years of ups and downs, an African American couple spends their final afternoon together having sex, arguing and remembering better days. Melissa (Devin Nelson) is moving out of Nate’s family-owned apartment, which has been gentrified along with the neighborhood, itself. Writer/director/co-star Darien Sills-Evans plays the 30-something yuppie, who splits his time between working at a local barbershop – a nod to the neighborhood’s black heritage – and as a DJ at an upscale nightclub. She’s a teacher. One Bedroom combines humor and drama to show how perfectly matched his protagonists are, despite the secrets that are revealed in flashbacks. Not only has Nate cheated on Melissa, but, deep into the revelatory process, Melissa describes one of her own. Nate is required by barbershop law to spill the beans to his pals on the couple’s final day together, while Melissa is obligated to share her story with her friends, one or two of which  might want to take advantage of the separation. Nate knows that any perspective suitors would be as interested in sharing his apartment as in becoming his lover. For her part, Melissa knows that her biological clock isn’t likely to slow down while she seeks another mate. Despite some angry bickering, One Bedroom is surprisingly easy on viewers’ eyes and ears. The characters are likable; the women are attractive; the men are generally agreeable; and the musical soundtrack is excellent. Bonus features include cast auditions; commentary with Sills-Evans and Nelson; and soundtrack samples.

Alice, Sweet Alice: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Chill Factor: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Not all Arrow Video releases are created equal. Some are interesting solely for early appearances by major stars, while others test the limits of the genre. Alfred Sole’s twisty, low-budget thriller, Alice, Sweet Alice (1976), is recommendable for its ability to keep audiences guessing as to the identity of the person who murders Brooke Shields’s Karen Spages, on the day of her First Holy Communion. At the time, Shields was an unknown commodity and a bargain hire for Sole. Her breakthrough film, Pretty Baby, would arrive two years later. The bigger draw would have been Linda Miller, who was the daughter of Jackie Gleason, and former wife of playwright/actor Jason Miller. A graduate of the University of Florence, with a degree in architecture, Sole thought that he could make some quick money by producing a porno. And, he did. The tongue-in-cheek hardcore parody Deep Sleep (1972) starred emerging adult stars Harry Reems, Jamie Gillis and Georgina Spelvin. The movie was pulled from theaters on charges that it was obscene, and all prints were confiscated. Four years later, Sole returned to his hometown of Paterson, N.J., to make the R-rated, Alice, Sweet Alice. After Karen is killed by someone in a yellow raincoat and full-face mask, other people with connections to the Catholic Church are also murdered. Her extremely jealous sister, Alice (Paula E. Sheppard), becomes the immediate suspect in the eyes of everyone except her mother. Could the solution to the mystery be that easy to solve? Yes … and no. Sole continues to ratchet up the tension, even after viewers will have assumed the obvious. The upgraded presentation adds new audio commentary, with genre specialist Richard Harland Smith; archival commentary with co-writer/director Sole and editor Edward Salier; “First Communion: Alfred Sole Remembers Alice, Sweet Alice,”; “In the Name of the Father,” a new interview with actor Niles McMaster; “Sweet Memories: Dante Tomaselli on Alice, Sweet Alice,” in which Sole’s cousin discusses his longtime connection to the film; “Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice,” a tour of the original shooting locations, hosted by author Michael Gingold; an alternate “Holy Terror” television cut; a deleted scene; alternate opening titles; original screenplay; image gallery; and, first pressing only, a collector s booklet with essay by Michael Blyth.

Having grown up in the wilds of Wisconsin, I know that hunting deer and racing snowmobiles are right up there with grilling brats and swilling brandy-based cocktails, as seasonal pastimes. The further north of the “tension line” one goes, the more cheese curds are eaten. Christopher Webster and writer Julian Weaver’s The Chill Factor was shot in Eagle River, “The Snowmobile Capital of the World,” which is only a hop, skip and very long jump to Hayward, where the annual Lumberjack World Championships are held. Hayward is also home to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, which is housed inside the belly of a giant muskellunge. Troma’s Blood Hook (a.k.a., “Muskie Madness”) was shot there.

Northern Wisconsin isn’t the most congenial of locations for the creation of feature films. Summer (a.k.a., mosquito season) in the region can be as difficult a place to shoot as Martha’s Vineyard on Fourth of July or New Orleans during Mardi Gras. In the fall, bow hunters stalk the woods, giving way only to rifle-toting deer hunters, after the first snowfall. Fangoria Films’ Children of the Night (1991), Leszek Burzynski’s Trapped Alive (1988), Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan (1998) and The Chill Factor (1993) were shot near the border with U.P., which, by all rights, should be part of Wisconsin. The latter two did so during snowstorms. In Weaver’s thriller, a group of young couples find several ways to turn a snowmobiling excursion into a waking nightmare. During an impromptu race on a frozen lake one of their number is thrown from his vehicle, knocked unconscious and seriously wounded. While a friend elects to seek help in the nearest city, the others take shelter in an abandoned summer camp that holds more secrets than most other cabins in the woods. They include bizarre religious artifacts, books, photos and a sort of Ouija board. What they don’t know is that the camp was once used by a satanic cult for its rituals and is still infested by demons. Barely released outside of its original VHS outing (for which it was retitled “Demon Possessed”), The Chill Factor is given the same red-carpet treatment as was provided Trapped Alive, by Arrow, in January. In addition to the 2K restoration from original film elements, Arrow adds original uncompressed stereo audio;
new commentary with special effects artist Hank Carlson and horror writer Josh Hadley; new interviews with makeup artist Jeffery Lyle Segal, production manager Alexandra Reed and stunt coordinator Gary Paul; a still gallery; reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach; and a collector s booklet, with new writing by Mike White.

Acorn/Showtime: Patrick Melrose: Blu-ray
PBS: Jamestown: The Complete Season 3
PBS: Frontline: Sex Trafficking in America
Universal Kids: The Jungle Bunch
Sesame Street: Dance Party!
While there’s no guarantee that Sky/Showtime’s  acerbic mini-series, “Patrick Melrose,” will be renewed for a second season, word has reached the trades that the relevant parties are “talking,” at least. Working in the favor of approval are the BAFTA awards recently accorded the mini-series and Best Actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Working against renewal is the fact that the author Edward St Aubyn only wrote five novels in the series and each one was adapted in Season One, thus necessitating several more original screenplays. Jump-starting a series after such a long hiatus is no easy trick, either. Although St Aubyn was born rich, his journey through life has been far from simple or uneventful. His father abused him; his mother ignored his needs; and he became addicted to alcohol and drugs in his teens. The second act in his life required him to achieve and maintain sobriety, which isn’t much fun or simple, especially while surrounded by barely functioning addicts and temptations. Cumberbatch’s tightly measured  portrayal could hardly be more convincing. His supporting cast appears to have been born to the manor, as well. Hugo Weaving and Jennifer Jason Leigh play his monstrous parents. Also along for the ride are such fine actresses as Anna Madeley, Blythe Danner, Indira Varma, Morfydd Clark, Jessica Raine, Allison Williams and Harriet Walter, as Princess Margaret.

For those who tuned in late, the Sky/PBS series “Jamestown” is a period soap opera set in the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. It was located on the northeast bank of the James (Powhatan) River, less than three miles southwest of the center of modern Williamsburg, Virginia. The mini-series begins in 1619, 12 years after a group of British men founded the settlement, and the arrival of three women expected to marry the lucky colonists. Not everything goes as anticipated, of course. Season Three begins three years later, in 1622. The Virginia Company’s investment is bearing fruit, but there’s still plenty of time left for political intrigue, romantic entanglements, rumor mongering and a bit of hoodoo on the side. A fragile truce between the native Pamunkey Indians and colonists appears to be holding. (The Brits have already wiped one tribe off the map.) Accused of treason, Silas Sharrow (Stuart Martin) has been offered sanctuary by the Pamunkeys. The eldest Sharrow’s infant son, by Winganuske (Rachel Colwell), dies after Henry (Max Beesley) refuses to allow him to be treated by Indian medicine men. Slaves Pedro (Abubakar Salim) and Maria (Abiola Ogunbiyi) have earned certain freedoms, but not the right to marry. And, that only takes us to the second episode of Season Three. Things get far messier as the show heads inexorably to its conclusion. (I recommend going back and start with Season One.) The Blu-ray adds making-of material and interviews.

PBS’ “Frontline: Sex Trafficking in America” travels to Phoenix, where underage girls are coerced into prostitution by street thugs, to whom they were introduced on the Internet. There’s nothing glamorous or sexy in the practice of the world’s oldest profession here. None of the escorts resembles Julie Roberts, in Pretty Woman, and their pimps aren’t a fraction as cool as Terrence Howard, in Hustle & Flow. They’re the dregs of society. Even so, the wheels of justice grind slow for the women rescued from “the life.” Filmed over three years, the “Frontline” investigation may not break a lot of new ground on the subject, but it does show how seriously the computerized vice cops take their jobs.

A feature-length version of the French animated series, “The Jungle Bunch,” was released here in 2017 to no critical acclaim and negligible box-office returns. Even so, a new movie is already in the works. As directed by David Alaux, the story revolves around characters, such as Maurice, who “may look like a penguin, but is a real tiger inside.” Raised by a tigress, Maurice and his friends, the Jungle Bunch, intend to maintain order and justice in the jungle, as his mother did before him. The evil koala, Igor – Is such a thing even possible? – confronts the bunch with his army of silly baboons.

In “Sesame Street: Dance Party!,” Elmo, Abby, and the rest of the crew are throwing a party and inviting all of their fans. Join in the fun as Zoe choregraphs a ballet, Nina teaches dances from all around the world and Elmo records a music video. Guests include Jason Derulo, Janelle Monae and Ne-Yo.

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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