MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: JW3, Aladdin 4K, Third Wife, Daybreakers, Echo in the Canyon, Rabbi Jacob, Lock Up, Mayday … More

John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum: Blu-ray/4K
One way to gauge the strength of an action franchise is to study the numbers. Another is to measure how long it takes for a series to make the leap from theaters to the VOD/DVD/Blu-ray marketplace, where marketing costs are relatively reasonable and star power goes a long way. The numbers show John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum to be the most successful chapter in a series that has done nothing but improve in the opinion of audiences and critics, who’ve long shown their support for the n R-rated action franchise. Far short of seeking a backdoor into the straight-to-VOD arena, Lionsgate/Summit has announced that John Wick: Chapter 4 will arrive May 21, 2021. Even though Keanu Reeves deserves much of the credit for the series’ continuing success, there’s something else going on here. Keanu may add marquee value to the product, but he’s never been in the same league in that regard as Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone. The creative teams behind the John Wick and Matrix juggernauts have earned the right to bask in the reflected glory. The fact is, almost every other movie in which he’s appeared since The Devil’s Advocate (1997) has underperformed. His co-stars in The Gift (2000), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), The Lake House (2006), Street Kings (2008) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) brought as many of their fans to the multiplex as he did. Reeves’ first solo forays into the martial-arts genre — Man of Tai-Chi (2013) and 47 Ronin (2013) – failed to recover their budgetary nut … and, they demonstrated several redeemable qualities. In both, he showcased skills learned under the direct tutelage of Hong Kong’s legendary Yuen Wo-ping (Master Z: Ip Man Legacy) and actor/stuntman Tiger Hu Chen (The Matrix Reloaded). Yuen’s influence extends to the John Wick series, as well. Three-time director Chad Stahelski served as Reeves/Neo’s stunt double on the Wachowskis’ trilogy, while co-star Laurence Fishburne also learned “movie kung fu” from Yuen. He’s filled the crucial role of Bowery King in the sequel and triquel of John Wick. Veteran actor, martial-arts champion and “Chairman” of Food Network’s “Iron Chef America: The Series,” Mark Dacascos (Maximum Impact), joins the Wick series here as Zero, who commands a force of ninja assassins and proves himself to be every bit the equal of the hero. The series’ formidable villainesses — Adrianne Palicki, Ruby Rose, Asia Kate Dillon – are all tall, look hot in black and give as good as they get.

At the end of Chapter Two, Wick broke one of the cardinal rules governing members of the criminal Underworld’s High Table and their assassins. After making good on an odious marker owed to Camora kingpin Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), Wick was tasked with murdering the fiend’s sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini), so he can claim her seat at the table. It doesn’t take long for Wick to realize that he’s been double-crossed and set up for assassination, himself. Santino sends his mute security enforcer, Ares (Rose), to finish the job. The sequel ends when Wick breaks Rule No. 1, by killing Santino inside the New York Continental Hotel, an established sanctuary for high-ranking members of the Underworld. Parabellum opens with one foot in the sequel and the other in the triquel. Hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) has risked his own security by granting Wick an hour’s head start, before declaring him excommunicado and imposing a $14-million ransom on him. It rises another million each hour thereafter. A severely wounded Wicks is shown racing through the streets of Manhattan – in a pattern established decades ago, in Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) – dodging potential assassins while searching for a sympathetic doctor. It causes him to miss the deadline for sanctuary and adjudication of his disrespect for the rules. Wick’s only hope is to call in some markers of his own. It takes him to the New York Public Library, where he’s hidden valuables in a book of Russian fairy tales; an store that specializes in antique weapons; a ballet theater run by an old friend (Angelica Huston), who reluctantly helps him; and the Continental Hotel in Essaouira, Morocco, which is managed by another former crony (Halle Berry), who even more reluctantly agrees to teleport him to the sun-drenched sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, where the Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) holds court. After collapsing from exhaustion and lack of water, John is taken by horsemen before the only man whose position is elevated above the High Table. The Elder’s condition for forgiveness is for Wick to return to Manhattan to kill Winston. None of this will make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the first two chapters.

Enter the Adjudicator, a vision in head-to-toe black leather, who’s played by Dillon, the androgynous computer nerd in “Billions.” As the menacing judge/jury for the High Table, she wants to know why Winston didn’t punish John immediately after he killed Santino in the hotel, giving him seven days to put his affairs in order before being removed from the hotel premises. She also wants the Bowery King – ruler of the underworld beneath the Underworld — to explain his role in helping his friend escape. He, too, is given seven days to depart. When he doesn’t comply, she orders full-time sushi chef, Zero, to slice him seven times with razor-sharp sword. All of this Underworld hocus-pocus might remind viewers of Tommy DeVito’s fate, in Goodfellas (1990), after he killed protected Gambino family member Billy Batts and buried his body in the boonies. The most exciting set piece takes place inside a “house” of glass walls and mirrors, where Wick must test his fighting skills against Zero’s top disciples, Shinobi #1 and Shinobi #2. The structure cost $4 million to design and construct, and every penny can be seen through the glass walls. The best way to describe Stahelski’s pacing, throughout most of Parabellum’s 131-minute length is “balls-to-the-wall action.” This should come as good news to lovers of films in which the protagonists take no prisoners. (John Wick personally eliminates 94 people in the film; more than he killed in the original, where he killed 77, but less than in the sequel, where he offed 128.) Most franchise pictures fall well short of that goal after the second sequel. In keeping with Stahelski’s creative casting decisions, 7-foot-tall NBA center, Boban Marjanovic, was hired to battle Wick in the library – think Jaws, in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker — while New York City Ballet soloist, Unity Phelan, is put through her paces by Huston in an arduous rehearsal session. Maurice Binder, who designed the distinctive opening sequences in many 007 movies, frequently looked toward the world of dance for graceful models. Dan Laustsen’s alternately dark and reflective cinematography looks great in 4K UHD, and the Dolby Atmos track is equal to the task, as well. The Lionsgate bonus package is comprised of a dozen making-of featurettes, of varying length, which go a long toward answering all the questions that detail-minded viewers will want answered, including those pertaining to the creative use of animals and armaments.

Aladdin (2019): Ultimate Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Aladdin (1992): Ultimate Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray/4K UHD
No studio milks a significant property as aggressively, and with as much attention to the bottom line, as the folks at Disney. Despite the shuttering of a dozen satellite animation studios, which shouldered much of its non-feature products, brand identity has always been a studio trademark. If the straight-to-video sequels suffered by comparison to the theatrical titles, it’s primarily because of the tightened production budgets and production schedules. Kids didn’t seem to notice or mind the shortcuts being taken. The addition of 20th Century Fox Animation and Fox Television Animation offer new opportunities. Apart from the traditional array of branded toys, novelties, records, comic books, clothing, costumes, video games, television series and theme-park attractions, Disney opened a new road to record profits by using Aladdin, already an animated TV series, as a wedge to enter the much maligned and far riskier straight-to-VHS market, with the 69-minute The Return of Jafar (1994) and the 81-minute Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996). Then studio boss Michael Eisner felt that the move might deflate the value of the brand, while loyal exhibitors questioned why they were being removed from traditional food chain and six-year re-release cycle, as had happened with The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast. Instead, popular animated features would re-released on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD, with all sorts of bonus material unavailable in theaters, and advanced Signature, Platinum and Diamond Collection editions. With every new edition, the BVHV would toy with faithful fans and collectors by adding and subtracting supplements and changing the cover art and packaging. (Last year, it forced Amazon and other retail outlets to honor a release embargo, designed to give Disney’s own streaming and hard-copy business a head start on sales.) The success of the Broadway-musical version of Beauty and the Beast opened another avenue for Disney to trod. It ran from April 18, 1994, to September 5, 1999, at the Palace Theater, before moving to the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, for an additional seven-plus years. On March 20, 2014, after two years on the road, Aladdin became the seventh of eight movies to make the transition to the Broadway stage, replacing “Mary Poppins” at the New Amsterdam Theater. It’s still there. Another adaptation, “Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular,” opened at the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure in 2003 and ran until early 2016. It was replaced by a musical stage version of Frozen. Whoever coined the term, “Disneyfication of Broadway,” back in 1994, hadn’t seen anything, yet. (A plan to Disneyfy Las Vegas went unrealized, except for a successful run of “The Lion King,” at Mandalay Bay.) Another version of the “Aladdin” musical continues to entertain passengers on board the Disney Cruise Line ship, Disney Fantasy.

Naturally, someone at the Mouse House felt as if there was still plenty of oil in Aladdin’s lamp. A live-action hybrid of the animated movie and Broadway musical was released earlier this year, in 3D, Dolby Cinema and IMAX. It filled the original date set aside for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, now scheduled to open on December 20, 2019. A 4K UHD alternative has been added to the digital/DVD/Blu-ray roster. For a company reluctant to hop on board the 4K bandwagon, it represents a distinct change in strategy. Despite middling reviews, Guy Ritchie and John August’s take on the property raked in $1.046 billion worldwide, more than twice as much as the 1992 edition. While Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban and Nasim Pedrad more than adequately fill the key roles, the most pressing question involved the ability of Will Smith to fill the hyper-animated shoes once worn by Robin Williams, as Genie. That wasn’t going to happen, in any case. (Jim Carrey was an early first choice.) Knowing this, former Fresh Prince shaped the character in his own likeable image. Ritchie, known for his early examinations of underworld crime in London, was anxious to add a more muscular texture to Aladdin, while maintaining the family-friendly appeal, and use CGI to inject some magic into the carpet rides. Frankly, I missed Gilbert Gottfried – who previously voiced the squawks for Jafar’s scarlet macaw, Iago – as much as I did Williams, whose manic interpretation of Genie occasionally overwhelmed everything else on the screen. The brilliantly photographed 4K UHD edition fairly sparkles with bright reds, yellows, purples and the colors of every gem on the planet. Featurettes include “Aladdin’s Video Journal: A New Fantastic Point of View”; the deleted song, “Desert Moon,” with an introduction by composer Alan Menken; “Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie”; “A Friend Like Genie,” in which Smith discusses the challenges and rewards of following up on Williams’ classic performance; almost 11 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes; three music videos; and bloopers.

The animated Aladdin doesn’t benefit as much from the higher-definition visual presentation and Dolby Atmos sound, at least when compared to the enclosed Signature Collection Blu-ray, which is very good. It’s simply a case of giving viewers – those willing to try something new and only slightly different, anyway — too much of a very good thing. It took some time for me to accustom myself to the oversaturated colors that sometimes blur the lines that separate characters from backgrounds. The coloring was done with the computerized CAPS process, and the color motifs were chosen according to the characters’ personality. The protagonists use light colors such as blue; the antagonists darker ones, such as red and black; and Agrabah and its palace employ the neutral color, corn yellow. The plan’s simplicity might clash with 4K’s higher resolution. Otherwise, there’s nothing new to say about the animated Aladdin that hasn’t been said a thousand times before now, including the many half-assed conspiracy theories that dogged the film. They were excised – for better or worse – long ago. The shabby treatment accorded William in contractual dispute also goes unremarked upon. Just as well. The new additions to the package include “Aladdin on Aladdin,” a half-hour interview with Scott Weinger, who voiced the title character; “Let’s Not Be Too Hasty: The Voices of Aladdin,” a short montage of voice-recording sessions, set against corresponding clips from the film; a pair of alternate endings with text intros; a preview for the vintage extras that appeared on previous home video releases and are now only available digitally; and “Drawing Genie,” with supervising animator Eric Goldberg discussing his life as an animator, his influences and the joy he finds in creating animated characters. A couple dozen more featurettes have been ported over from previous editions and are divided between the Blu-ray and digital versions. Missing from the earlier Diamond Collection package are “Made You Look,” a segment from “Diamond in the Rough”; deleted songs, “Proud of Your Boy,” “You Can Count on Me,” “Humiliate the Boy” and “Why Me.”; trailers for the Aladdin sequels; and “Proud of Your Boy,” an original story reel.

Daybreakers: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Lock Up: Blu-ray/4K UHD
If the title of the Spierig Brothers’ inverted vampire thriller, Daybreakers (2009), doesn’t sound familiar, despite a cast that includes Willem Dafoe Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill, blame it on bad timing. It had the misfortune of being released on the fourth weekend of Avatar’s run to the record books, as it surpassed the billion-dollar barrier, domestically and abroad. That it ended up making any money, at all, was something of a small miracle. Set in 2019 and shot in a semi-dystopian Australia — where a plague theoretically could be contained by the oceans surrounding it — Daybreakers imagines a scenario in which almost every human being has been transformed into a vampire. This might have worked out fine for the vamps, if it weren’t for the fact that fewer humans means less blood for the undead masses. Synthetics have been diluted to the point where they have lost the ability to satisfy the demand for sustenance. Riots have broken out in the streets of big cities, and a scientist (Hawke) and an industrialist (Neill) are at cross purposes. The scientist is struggling to come up with a beverage made of synthetic blood – little different from the elixir in “True Blood” — and the other hoping to make a killing limiting its access to rich people. Meanwhile, an underground band of unaffected humans, led by Dafoe and Claudia Karvan (Spirited), have come up with a treatment that could reverse the plague and ruin the ambitions of the industrialist. In an effort to clear up some of the hematological details, they kidnap the “bleeding heart” researcher. Because the industrialist is in cahoots with a vamp politician, with connections to the military, the Spierigs are able to spare no expense in creating a bloodbath for the ages. They even come up with sunshine-proof uniforms for the stormtroopers and light-resistant armored vehicles. While horror fans should find the wall-to-wall savagery to their liking – especially the in-your-face 4K visuals and Dolby Atmos soundtrack — squeamish fans of the actors are encouraged to think twice before streaming Daybreakers. The combo pack arrives with commentary by the Spierig Brothers and Steve Boyle, the film’s creatures designer and supervisor; a 121- minute making-of featurette; and the Spierigs’ short film, “The Big Picture.”

From his portrayal of a soccer playing P.O.W. in John Huston’s Victory (1981), to this year’s Escape Plan: The Extractors, no actor has spent more time behind bars than Sylvester Stallone. Released in 1989, between Rambo III and Rocky V, John Flynn’s Lock Up finds Sly’s character, Frank Leone, back in stir, after previously breaking out of a facility run by the evil Warden Drumgoole, played by Donald Sutherland at his most psychotic. After some reconsideration of his original sentence by authorities, Frank agrees to return to a minimum-security prison to complete the remaining six months of time due. On his first night back in his cell, he’s forcibly transferred to a maximum-security prison for no better reason than Drumgoole has some unfinished business with him and seeks revenge. In fact, the warden wants to make Leone’s life a living hell, before pushing him to the point where he’ll do something severe enough to accrue another 10 years behind bars. Because he’s established a stable life in mainstream society, complete with a woman who loves him (Darlanne Fluegel), he refuses to take the bait when he’s beaten to within an inch of his life by sadistic guards. The warden has also commissioned a demented prisoner, Chink (Sonny Landham), to push him in the same direction. It isn’t until the craziest of the nutso guards threatens to rape Flynn’s girl, Melissa, that he decides to take matters into his own hands. While Flynn and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin (Scent of a Woman) make full use of the cramped facilities – the same prison in which The Hurricane (1999) was shot and Rubin Carter once called home – you can count the original ideas in Lock Up on the fingers of one hand, from the brutal football game in the prison yard, to characters who are neatly divided between good, bad and indifferent. Leone is allowed some unlikely scenes in which he can enjoy a few hours of faux freedom, working on a red Mustang, whose best miles were in its rear-view mirror. A trained mechanic on the outside, he convinces a motley crew of fellow misfits of the wisdom, “Your body has to be here, but your mind can be anywhere.” For what it’s worth, the inevitable confrontation between Stallone and Sutherland makes up for a lot of earlier nonsense. The other redeeming quality is the casting of such actors as John Amos (“Good Times”), Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), Frank McRae (Cannery Row), Sonny Landreth (Predator), Fluegel (To Live and Die in L.A.) and Danny Trejo (Machete). The vintage featurettes include a couple of making-of pieces and several painfully short interviews.

The Third Wife
History teaches us that good things usually came to the wives, lovers and concubines of kings, wealthy merchants and landowners, who, in exchange for a son and heir, could write their own tickets. If not, well, Catherine of Aragon wouldn’t have suffered the indignity of being banished from court, simply because the sons she did deliver King Henry VIII either were stillborn or died seven weeks after their cords were cut. The Holy Roman Empire might still hold Europe in its sway; Henry’s girlfriends would have kept their heads and lived long a fruitful lives; and several generations of academics, playwrights, novelists and screenwriters would have to look elsewhere for inspiration. Movies about lines of succession, male privilege and the repression of women aren’t unique to England, of course. The great Chinese director Zhang Yimou has made at least three films — Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Ju Dou (1990), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) – that  address similar issues, while also adding polygamy to the mix. Although The Third Wife is set in rural Vietnam, during the 19th Century, writer/director Ash Mayfair appears to have been greatly influenced by Zhang’s period dramas. The blueprint included spectacular costumes, lavish set designs, attention to period detail and the rivalries that arise when new wives and concubines are introduced to the equation.

The Third Wife is bookended by spectacularly beautiful waterborne processions, leading to and from the estate of Hung (Le Vu Long). Fourteen-year-old May is being delivered to her new master on a ceremonial barge, in lieu of a debt owed to the old coot by her father. Hung has already had a son bestowed upon him by his first wife, Ha (Tran Nu Yên-Khê), so the pressure on May to produce another male heir has been significantly reduced. Still, in some aristocratic households one son is never enough. May knows that her life of leisure would be assured if her firstborn is of the male persuasion. Plus, Hung probably won’t be around much longer, leaving time to find a younger husband and bring boys and girls into the world. Apart from the exotic consummation ritual performed on Hung and May’s wedding night, the old man remains in the background throughout most of The Third Wife. It’s the interrelationships between the women – including the frank and friendly second wife, Xuan (Mai Thu Huong Maya) – that interest Mayfair. Little more than a child, herself, May spends her free time with Xuan’s small daughters, who are closer in age to her than May is to the older wives, who treat her like a younger sister. After Xuan teaches May some time-honored ways for a woman to satisfy herself sexually, when a husband or lover is otherwise engaged, the teenager falls in love with her. When May’s pregnancy becomes obvious, the experienced women share more practical knowledge.

The necessity for bringing another male heir into the family is evidenced by the selfish behavior of Ha’s son, who prefers the companionship of his mothers-in-law to his own pre-arranged partner, who’s the same age as May. By rejecting the consummation of his own marriage, the young man not only risks being cut out of his inheritance, but he’s also left his young wife buried under a mountain of shame and obsolescence. It wouldn’t be fair – or accurate – to suggest that May’s situation changes dramatically after the birth of her child, one way or the other, or that The Third Wife is an overtly feminist document. It adheres more to the Eurythmics’ anthem, “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” than Helen Reddy’s No. 1 hit, “I Am Woman.”

Mayfair’s messages are delivered quietly, but emphatically. An Ton That’s emotive musical soundtrack fills most of the gaps in dialogue, while Chananun Chotrungroj’s cinematography captures views of Vietnam that few Americans would recognize, even veterans. Mayfair based The Third Wife on stories passed down to her by her grandparents and great-grandparents, who experienced such practices at the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century. She points out that one in every three girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18 and one in seven by the age of 15. Although modern Vietnamese law requires men to be at least 20 years old and women to be at least 18 before marrying – and both spouses required to give free consent — child and arranged marriages persist in rural areas. Bonus features include Mayfair’s commentary, her short film, “Grasshopper,” and a NYAFF chat interview.

Echo in the Canyon: Blu-ray
I wonder if Andrew Slater’s engrossing rockumentary, Echo in the Canyon, didn’t begin production with one thing in mind, then, somewhere along the line, diverge in two or three other directions. Ostensibly, the film is a conjoined profile of the musical genre – folk-rock – that sprang from the guitars and harmonies of artists living in Los Angeles’ idyllic Back 40: Laurel Canyon. As has been noted in several other books, albums and movies about the period before the Summer of Love, it was here that dozens of musicians lived in close enough proximity to eavesdrop on each other’s jam sessions and rehearsals, and be only a few minutes’ drive from the Sunset Strip, a dozen different recording studios and the Troubadour nightclub, an essential club that gets short-shrift here. It isn’t alone. At an all-too-brief 82 minutes, “Echo” overflows with vintage and freshly recorded interviews, concert footage and studio sessions. Most of it as fresh as sunny spring day on Wonderland Drive. Among the Laurel Canyon habitués represented in chats with host/guide Jakob Dylan are surviving members of the Beach Boys, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, Mamas and the Papas, Beatles Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, Loving Spoonful and Tom Petty (in his last film interview). In addition to a zip code, the artists recall sharing riffs, lyrics, ideas and inspiration (a.k.a., lovers), before and after gigs. The anecdotes are far more entertaining and revelatory here than those we hear in the average rockumentary or late-night talk-show interviews. I expect that has a lot to do with Dylan’s status within the industry, as a musician and prince among rock royalty. Among the younger faces invited to reflect on the impact of the California Sound are Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor, Justine Bennett, Jade Castrinos and Norah Jones, all of whom are shown at various times reflecting on, recording or performing songs that will bring back a flood of memories for Baby Boomers, especially. The soundtrack album, comprised of duets with Dylan, has already been released. But wait, there’s more. Slater also admits that the project was inspired by Model Shop (1969), an obscure film by French director, Jacques Demy, in which a young draftee tools around greater Los Angeles in a 1952 MG TD Midget. While he’s deciding whether to report for duty or go to Canada, George Matthews (Gary Lockwood) begins stalking a French woman (Anouk Aimée), who models for amateur photographers in her britches. Besides its nostalgic visuals, New Wave aura and music by Spirit, Model Shop has virtually nothing to add to “Echo.” It does afford Dylan an opportunity to re-create George’s scenic tour of late-1960s in a convertible of his own.  Curiously, music producer and Lakers’ superfan Lou Adler appears in all three films, twice as a young man and, again, as a wise old sage. Despite some curious narrative choices, Echo in the Canyon really comes alive whenever the singing begins.

The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob: Blu-ray
In yet another case of unfortunate timing, The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob was released smack dab in the middle of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War – or, if one prefers, the Yom Kippur, Ramadan or October War – which, while brief, proved to be extremely costly for both sides. On October 18, the film’s opening day in France, the 35-year-old wife of its publicist, Georges Cravenne, attempted to hijack a Boeing 727 to protest what she believed to be its “anti-Palestinian” bias. Apparently, no one bothered to alert police to the fact that Danielle Cravenne was a manic-depressive and might only be carrying fake weapons. At a stopover in Marseille, sharpshooters disguised as maintenance workers took her out as soon as the Air France jetliner was cleared of passengers. She had identified herself as a member of the bogus Solidarity Movement for French-Israeli-Arab Reconciliation and issued three demands: suppression of The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, passage to Cairo and the suspension of all French motor traffic for 24 hours. The final demand should have tipped authorities to the likelihood that she was slightly off her rocker, at least. At the time, however, cops didn’t have the luxury, patience or wherewithal to distinguish between fake and real guns. The movie opened on time, anyway, and did well at the international box office. (I see no indication that it’s ever opened in Islamic countries.) Although the raucous comedy dealt with serious topical issues, American distributor 20th Century Fox was able to coerce the MPAA into awarding The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob a completely unwarranted G-rating. PG would have served the same purpose.

That said, however, director Gérard Oury (The Sucker) and a team of writers deserve kudos for creating a mistaken-identity comedy that straddles the fine line separating culturally insensitive material and undeniably hilarious slapstick. And, when I say, “hilarious slapstick,” I’m fully aware of the fact that,  depending on the circumstances, a pie-in-the-face or banana-peel gag could pass for comedy, drama or tragedy. And, furthermore, I’ll concede that Danielle’s perception of The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob being offensive to Palestinians and Arabs, intentionally or not, was valid. Not that it warranted hijacking a plane to protest its existence or was a good enough reason to commit suicide-by-police. The film opens in New York, where the titular Hasidic rabbi (Marcel Dalio) and his companion, Rabbi Zeiligman (Claude Giraud), are preparing for Rabbi Jacob’s first visit to his French hometown in 30 years. Among other things, he’ll celebrate a nephew’s bar mitzvah. In danger of missing their plane, due to a traffic jam on a bridge, the taxi driver alerts the rabbis to the need for a miracle, which, of course, occurs in the nick of time.  Upon their arrival at Orly, they become embroiled in a standoff between a bigoted French factory owner, Victor Pivert (Louis de Funès); terrorist leader Mohamed Larbi Slimane (also Giraud), who’s taken him hostage; and police, who think Pivert is a murderer. To escape the mishigas, the anti-Semitic industrialist and his Arab captor assume the identity of the American rabbis, right down to fake beards and long, uncut sidelocks, called peyos. While the real rabbis are cooling their heels in a Parisian jail, Pivert and Slimane, now joined at the wrist by handcuffs, are driven to Jacob’s former neighborhood, which is filled with people eager to celebrate the gala reunion. (He would have found his way to America at the height of the Nazi occupation.)

Pivert is able to fake his true identity by noticing the names on signs on local shops and pretending he knew the proprietors back in the day. It helps that the families are gathered on the steps below the signs. He has more trouble deciphering the Talmud and sidestepping such common stumbling blocks as reading left to right and confusing the days Jews, Muslims and Christians mark the sabbath. Pivert’s clandestinely Jewish chauffeur, Salomon (Henri Guybet), enjoys watching the anti-Semites squirm. Meanwhile, Pivert’s dentist-wife, Germaine (Suzy Delair), has put the well-being of a patient at risk, when she comes to believe that her husband is leaving her for another woman, and their daughter, Antoinette (Miou-Miou), freaks out at the thought he won’t show up to her arranged wedding to a man she doesn’t love. (A much better fate awaits her.) If it sounds as if Louis de Funès got the better of the two key roles, you’d be right. At the time, he was France’s most popular comic actor and someone well capable of performing the chases and strenuous stunts required of him, including a lengthy and terrifically funny set piece that takes place in a factory that manufactures green chewing gum. (It’s safe for family viewing.) The updated Blu-ray package adds an interview with Oury’s daughter, co-screenwriter Danièle Thompson, and a new essay written by author Phoebe Maltz Bovy. In late 2016, it was reported that a sequel to “Rabbi Jacob” – “Rabbi Jacqueline” – would be in theaters by Christmas, 2018. It would be written by Thompson and Jul (“Silex and the City”) and released by specialty distributor, Haut et Court (Toni Erdmann). So far, however, nada.

It’s difficult to imagine a worse way to kill eight hours on a trans-Atlantic flight to London than having to watch movies as bad as Mayday, back-to-back, for the duration. The heavily censored Hollywood flicks usually available to passengers are punishment enough. The airline could substitute any of Massimiliano (Max) Cerchi’s straight-to-video turkeys for Mayday and the effect would be the same. Born in Italy, Cherchi began making micro-budget straight-to-video horror/thrillers in 1993, with Brainmaster, and, thereafter, Satan Claus (1996), Hellinger (1997) and Hellbilly (2003). With movies as formulaic as Mayday, it almost doesn’t matter that Rod Smith’s dialogue doesn’t resemble anything normal people would say in similar circumstances or that most of the characters don’t resemble anyone you’d imagine finding in the first-class section of an airliner … or a Greyhound bus, for that matter. The special effects, too, are limited to flashing the lights on the jetliner off and on and adding the sound of crackling electricity. These far-less-than-convincing power outages occur during a flight from Los Angeles to London. They’re followed by the mysterious disappearance of a passenger or member of the flight crew. Normally, something like this would result in pandemonium in the plane, but not here. Somehow the passengers in business class and economy are left blissfully unaware of what’s happening in first class.

It does, however, cause the on-board air marshal (Michael Pare) to blow his cover and reveal himself to the handful of passengers and viewers who might not have already guessed his profession. The first hint comes when he greets the blond flight attendants — Chanel Ryan, Sadie Katz — as if he regularly dates both of them on their ports of call. (This doesn’t prevent him from hitting on the flirty brunette sitting next to him, however.) He is the best-dressed guy in first class, as well as the only one who looks as if he belongs there. Although the sudden disappearances aren’t remotely scary – look closely and the face of a demon is recognizable – they provide a recognizable plot device. While Mayday could easily qualify for so-bad-it’s-good status anywhere, it’s natural audience would be comprised of airline employees, frequent travelers and airplane fetishists who might get a kick out of watching a movie that makes Airport ’77 (1977) and Airplane! (1980) look like documentaries on the Smithsonian Channel.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More

rohit aggarwal on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More on: The DVD Wrapup: Diamonds of the Night, School of Life, Red Room, Witch/Hagazussa, Tito & the Birds, Keoma, Andre’s Gospel, Noir

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

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

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

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

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Shoplifters, Front Runner, Nobody’s Fool, Peppermint Soda, Haunted Hospital, Valentine, Possum, Mermaid, Guilty, Antonio Lopez, 4 Weddings … More

gwehan on: The DVD Wrapup: Shoplifters, Front Runner, Nobody’s Fool, Peppermint Soda, Haunted Hospital, Valentine, Possum, Mermaid, Guilty, Antonio Lopez, 4 Weddings … More

Gary J Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Peppermint, Wild Boys, Un Traductor, Await Instructions, Lizzie, Coby, Afghan Love Story, Elizabeth Harvest, Brutal, Holiday Horror, Sound & Fury … More

Quote Unquotesee all »

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