MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: The Circus, J.C.’s Vampires, Bucket of Blood, Tracker, Black String, Major/Minor, Find Me Guilty, Pitching In … More

The Circus: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Fists in the Pocket: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Cloud-Capped Star: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray Around India With a Movie Camera
Hot on the heels of Cohen Media’s terrifically entertaining series of restored silent features, “The Buster Keaton Collection,” comes Criterion’s upgraded edition of “The Circus.” It not only represents the last film Charles Chaplin made during the silent era, but also the least heralded and most troubled of his masterpieces. Its production was so traumatic, in fact, that Chaplin left it out of his autobiography. He first began discussing his ideas for a film about a circus as early as 1920, ultimately combining them with thematic elements from The Vagabond (1916) and gags and plot devices from French comedian Max Linder’s films. Some critics have pointed out the similarities between The Circus and Linder’s last completed film, King of the Circus (1924). As tsunami of personal and production difficulties would result in a gap of  three years between The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus, which, 95 years later, hasn’t lost any of its ability to entertain. In it, the Little Tramp is an inadvertent accessory to a pickpocket’s theft of the watch and wallet of a dapper gentleman watching a side show on the midway of a traveling circus. When the crime is discovered, the pickpocket transfers his haul to the pockets of the unsuspecting drifter. When the Tramp discovers the treasure in his pocket, he goes on a spending spree that draws the attention of the crime victim, who quickly summons the police. It triggers a chase that leads them into the Big Top, where, it’s almost needless to say, they become part of the afternoon’s show. This comes as welcome news to the audience, which is unimpressed by the company’s clowns. In fact, viewers are under the impression that the slapstick chase is part of the clowns’ repertoire and laugh accordingly. The circus’ merciless owner and ringmaster Allan Garcia believes, as well, that no mere amateur could produce the same reaction from the crowd and hires the Little Tramp on the spot. He has no idea why or what’s expected of him. It’s at this point that Chaplin stirs the pot by adding the troupe’s bareback rider (Merna Kennedy) to the mix. The tiny acrobat is regularly beaten by the ringmaster, who’s also her stepfather, and it’s made to look as if he isn’t holding anything back. The newly hired star of the circus intercedes, forcing the brute to decide between beating the girl or losing his services. decide between any further punishment and his services. It gives him hope that the damsel in distress will return the favor by showing him some affection. Then, when a dashing tightrope walker is hired, it’s obvious that the bareback rider will soon be forced to make some tough decisions in the romance department. The Circus’ most fondly remembered set pieces include a confrontation between the Tramp and a caged lion, and his attempt to upstage the tightrope walker on the high wire, which comes complete with some monkeys. (Both gags, which required as many as 200 takes each, are explained in a featurette included in the bonus package.) The 72-minute film ends, as is so often the case, on a bittersweet note.

In hindsight, it’s something of miracle that The Circus was completed, at all. Production was delayed for nearly a year due to several incidents: a fire at the studio; his mother’s death; Chaplin’s messy public divorce and shocking details of his private life; the IRS freezing Chaplin’s assets over a million-dollar tax dispute poor lab work, causing four weeks of filming to be unusable; the theft of a circus wagon; and a storm destroying the big-top tent. The many disruptions led to a nervous breakdown, which, in turn, caused his hair to turn prematurely white. (When production resumed, Chaplin dyed his hair to match it’s original color.)  Despite the fact that The Circus is the seventh highest-grossing silent film of all time and universally admired by critics, scholars and audiences, Chaplin pulled it from circulation for 40 years. When it was re-released, in 1969, it contained a new score by Chaplin, who also sang the theme song. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray is enhanced by a new 4K digital restoration of the 1969 re-release version, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack; fresh commentary featuring Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance; an interview with Chaplin from 1969; an interview with Chaplin’s son, Eugene; “In the Service of the Story,” a new program on the film’s visual effects and production design, by effects specialist Craig Barron; “Chaplin Today: The Circus,” a 2003 documentary on the film, featuring filmmaker Emir Kusturica; excerpted audio interview with Chaplin’s musical associate, Eric James; an unused café sequence with new score, by composer Timothy Brock, and related outtakes with audio commentary by Chaplin historian Dan Kamin; newly discovered outtakes, featuring the Tramp and the bareback rider; original recording of the film’s opening song, “Swing, Little Girl,” by Ken Barrie; footage of the 1928 Hollywood premiere; and an essay by critic Pamela Hutchinson.

Marco Bellocchio’s debut feature, Fists in the Pocket, was released in 1965, on the eve of Italy’s decade-long uprising by students against bourgeois family values, classism spawned by the Italian Economic Miracle and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. It anticipated the seismic shift away from commonly held middle-class principles, which no longer held the line against radical politics, violence and cynicism. It also encouraged Italian youths to look beyond their parents’ blind adherence to nationalism and Catholic morality. Ironically, the same people who benefited most from the economic boom sent their kids to prestigious colleges, whose educators planted the seeds of revolution and anarchy that culminated with the Red Brigades’ kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro, in 1978, as well as reactive attacks by right-wing militias. If, at 26, Bellocchio couldn’t have predicted the youthquake powered by rock music, drugs and fiery rhetoric, he was savvy enough to feel and recognize the vibrations of change. Or, Fists in the Pocket might simply have been a pre-giallo horror based on observations of his and other bourgeois families. Here, the family at the heart of Bellocchio’s story lives outside the town of Bobbio, in the far northwest corner – or armpit – of Italy, where the writer/director was raised. The fatherless clan, which fits all the definitions of “dysfunctional,” yearns for the days when they enjoyed the good things in life. The oldest son, Augusto (Marino Masé), is the de facto head of the household and the only member who holds a proper job. He also enjoys shooting rats at the town dump for sport. Their mother (Liliana Gerace) is blind and demanding. The youngest son is a misshapen and mentally retarded teenager, who’s addicted to sugar and dependent on his older siblings. Giulia (Paola Pitagora) is beautiful, but seemingly incapable of distinguishing between good and bad influences or the morality of the middle brother’s curious morality. Alessandro (Lou Castel) understands that the family is holding Augusto back from pursuing more prestigious work away from Bobbio, but he is too responsible to act on his inclinations. Behind his back, Alessandro conspires to lift the yoke from his brother’s shoulders, once and forever. He may be completely demented, but a pecan-sized conscience lies somewhere deep, within Alessandro’s nut-hard shell. Cinematographer Alberto Marrama’s grainy black-and-white images captured the morbidity of life within the decaying villa, while Ennio Morricone’s bleak score found the darkness in the characters’ hearts. If Fists in the Pocket doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, it’s only because it wasn’t intended to be uplifting. It wasn’t released in the U.S. until nearly three years after its debut at the Lucarno and Venice film festivals, It’s likely that American distributors found it difficult to sell a movie, even on the arthouse circuit, by an unknown Italian commodity not named Antonioni, Fellini or Bertolucci. The Criterion package arrives with a 4K digital restoration, approved by Bellocchio, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack; interviews from 2005 with Bellocchio, Castel and Pitagora, editor Silvano Agosti, critic Tullio Kezich and filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci; a new interview with scholar Stefano Albertini; and an essay by film critic Deborah Young

Ritwik Ghatak’s exceptional Indian melodrama, The Cloud-Capped Star, describes another family that ceased functioning normally when tragedy struck and it was left to its own devices. As was the case in Fists in the Pocket, a single member of the Bengali family accepts the responsibility of providing the others with the necessities of life. Both characters carry the load without expecting much in the way of gratitude or rewards. In The Cloud-Capped Star (1960) ), which was adapted from a novel by Shaktipada Rajguru, it’s the eldest daughter in a family  uprooted by the Partition of India who fills that role. Supriya Choudhury plays the self-sacrificing Nita, who’s forced to give up her dreams and chances for happiness to keep the family from imploding. When the patriarch loses his meager income from teaching, he demands that she quit college and make money to pick up the slack. The mother’s a world-class bitch to everyone, except the youngest daughter, Gita (Gita Ghatak),who she pushes to steal Nita’s boyfriend. One brother spends nearly every waking hour practicing his singing – a form of Indian blues — under a tree on the banks of the Ganges. Another brother defies his parents by taking a job at a nearby factory, where he’s injured and nearly dies. His father’s response, “I told you so,” while Mommy Dearest blames Nita for not bringing home enough money. Her decision to maintain a vigil at his bedside, causes her to lose her job and finally her health, by contracting tuberculosis. Her singing brother is the only person who cares about her in the end. The Cloud-Capped Star closes with a powerful demand by Nita to be allowed to live her life unburdened by India’s soul-crushing male chauvinism and caste system. The package benefits from a 2K restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray; a fascinating conversation between filmmakers Saeed Akhtar Mirza and Kumar Shahani; a stills gallery of Ghatak family photographs, curated by writer and photographer Nabarupa Bhattacharjee; and an essay by film scholar Ira Bhaskar,

Sandhya Suri’s fascinating Around India With a Movie Camera explores life on the subcontinent – British, Indian, Pakistani — in the 50 years leading up to independence in 1947. It does so by skillfully combining archival footage, including hand-colored sequences, with a new score by Soumik Datta. It opens with what’s believed to be the first footage shot in India, in 1897, from a boat on the Ganges, in Varanasi  (a.k.a., Benares), where bodies are cremated and the ashes are spread by the river. The final image is of a ship loaded with British citizens, some leaving the country for the first and last time. Around India With a Movie Camera is resplendent with parades, processions and other functions designed to showcase the melding of cultures and beliefs. Everything from infants to elephants is fairly encrusted with jewels and silver ornamentation. The films, which are drawn exclusively from the BFI National Archive, feature some of the earliest surviving footage from India, including as gorgeous travelogues, intimate home movies and newsreels from British, French and Indian filmmakers. Mahatma Gandhi and Sabu the Elephant Boy make cameos, along with all manner of maharajas and viceroys, fakirs, farmhands and exotic dancers. The film not only explores the shared history of people who lived under King George VI’s rule, but it also asks us to engage with broader themes of a empire, independence and servitude. It doesn’t, however, depict the brutality visited on Indian activists and those arrested for criticizing the empire in the leadup to August 15, 1947. The only reference to any such discord comes when we witness a British Salvation Army worker confiscate the bracelets, earrings and jewels worn by peasants, who have legitimate reasons for wearing  them. The volunteers promise that their “contributions” will help finance Jesus’ work on Earth. Yeah, sure.

John Carpenter’s Vampires: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
The once-prolific John Carpenter hasn’t directed a feature film since 2010’s forgettable The Ward and, before that, 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. In the 1990s, however, the creator of the Halloween franchise made a half-dozen films that his most loyal fans supported, but probably didn’t make back their nuts, at least in their theatrical runs. Carpenter probably was anticipating a gentle slide into semi-retirement, when, in 1998, he was handed a project he couldn’t refuse. Don Jakoby’s  adaptation of a novel by John Steakley was offered to him by the folks at Largo Entertainment — Affliction (1997), City of Industry (1997), Finding Graceland (1998) – with James Woods already attached. Both men were anxious to do a Western and Vampires was the closest they would probably come. The Western horror would be shot in northern New Mexico, where the topography hasn’t changed much in the last150 years and several of the visual conceits could have been inspired by The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). No horses, though. A gang of vampires led by Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) is in the Land of Enchantment to recover the 600-year-old Black Cross of Béziers, which they believed would protect them from sunlight. It was believed to have been transported from the Old World, to the new one, by priests attached to the conquistadors. It’s taken this long for the location of the crucifix to be tracked to New Mexico by Valek. Wood’s Jack Crow has been conscripted by Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell) to prevent Valek from doing just. Besides his own gang of vampire killers, Jack will be accompanied by a Vatican-based priest, Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), who’s familiar with the Church’s history with the undead. Two massacres occur, before the showdown at the rural church. If Carpenter doesn’t veer very far off the traditional path, even if he allows some victims of vampire contamination a few days to find the one who bit them and drive a stack through its heart, reversing the process. Among them are Sheryl Lee (“Twin Peaks”), whose crowning achievement here is to maintain a modicum of modesty in a micro-miniskirt, while writhing in agony. Daniel Baldwin plays an ace vampire killer, who, once bitten, stays human long enough to help Crow take on Valek. The pulsating rock/blues score was supplied by members of the Mar-Keys, plus Carpenter, performed on keyboards, piano, guitar and bass. The Blu-ray adds several fresh bonus features, including “Time to Kill Some Vampires,” an interview with composer/director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter and cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe; “Jack the Slayer,” an interview with Woods; “The First Vampire,” an interview with Griffith; “Raising the Stakes,” with special-effects artist Greg Nicotero; and “Padre,” with Guinee.

A Bucket of Blood: Blu-ray
There are times in Roger Corman and frequent collaborator Charles B. Griffith’s hugely entertaining black comedy, A Bucket of Blood (1959), when viewers of a certain age might anticipate a walk-on appearance by Maynard G. Krebs, the resident beatnik on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” Because American International Pictures limited the budget to $50,000 and a five-day shooting schedule, though, it’s unlikely they could have afforded such a luxury. After Corman and Griffith, who worked side-by-side on The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961), spent an evening touring the coffeeshops on Sunset Boulevard and other beatnik hangouts, they decided to turn AIP’s idea for a straight horror movie into a black comedy. In a few more hours, they had enough input to develop the film’s plot structure, partially basing the story upon Mystery of the Wax Museum (1931). Here, a dimwitted and highly impressionable busboy, Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), is inspired to become an artist by the existential poetry of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton). Like Paisley, Brock is a regular at the Yellow Door Café. The busboy orders a clump of clay, with which he hopes to match the likeness of the café’s voluptuous hostess, Carla (Barboura Morris). He stops when he hears the meowing of Frankie, the landlady’s cat, who has somehow gotten himself stuck in Walter’s wall. In attempting to rescue the cat, Walter accidentally kills it. Instead of giving the cat a proper burial, Walter covers the cat in clay, leaving the knife stuck in it. In a direct parody of bohemian tastes, the sculpture winds up at the Yellow Door, where it impresses the regulars and draws bids from collectors. The response encourages Paisley to produce more such sculptures, except, instead of cats, he begins turning his murder victims into works of art. It takes a while for the café owner to figure out the ruse, but, when he does, the discovery leads to an extremely dark conclusion. The Olive Signature Blu-ray is enhanced by a 4K remaster of the film; the featurettes, “Creation Is. All Else Is Not,” with Corman; “Call Me Paisley,” with Dick and Lainie Miller; commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of “That Guy, Dick Miller”; an archival audio interview, with Griffith; “Bits of Bucket,” a visual essay comparing the original script to the finished film; an essay by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of “You Don’t Know Me, But You Love Me: The Lives of Dick Miller”; a rare prologue from the German release; a Super 8 “digest” version; and gallery of newly discovered on-set photography.

The Tracker: Blu-ray
Still buff at nearly 62 years of age, Dolph Lundgren keeps busy bouncing between big-budget actioners, such as last year’s Aquaman  and Creed II, and tongue-in-cheek junk, like Syfy’s Sharknado 5: Global Swarming (2017) and the irredeemable zombie flick, Dead Trigger (2017). In the former, at least, he was surrounded by such mercenary goofballs as series regular, Tara Reid, Chris Kittan, Clay Aiken, Bret Michaels, David Naughton, Charo, Geraldo Rivera, Olivia Newton-John, Tony Hawk, Greg Louganis, Downtown Julie Brown, Fabio, Margaret Cho, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, Bai Ling, Gilbert Gottfried and Nichelle Nichols. It sounds like the cast list for a revised version of “The Love Boat” or “Paradise Island.” In The Tracker, Lundgren plays Aiden Hakansson, who’s lured back to the thoroughly corrupt town in southern Italy, where, 10 years earlier, his wife and daughter were killed in a botched kidnapping. A cop calls Aiden, living somewhere in northern Europe, to tell him that he’s uncovered fresh evidence against the killers, and he should return to the town. When he does, however, he’s immediately targeted by drug traffickers; told that the whistleblower committed suicide, two days earlier; and the frightened citizenry he left behind a decade earlier is still powerless. The only difference is the arrival of new police detective, who hasn’t been in town long enough to be corrupted or killed. Together, they’ll take on the drug kingpin’s ninja militia. Typically, the story begs more questions than it answers. No matter, because Lundgren’s fans only want to see him kick serious ass, which, of course, is what happens here.

The Black String
When “Malcolm in the Middle” ended its six-year run in 2006, its star, 20-year-old Frankie Muniz, could have written his own ticket to any destination in the world. It was assumed that he would take a year off, or so, and return to the entertainment grind in another show or a movie, such as his earlier hit, Agent Cody Banks (2003). Instead, Muniz decided to take a few years off, channeling his energy into open-wheel racing and, later, the bands You Hang Up and Kingsfoil. He’s appeared in the occasional Syfy movie (Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!), series episode (“The Mysteries of Laura”) or special (“Dancing with the Stars”). Most of all, though, he vanished from the sight of the fans who loved him as Malcolm. Apparently, Muniz endured serious medical problems, as well. He stars in Brian Hanson’s Lovecraftian shocker, The Black String, playing a young liquor-store clerk, who catches a sexually transmitted disease from a woman whose phone number flashed on his television. While most such ailments can be treated with penicillin, Jonathan’s welts and boils are satanic in nature. He decides to track down the woman (Chelsea Edmundson) to figure out what had happened to him. It leads to a nest of suburban ghouls, who feast on the unfortunate mooks who respond to chatline sites. Muniz is subjected to some of the nastiest makeup effects and physical grief an actor should ever have to endure. The Black String holds up, as well, as a low-budget, straight-to-VOD/DVD/Blu-ray horror.

Find Me Guilty: Blu-ray
In Sidney Lumet’s penultimate feature film – his first in seven years – the great chronicler of all things New York returned to roots that began growing in 1957, with his first feature, 12 Angry Men (1957). That courtroom drama would be nominated for three Academy Awards. Find Me Guilty (2006) could hardly be a more different picture and still fit the parameters of a judicial setting. It didn’t collect any major awards nominations, but a couple of its cast members deserved some consideration, anyway. The incongruity of finding Vin Diesel as the protagonist in a Lumet film – alongside the then-little-known Peter Dinklage as an attorney for the mob – was palpable. Despite receiving excellent reviews from mainstream critics, Find Me Guilty tanked at the box office. Followers of Lumet’s previous movies probably would have preferred to see Al Pacino – star of Lumet’s Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) —  in the lead role of real-life mobster, Giacomo “Jackie” DiNorscio. Diesel’s fans might have wished the same thing, especially after seeing the toupee the star of the Fast and the Furious franchise was required to wear. Anyone familiar with Jonathan Lynn’s 1992 courtroom comedy, My Cousin Vinny, should have been the target audience for Find Me Guilty, but they didn’t get the message. In 1980, DiNorscio was a soldier in the Philadelphia mob and, later, the Lucchese crime family in southern New Jersey. He acted as his own lawyer in the RICO trial, United States v. Anthony Accetturo et al, which remains noteworthy for being the longest federal trial in history. The trial was conducted while DiNorscio was already incarcerated on separate drug charges. Instead of accepting a presumably suicidal deal to rat on his co-defendants, DiNorscio fired his lawyer, turned down an offer to be represented by lead defense attorney Ben Klandis (Dinklage) and decided to represent himself during the entire 21-month trial. Although not popular with Accetturo and fellow Lucchese boss Michael Taccetta – who likely ordered a hit on him in prison —  DiNorscio’s ability to charm the jury led to all 20 defendants being acquitted. He wins us over, too. After the trial, DiNorscio went back to prison and was released on November 23, 2002, after serving 17.5 years of a 30-year sentence. Not only was Diesel up to the challenge, but he demonstrated once again that he wasn’t a one-trick pony. Also good here are Annabella Sciorra (Jungle Fever), Alex Rocco (The Godfather), Ron Silver (Reversal of Fortune) and Linus Roache (Batman Begins). Legend has it that DiNorscio picked Vin Diesel to portray him in the movie, after watching The Fast and the Furious. In addition to the bad toupee, Diesel gained over 30 pounds for his role, and spent two hours a day in make-up to apply and disguise prosthetics. The Blu-ray adds the short, pre-recorded, “A Conversation With Director Sidney Lumet.”

Who Saw Her Die?: Special Edition: Blu-ray
If American admirers of giallo aren’t familiar with Aldo Lado’s nifty mystery/thriller, Who Saw Her Die? (1972), it’s only because distributors here didn’t want to take on a movie that dealt with a serial killer who targeted schoolgirls … and in such vivid shades of red. Nearly 50 years later, the violence is no easier to take. The Church also takes it on the chin in Who Saw Her Die? For those accustomed to giallo conceits, however, there’s plenty to like here. The killing begins in the French Alps, where a little girl strays off the beaten path to recover a sled. It’s difficult to say if the off-screen killer – who’s wearing lacy, black gloves, naturally – has been stalking the redhead or laying in wait for just such an opportunity. The action then moves to Venice, where we’re introduced to another redheaded girl, this one played by the formidable child actress, Nicoletta Elmi, who, at 8, was no stranger to giallo. Little Roberta has just arrived in Venice, to spend some time with her sculptor father, Franco, who’s played by, of all possible actors, George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). While his daughter’s outside, playing with other kids her age, daddy’s upstairs taking a booty call with one of the insanely beautiful actresses in his orbit. Because we’ve already observed the killer stalking Roberta, waiting for her to be deserted by her playmates, it comes as no surprise what happens next. The search for the killer takes Franco and police from the cathedrals of Venice, to the cemetery on Isola di San Michele, and glass kilns of Murano. The killer practically reveals himself to Franco, when he begins to target adult women with auburn hair. Not all of what happens in Who Saw Her Die? fits the working definition of giallo, but, in 1972, the rules were rarely enforced. Look for another, more recognizable Bond veteran, Adolfo Celi, who played Emilio Largo, in Thunderball. The eye-candy is  supplied by giallo mainstays Anita Strindberg (A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin), Dominique Boschero (The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire) and Rosemarie Lindt (Heat in the Suburbs). For those interested in such things, amateur pornography involving some of Venice’s leading citizens serves as a clue or diversion. The Arrow Video release has been impeccably restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative (Italian version only); uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio; new interviews with Lado, Elmi, co-writer Francesco Barilli and author/critic Michael Mackenzie; a poster and fotobusta gallery; and a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love.

The Major and the Minor: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Among other things, this endearing, if silly 1942 comedy is interesting for being Billy Wilder’s first directorial effort in this country and one of his early collaborations with co-writer Charles Brackett. Much of the fun comes in watching them work out tropes and conceits that would follow them as they made their way toward the 17th and final screenplay collaboration, on Sunset Blvd. (1950). Among them are some eyebrow-raising sexual inferences that, while not intentionally disturbing, still beg the question, “WTF?” In it, Ginger Rogers stars as Susan/Su-Su Applegate, a young woman whose sale jobs in New York have tended to end with being chased around a desk by some horny geezer – one is played here by Robert Benchley — whose wife no longer puts up with him. Fed up, Susan decides to move back home, to Iowa, but can barely come up with half the fare. She convinces another old horndog to pretend he’s her dad and buy her a half-price ticket. Once on the train, Susan transforms herself into 12-year-old Su-Su, who, while looking every bit her age, fools the conductors into accepting the ticket. When the charade is seriously challenged, Su-Su takes refuge in the compartment reserved for Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), on his way to a teaching job at an Indiana military academy. Before that can happen, though, a flood washes out a bridge, causing Kirby to agree to hide Su-Su in the Pullman. When his fiancé, Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson), arrives at the stranded train, she assumes the major is cheating on her with the young woman. (If Su-Su was 25, but acting 17, Pamela’s assumption would be valid, but isn’t.) Instead, Kirby uses the story about her being 12 and stranded on her way to Iowa, and he’s playing the Good Samaritan card. Unbelievably, both of the adults convince themselves that Susan’s Su-Su act is legit. Accordingly, they take her to the academy to wait out the flood, in the company of Pamela’s teenage sister, Lucy (Diana Lynn), who doesn’t buy it for a second. Even so, they share a disliking for Pamela, who, they believe, is a bad match for Kirby. The major goes so far as to present Su-Su to the cadets as a flower waiting to be plucked. The cadets’ are as badly behaved as the old men Susan contended with in New York. (Conveniently, Benchley’s son is one of the cadets who try to ravage Su-Su at a campus landmark.) It isn’t difficult to see that Su-Su is stuck on the major and he’s beginning to have forbidden feelings about her. As you can imagine, Wilder and Brackett had to figure a way out of this mess. It’s clever and doesn’t involve contravening the Mann Act. The Major and the Minor looks great in its high-definition debut. It adds commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin; “Half Fare, Please!,” a video appreciation by film critic Neil Sinyard; an archival interview with Ray Milland; a rare hour-long radio adaptation from 1943, starring Rogers and Milland; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and a collector’s booklet with an essay by Ronald Bergan.

PBS: 8 Days: To the Moon and Back
Arrow: Pitching In: Series 1
Eight days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds. That, we’re once again reminded, was the total duration of the most important and celebrated space mission ever flown: Apollo 11. Anyone who isn’t sick of reliving this monumental event in world history, probably will enjoy PBS’ “8 Days: To the Moon and Back,” which reveals parts that were left out of the official record. Previously classified cockpit audio, recorded by the astronauts themselves, gives a unique insight into their fears and excitement as they undertake the mission. Dramatic reconstructions bring those recordings to life, re-creating the crucial scenes that were never filmed. They include the exhilarating launch, the first sight of the moon, the dramatic touchdown and nail-biting journey home. Original footage from the Apollo archives is combined with newly shot film and cinematic CGI to create “8 Days: To the Moon and Back,” and conversations between Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. It stars Rufus Wright (“EastEnders”), Jack Tarlton (The Imitation Game) and Patrick Kennedy (“Mrs. Wilson”) in a stunning recreation of the first moon landing.

It took a year for the four-part mini-series, “Pitching In,” to make the leaps from BBC One Wales, to BBC One and across the ocean to Acorn’s streaming service. I can’t imagine the same old-fashioned character-driven show being made by and shown on an American network. That’s only because the cast of characters is dominated by actors who represent the demographic most ignored by the television and movie industries: men and women of retirement age, or who are facing midlife crises. Their children and grandchildren aren’t ignored, by any means, but their storylines are generated for them by the senior set, who’ve got plenty of life left in them. The gentle drama centers around the life of a recent widower, Frank (Larry Lamb), who owns a holiday caravan park and camping area on the Island of Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales. There are very few words in the English, Welsh or Gaelic dictionary to do justice to the island’s sublime beauty. The series’ central dilemma involves the return of Frank’s socially inept adult daughter, Carys (Caroline Sheen), to the resort, with her young mixed-race son. She’s separated from her husband, for no good reason, and intends to make the family business a growing concern, whether or not Frank likes the idea. Complicating matters even further is the awkwardness that attends Carys’ return to the same town, where she left her well-liked fiancé, Danny (Craig Russell), standing at the altar. Danny’s still there and his girlfriend fears that Carys is back to re-entice him and make their lives miserable. Frank has been offered a small fortune for the resort by an agent for a suspicious developer (Hayley Mills), but Carys has other, less lucrative plans for it. Even if the fourth episode ends on a cliffhanger, plans for a second season are vague.

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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