MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Quiet One, Maiden, Itsy Bitsy, Killer Croc, Silent Revolution, Light of My Life, Spare a Dime?, Wax Mask, Prey, Aftermath, Sesame Street … More

The Quiet One
In pop culture, as in life, it’s the “quiet ones” whose lives frequently are the most meaningful. George Harrison served that purpose after the Beatles disbanded and he became the conscience of rock ’n’ roll. Throughout his three-decade career playing bass for the Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman was known to the world as the “quiet one,” even though Charlie Watts has been every bit as taciturn as Wyman. A deceptively great drummer, who, like Ringo, made the discipline look easy, Watts never hid his greater desire to lead a jazz ensemble, while also maintaining his interest in art and graphics. Why he’s still up there banging away with the boys is anyone’s guess. Unlike Watts, Wyman acted on his impulses in 1993, when he cut the cord to pursue his side interests and hobbies, and escape the spotlight drawn to Keith and Mick’s every move. A quarter-century later, some people probably think he never left the band. (Ace bassist Daryl Jones has toured and recorded with the Stones ever since Wyman’s departure, but only diehard fans could pick him out in a lineup.) Oliver Murray’s compelling rock/doc, The Quiet One, demonstrates, among other things, how satisfying life can be for retired stars, who haven’t blown their savings on drugs (he didn’t imbibe), buying luxurious homes and recording studios in exotic places, and courting the attention of tabs, paparazzi and police with antics that have killed many younger artists. (He has shown a preference for  teenage models, but not lately.) He still tours occasionally with the Rhythm Kings, but is just as likely to be found puttering in his gardens or searching for Roman relics with a metal detector of his own design.)

Thanks to Bill’s passion for recording every aspect of his life on film, in photographs and through music … especially his time on time on the road with the Rolling Stones, Murray was given a long head start on The Quiet One. It opens with a leisurely stroll through Wyman’s labyrinthine archives, where the stacks and shelves containing memorabilia, tapes, films, new and old equipment, clothing and technology, leave precious room for walking, let alone expansion. Even casual fans of the Stones and their heroes – Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy – will salivate over what’s revealed in the collection. The same is true for his museum-quality recordings, recollections of the highs and lows of stardom, and some funny stuff about the devotion of groupies and fans. When the band moved its operations to the south of France – tax problems in England, don’t you know – Wyman made the best of an inconvenient situation by taking advantage of the more leisurely pace of life, absence of adulation by the locals and the region’s spectacular natural beauty. It also afforded him the opportunity to befriend such remarkable neighbors as artist Marc Chagall, then in his 90s, and writer James Baldwin, who lent Bill his collection of Ray Charles records. The Quiet One failed to make much of a dent in the domestic box office in its post-festival run, but that’s probably because much of the potential audience was deterred by critics – again, not many – who were expecting more salacious material about life alongside Mick and Keith. A few felt as if Wyman was holding something back from viewers. Some may have been disappointed by the bassist’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get lifestyle, which is on full display in The Quiet Once. For the rowdy stuff, I suggest checking out Keith Richard’s widely acclaimed and best-selling autobiography, “Life” (2010), which is full of juicy anecdotes. Ditto, Wyman’s “Rolling With the Stones” (2002), “Bill Wyman’s Treasure Islands: Britain’s History Uncovered” (2005) and “Bill Wyman’s Scrapbook” (2010). If Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones ever decide to make a feature-length encore for “Detectorists,” I’d love to see Wyman in a cameo with his patented metal detector.

Maiden: Blu-ray
Competitive sailing in the United States has only managed to capture the imaginations of Americans in years when something other than the race, itself, was being contested. That’s primarily because yachting has always been seen as an athletic endeavor limited to people with sufficient finances – or sponsorship – to afford it. Polo is a similarly expensive endeavor, but, at least, spectators can tell what’s happening from the sidelines, which is not the case with sailing. There was a flurry of interest in the 1970s, when Ted Turner – the “Mouth From the South” –  skippered the Courageous and forced the mainstream media to pay attention to the America’s Cup. In the early to mid-1980s, San Diego native Dennis Connor and Australian businessman Alan Bond competed against each other in court and the Cup. Modern technology had allowed for modifications in the ships’ designs, size and transformation from wood and aluminum, to fiberglass. In 1983, the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s Australia II became the first foreign vessel in the race’s 132-year history to wrest the Cup from the New York Yacht Club’s trophy room. When Dennis Connor won the next challenge, in 1987, he insisted on bringing the Cup to San Diego, where it remained until 2000, when the races moved to New Zealand. In the last 19 years, the Cup has only been contested once on U.S. waters, in San Francisco. Without a hometown favorite, of course, Americans lost track of the sport’s elite component and even Conner has found it difficult to raise the kind of money needed to mount a challenge and bring the Cup home. Perhaps, if the races were more spectator- and sponsor-friendly, he could have done so. Today, not even the mainstream can afford to follow yachting. Unless one owns a yacht and military-strength binoculars, the only way to cover such races is from a helicopter.

As historic as the 1989-90 Whitbread Around the World Race — chronicled in Alex Holmes’ inspirational documentary, Maiden – turned out to be, coverage was limited to airplanes, ship-to-shore dispatches and boats sent out to greet the competitors in various ports-of-call. It helps explain why it’s taken this long to make a feature-length documentary or theatrical movie about the Maiden’s unprecedented achievement, in a 33,000-mile race that took the all-female team 167 days to complete. If a team of American women had competed successfully in the Whitbread that year, instead of Brits, Hollywood probably would have rushed to commit the achievement on film, albeit using the giant water tanks in Ensenada, Paramount or Warner Bros. That footage could have been supplemented with location footage from the America’s Cup or Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, as was seen in The Jackal (1997), albeit backwards.  Such sailing movies as Carroll Ballard’s Wind (1992), Ridley Scott’s White Squall (1996), The Perfect Storm (2000), J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost (2013), Wolfgang Peterson’s The Perfect Storm (2000), Baltasar Kormákur’s Adrift (2018) and James Marsh’s The Mercy (2018) have demonstrated the sub-genre’s durability. (Not to mention, Captain Blood, Mutiny on the Bounty and Pirates of the Caribbean.) Most of those films dealt with imminent disasters and tragedies, privateers or romance under pressure. Holmes began working on Maiden, in advance of any 30th anniversary commemoration of the women’s victory. He’d already written and directed “Dunkirk” (2004) and “Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story (2014), for which there was plenty of archival footage and news coverage. Maiden would present far greater challenges. Among other things, the greater share of the drama occurred offshore, far from any camera crews or monitoring from above. And, while the media eagerly glommed onto the feminist angle, it wasn’t until the crew had demonstrated it was up to the task and was in the race not simply to prove women could make the distance, but to win. Pre-race coverage was almost exclusively limited to stories about why they didn’t have a chance in hell of completing the race – from the point of experienced, if clearly chauvinistic male sailors – and dismissive punditry about the role of women in sports and society.

At least, it gave Holmes a starting point. His focal point would be 26-year-old Tracy Edwards, who wanted to participate, but was met with resistance, derision and blatant sexism. She wanted desperately to participate in a big-time sailing event, but the closest Edwards could come was working in the galley, or as a deckhand and first mate on boats skippered by men. Still, she’d absorbed enough basic training to dream of competing in the Whitbread. When no team or sponsor would back her, Edwards rounded a dozen seaworthy women, bought and repaired a used yacht, and entered the marathon race. A fortuitous encounter with Jordan’s King Hussein led to the monarch agreeing to finance Tracy’s dream. Although she talked a good game, she shared many of the same misgivings as those expressed by the doubters. Several women in the last 20 years had completed solo around-the-world excursions, but the Maiden was considerably larger, required strenuous grinding and rigging, exceptional navigational skills and precision teamwork. Edwards had yet to prove that she could work alongside men or women within the framework of a team. As arrogant as she could be sometimes, Tracy often suffered bouts of low esteem and depression. At first, the doubters’ prophesies appeared to be all too accurate. An essential team member would break her wrist in the opening hour of the race, and nothing could have prepared the women for what they would experience on the high seas, off the glacial shores of Antarctica, long periods of slack winds and the powerful waves generated by storms.

Holmes’ greatest hurdle was depicting those dramatic events, as well as the women’s daily activities and interaction on the open water. In what the director considers to be something of a miracle, one of the women revealed to him that, yes, much video evidence did exist, and she had shot it … and it’s good. In the ensuing 30 years, the crew had scattered to all corners of the Earth and the Maiden ended up abandoned on the rocks in the Seychelles. Despite becoming the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy and being awarded an MBE, Tracy succumbed to many of the pressures and roadblocks experienced by sailors forced to depend on other people’s money. She has wrote two books about her experiences, but moved into youth counseling, motivation speaking and promoting sailing to young women. She also crowdfunded the money to repurchase the wreck of the Maiden, return it to Southampton and restore it to tip-top shape. It currently is on a three-year world tour to raise money and awareness for girls’ access to education in poorer nations. Maiden has won top honors at three film festivals and, I think, is eligible for consideration for an Academy Award. Young women and girls already impressed by the success of American women in international soccer competition would be the perfect audience for a screening of Maiden. The bonus package adds the Q&A, “An Evening With Maiden,” with Holmes and Edwards; and “Women Making Waves,” with Holmes, producer Victoria Gregory and Edwards discussing how Maiden‘s exhilarating archival footage captured the personalities of the crew and why the film’s story is so significant today.

The Silent Revolution
As difficult as it for some Boomers to remember the construction of the Berlin Wall, which commenced on August 13, 1961, it’s that much harder to find old-timers who can recall the events that led to its creation. For many of us, it was as familiar a post-war icon as Disneyland and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Few recall that the Soviets ordered the building of the wall as much to keep capitalist ideals, propaganda and cultural influences from corrupting the socialist mindset as to prevent East Berliners from escaping. Neither were Nikita Khrushchev and other Eastern bloc leaders appreciative of the fact that by maintaining police states in countries that had been under the thumb of fascist rule in World War II, they would alienate people who had so recently fought alongside the Red Army to liberate themselves. Not everyone felt as if they’d been imprisoned by communism, but the clampdowns on freedom fighters and construction of the wall made them doubt that freedom was just behind the Iron Curtain. The Silent Revolution opens in East Berlin, in 1956, when citizens were still able to commute more or less freely between the sectors created by the Allies. High school students Theo (Leonard Scheicher) and Kurt (Tom Gramenz) have been cleared to cross through the border separating East and West Berlin, based on Kurt’s insistence that they’ll be visiting a cemetery to mark the birthday of his fallen grandfather. After laying a spray of flowers on the former stormtrooper’s grave, they hightail to the movies, sneaking in through the bathroom window. Newsreel footage of the uprising in Budapest leaves them confused. They couldn’t understand why socialists were using weapons of war against socialist students, many of whose parents had sided with the Red Army during its surge westward. The presence of Soviet police and guards in Berlin could hardly be more obvious to the boys, but they’ve bought into Soviet propaganda – as well as their parents’ insistence that socialism has made their lives better — that the troops serve as a first line of defense against the forces of capitalism and moral depravity.

From the boys’ points of view, it made sense. Indeed, under socialism, schools and living conditions had improved, especially for the families of workers and party officials. Apart from the bombed-out buildings in the center of the city, something resembling suburbia had begun to emerge. Even so, when they went back to their school in Stalinstadt, the boys describe to their classmates what was shown in the newsreel and how the incident was being described in the eastern media: the protesters were portrayed as counter-revolutionaries financed by  interests in the west. They convince the 30, or so, members of the senior class to observe two minutes of silence for young people killed in the uprising, including a soccer star on Hungary’s cup-winning team.  When their teacher comes into the classroom, he’s greeted by this wall of silence, which he takes personally. He dutifully informs the principal, who knows exactly what’s about to happen next. Even though the protest was intended as a onetime thing, East Berlin school authorities treat it as if it were a full-blown insurrection. A school supervisor (Jördis Triebel), who might as well have been named Brunhild, demands to know the names of the leaders of the protest. By now, the teens have concocted an excuse, arguing that they were simply honoring the memory of the soccer legend. Frau Kessler doesn’t care whether the protest was over a fallen hero or fallen statue, she demands to know who was involved. Kessler turns to her boss, who’s even less flexible. He orders his police to dig up dirt on their parents and threaten the kids with being expelled from the prestigious school. Of course, these tactics lead some of the students to make comparisons to the Gestapo, which drive the party functionaries nuts. Eventually, they push the students to wonder what might happen to their families if they persist, Others, who’ve been monitoring the situation in Hungary via a forbidden radio frequency, begin to consider their options in the west. If one extends the timeline from the partitioning of Berlin into quadrants, to the point where tens of thousands of East Germans – mostly young and educated – are escaping into the west every week, the wall becomes an inevitable, if seemingly temporary option to a third world war … within the even thicker walls of the Kremlin, anyway. We know that The Silent Revolution is based on a real event, if only because, later, we’re shown an updated photograph of the 30, or so, students, who took advantage of holiday travel to cross the border one last time Lars Kraume’s adaptation of Dietrich Garstka’s book forgoes the dank and dreary atmospherics that typically color movies about fascism and a tyranny. It isn’t necessary to show the kids having their fingernails pulled out by a pliers or being beaten with a rod, to know that the threats made to the students’ families are real, as are warnings of being sent to work camps if they refuse to rat on their classmates. One needn’t have been born before JFK stood before the concrete barrier and declared, “I, too, am a Berliner” to feel the tension build in The Silent Revolution and worry that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump would love to build walls around their countries – or moats, stocked with snakes and crocodiles – to keep people from experiencing what it truly means to be free.

Brother Can You Spare a Dime?: Blu-ray
Between Ric and Ken Burns’ documentaries on PBS and the vintage movies I watch each week on TMS, I managed to convince myself that I’d seen all of the Depression-era newsreels, film clips and hit songs I needed  to appreciate the ordeals faced by my ancestors and fear a reoccurrence of what almost happened in the Depression of 2008. While watching the new Blu-ray edition of Philippe Mora’s  Brother Can You Spare a Dime?, originally released in 1975, I realized that I hadn’t. At the time, Ken Burns was still six years away from the airing of his first documentary – Brooklyn Bridge – and Errol Morris’ Gates of Heaven (1978) had yet to be completed. A year earlier, however, Peter Davis and co-producer Bert Schneider made a huge splash with the divisive anti-Vietnam War doc, Hearts and Minds (1974). That same year, That’s Entertainment! celebrated MGM’s golden anniversary in a documentary overflowing with song, dance and other things designed to chase the blues away. Because an appetite for such non-traditional documentaries had yet to develop among American audiences, it isn’t hard to see how Brother Can You Spare a Dime? might have been just slightly ahead of its time. It’s possible, as well, that the quality of the source material might not have been as up to snuff as it was in That’s Entertainment! and other underbudgeted works that typically were intended to be shown in classrooms and union halls through a 16mm projector littered with floating debris and artifacts. VCI’s Blu-ray iteration is as close to pristine as Mora’s doc is ever going to be. Neither are black and brown faces as absent here as in previous documentaries about the same period. There are a couple of other similarities to Burns’ films. Mora emphasizes the hopes, dreams and disappointments of Americans from the point of view of a few key individuals: James Cagney and Franklin D. Roosevelt; they’re awash with catchy music; and both borrow from WB cartoons to lighten the load of history. A welcome addition to the package is a collection of Pathé Newsreels from the same period.

Light of My Life: Blu-ray
Walden: Life in the Woods
Anyone who’s seen and enjoyed such stories of survival as Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace (2018) and John Hillcoat’s The Road (2009) will be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to falling in love with Casey Affleck’s Light of My Life. On the other hand, those who haven’t could see something fresh and intriguing in a movie about a single parent determined to protect his 11-year-old from predatory humans, the unforgiving elements and grinding boredom that are as much a part of life in the forest primeval as the morning dew. It takes a while for writer/director/star Affleck to answer some, if not all of the questions that pop up with regularity throughout the 119-minute course of Light of My Life. The picture opens in a tent, at night, with Affleck’s Dad invents a revised version of a biblical fable to help his child of indeterminate gender, Rag (Anna Pniowsky), fall asleep. The child asks a lot of questions, while attempting to steer the story in directions other than the one Dad intended to go. When the sun comes  up, we’ll witness the father’s obsession with survival measures, escape routes, red alerts and making one’s way through a forest whose branches aren’t particularly sheltering and whose borders open them to disaster. We’ve yet to be told what the pair is attempting to avoid and why Rag must learn survival techniques previously reserved for Special Forces trainees. There’s no question that something awful has happened in the outside world and that Dad’s probably going to run out things to teach Rag, who’s smart as a whip and extremely curious, without also being obnoxiously precocious. When a fellow survivor wanders into their camp, Dad orders Rag to assume red-alert status and follow him deeper into the woods. By now, viewers will have deduced that Rag is a girl and she’s somehow managed to survive the plague that’s killed her Mom (Elisabeth Moss) and most of the women in the country and possibly the world. Dad knows that if Rag’s true identity were known, she would become a target for rapists or scientists desirous of cloning her until her uterus stopped producing eggs. Other red alerts will cause them to leave temporary shelters in abandoned homes, including one previously owned by Dad’s grandmother. It’s currently inhabited by three evangelical Christian men, only one of whom (Tom Bower) feels secure in their presence. The problem at this point, I think, is that Dad’s reticent demeanor and fear of the unknown make us wish that Affleck would find a way to kill himself off and let Rag carry the story herself. We already have been alerted to the existence of a hidden sanctuary, where a number of survivors of both genders have  and Rag could glean from them what it means to be a woman. Dad has attempted to explain the facts of life to his daughter, but only a woman could fill in the blanks left in his biology lesson. As it is, Rag has no memory of ever seeing another female. The movie could definitely use a change of pace from Affleck’s low-key personality and the secrets he refuses to share with the audience. I would have liked to see how Rag might interact with another girl her age or a mother figure. Even so, Light of My Life has plenty to offer viewers drawn to such dramas and the mysteries they contain.

For most of the first half of Alex Harvey and Adam Chanzit’s reimagining of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden (Life in the Woods),” any connection between the classic memoirs and movie are vague, at best, and, at worst, invisible. The second half of Walden: Life in the Woods (2017) doesn’t make the linkage any more obvious, but, at least, some of it takes place somewhere in the vicinity of trees, rocks and streams. It isn’t until the final third of the 104-minute drama that Walden: Life in the Woods reveals its transcendental roots to Theroux and his search for an objective understanding of society through personal introspection, simple living, self-sufficiency and escape. Here, via three interlaced storylines, the filmmakers hoped to update the book’s lessons for 21st Century viewers. In the first, 81-year-old Lynn Cohen (Munich) did the filmmakers a favor by agreeing to playing Alice, a resident in an assisted-living facility who’s haunted by visions of her late husband and yearns to uncover riddles from her past as she struggles with dementia. Her grandson, Guy (Erik Hellman), embarks on a Walden-esque journey, as he hikes through some very steep mountains with his rugged-outdoorsman partner, Luke (Tony LoVerde). Meanwhile, after his benefits are cut at his job at the nursing home, beleaguered family-man, Ramirez (Demian Bichir), becomes entangled in the web of a bureaucracy that eats people like him for dessert. All three narratives merge in a moment of spiritual epiphany at three very different “ponds,” where the characters confront their inner Thoreaus. As obscure as that message is, the actors find ways to make Walden: Life in the Woods somewhat thought-provoking, at least. How many viewers will have tuned out by this time is what makes the movie problematical. The film also stars T.J. Miller, Chris Sullivan, Jamie Horton, and Amber Gray.

Itsy Bitsy: Blu-ray
Killer Crocodile: Blu-ray
In 1955, Jack Arnold advanced the baton carried by director Gordon Douglas and screenwriter Ted Sherdeman a year earlier, in the seminal killer-insect thriller, Them! At the same time as Arnold was helming Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Revenge of the Creature (1955), he also was weaving the web that produced “No Food for Thought” and “Spider, Inc.” (1955), for Ivan Tors’ TV anthology series, “Science Fiction Theatre,” and Tarantula. All four of these titles incorporated time-honored aspects of the mad-scientist subgenre into the as-yet-undefined subgenre dealing with the unexpected results of nuclear experimentation on humans and animals. Meanwhile, in Japan, filmmakers borrowed/stole the template created for RKO’s King Kong (1933) and Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion and split-screen techniques, in Mighty Joe Young (1949) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), for their own sci-fi/horror pix, Gojira (a.k.a., Godzilla), Rodan (1956), Gigantis, the Fire Monster (1959) and Mothra (1961). They served as muted commentaries on post-war nuclear-weapons training. For the next 60 years, there’s hardly been an insect, predatory creature or dinosaur that hasn’t presented a challenge to humanity. Veteran special-effects specialist Micah Gallo’s first feature, Itsy Bitsy – which, for some reason, debuted in Vietnam – is the latest in a long line of horror pictures in which a spider is the antagonist. Unlike Tarantula and other specimens in the eight-legged cinematic species, the enemy is only marginally larger than the largest spider you’ve ever seen on the Discovery Channel and has a distinct resemblance to a pre-boiled Alaskan king crab. Its bite and toxicity, though, are that of an unnaturally large brown recluse spider.

The critter has lain dormant ever since it was carried to the U.S. in a piece of pottery stolen from a tribe of spider-worshippers in Africa – why not Norway, you might ask – and destined for the home and workshop of the sickly American anthropologist, Walter Clark (Bruce Davison). Apparently, it’s possessed by an alien spirit, but any number of other evil forces would have sufficed. As long as the long the pot remains intact, all is well. When, however, the 13-year-old son of the private nurse, Kara (Elizabeth Roberts), hired to care for the anthropologist, steals the vessel from Walter’s office and it’s broken by an angry former employee, the malevolent spider escapes. There are dozens of nooks, crannies and holes in the holes in the decrepit mansion for a spider – even one the size of a St. Bernard puppy – to lurk … and strike. The added value to Itsy Bitsy is that the single mother, Kara, is a recovering opiate addict – a leftover side effect of losing a daughter in a careless accident — and not the most attentive or conscientious of mothers. She puts teenage Jesse (Arman Darbo) in charge of 8-year-old Cambria (Chloe Perrin), who doesn’t stay still for very long, thus putting herself in imminent danger. (Cambria was named after the town from Arachnophobia.) Mom doesn’t get her act together until it’s nearly too late. Apart from the advanced special effects, production values and hi-def presentation, Itsy Bitsy could have been made at any point in the last 50 years … in color or black-and-white. This isn’t a knock on the movie, because it makes full use of what must have been a limited budget and a claustrophobic setting. The acting is as good as it had to be and the presence of Denise Crosby (“Ray Donovan”), as Sheriff Jane Dunne, is a nod to gender-blind casting. The Blu-ray package adds separate commentaries with Gallo, and co-writers Jason Alvino, Bryan Dick and Gallo; brief making-of featurettes, “The Spider: The Beginnings,” “The Journey” and “Denise on Set,” with co-star Crosby; Kickstarter mini-featurettes, intended to elicit funding; “The Most Spidery Spider,” a jokey featurette detailing how Andy Dick brought the movie’s creature to life through a hyper motion-capture performance; and a lengthy storyboard gallery.

As we learned in 1989’s Killer Crocodile, reptiles thousands of miles away from the test sites, and decades removed from them, as well, aren’t immune from the scourge of illegally dumped radioactive waste … a problem that still plagues the U.S. Here, producer-turned-director Fabrizio De Angelis (Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals), as Larry Ludman; screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (Bay of Blood), as David Parker Jr.;  crocodile designer Giannetto De Rossi (Dune); and composer Riz Ortolani (Mondo cane) created one of the most ridiculously entertaining Jaws rip-offs in the ItaloSleaze era. It’s simple enough, really.
When it becomes known that a humongous beast is preying on natives of a remote village on an impoverished tropical island, a group of idealistic young environmentalists travel upriver to check it out. It doesn’t take long for them to discover the truth. The beast is a crocodile of great size and an insatiable appetite for human flesh and gore. It’s likely that the croc’s growth was accelerated by the barrels of radioactive waste found bobbing along the shore. Naturally, corrupt officials in a nearby town – represented here by Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny) — have been covering for the polluters for years. Fans of extreme gore and low-budget exploitation will appreciate the care that went into the monster, if nothing else. Newly released into Blu-ray and DVD here, Killler Crocodile adds interviews with De Rossi, actor Pietro Genuardi and cinematographer Federico Del Zoppo.

Lost City of the Jungle: Blu-ray
Ten years before the tsunami of giant prehistoric monsters and mutated bugs crashed on the shores of southern California and Japan, Universal Studio’s penultimate serial, Lost City of the Jungle (1946), dealt with issues that arose almost immediately after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, less than a year earlier. The monsters here were of the human variety. Curiously, the 13-episode “chapter play” opened on American screens three years before the Soviet Union secretly conducted its first successful nuclear-weapons test, in Kazakhstan. Not having been born yet, I grew up thinking that almost everything pertaining to the Manhattan Project and nuclear proliferation was classified. In Lost City of the Jungle, however, something called the United Peace Foundation has become concerned about the discovery of new radioactive element that blocks the effects of the atomic bomb. The gist of the story is that the race for Meteorium 245 has begun and the Peacekeepers must prevent the Warmongers from monopolizing the substance. In the right hands, Meteorium 245 could be shared by nations in search of a defense and deterrent to nuclear war. In the mitts of the bad guys, though, a shield could be built to protect a handful of countries, giving them time to deploy their own offensive missiles. The evil Sir Eric Hazarias (Lionel Atwill) has traced a Meteorium deposit to the isolated Himalayan province of Pendrang, which is ruled by the casino owner, Indra (Helen Bennett). After Hazarias fakes his own death, he shows up in Pendrang as philanthropist Geoffrey London. He is joined by the criminal mastermind, Malborn (John Mylong), who’s posing as his secretary. (I don’t think serials were intended to make sense, except in the final chapter.) Thus begins a search for Meteorium by the Warmongers. On the trail of Hazarias/London is UPF operative Rod Stanton (Russell Hayden), who is determined to lift the mask of the man who’s believed to be dead and put a stop to his evil scheme. (At the same time as this was happening on screen, Soviet scientists were desperately searching for uranium in the USSR and East Germany.) Also attempting to obstruct Hazarias’ sinister plan to rule the world are Pendrang native Tal Shan (Keye Luke) and Marjorie Elmore (Jane Adams), daughter of a respected scientist (John Eldredge) and unwilling assistant to Sir Eric. On the way to the reserve of Meteorium – is extremely dangerous, in its own right – the western teams will face off against a native tribe that believes the rock to be sacred. Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor’s Lost City of the Jungle opens slowly and takes a bit too much focus to fully grasp. A lot of the confusion derives from Atwill’s death from bronchial cancer during the production and the need to camouflage his absence, by having a stand-in perform with his back to the camera. Fans of serials will appreciate VCI Entertainment’s 2K restoration and imaginative set designs.

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil: Blu-ray
The premise behind Lee Won-tae’s explosive actioner, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, could hardly be more simple. As the title implies, a fierce gangster joins forces with a resourceful police detective to track down and eliminate a sociopath, who doesn’t care who he kills and doesn’t need an excuse for doing so. The alliance begins after Jang Dong-su (Don Lee/Ma Dong-seok) is violently attacked after a fender bender on a rainy night. Although he barely escapes almost certain death, the burly boss’s gambling racket is severely damaged. The only way to restore his image is to find his attacker and exact revenge. He teams up with Detective Jung Tae-seok (Kim Moo Yul) to find the assailant, but soon discovers that he’s a serial killer, not a single-minded assassin. No one in the department is interested in expending resources to capture a man who appears to be ridding Seoul of gangsters for them. With no support from the police department, Detective Jung is forced to use gang boss Jang’s resources in order to track down the killer (Kim Sungkyu), who goes by the name of “K” or “The Devil.” When the showdown finally comes, it’s fun to watch the gangster navigate his way through his foes with all the grace of a meth-gorged bull in a china shop. The ending can be chalked up to coincidence, irony or justice. It doesn’t matter, because the movie’s strength is in its fights. Learning that The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil has been picked up by Sylvester Stallone’s Balboa Productions doesn’t necessarily mean that we should anticipate a movie that’s bigger, bolder and less constrained by a tight budget. If Sly’s recent track record is pretty spotty, it’s good to know that tough-guy actor Don Lee (Train to Busan) will participate in the remake. The extras include a short making-of featurette  and character profiles.

The Wax Mask: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
In 1997, nearly 15 years past the zenith of the giallo movement, one of the leading pioneers of the genre, Dario Argento (Tenebre), approached a physically and professionally ailing Lucio Fulci (Don’t Torture a Duckling) to direct one final production, an over-the-top shocker about grisly murders at wax museums in Paris and Rome. When Fulci passed away only weeks before filming began, Argento turned to special effects specialist Sergio Stivaletti (Opera) to pick up the football and run with it. Because Stivaletti already was familiar with the story and Argento’s methodology, and desperately wanted to direct his first film, he jumped at the opportunity. More gothic than giallo, The Wax Mask (1997), which wasn’t released theatrically here, won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who’s seen Michael Curtiz Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), André De Toth’s House of Wax (1953) or Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959). It opens in Paris, 1900, when a couple are horribly murdered by a masked man with a metal claw, who rips their hearts out. The sole survivor and witness to the massacre, Sonia (Romina Mondello), turns up at a new wax museum in Rome, a dozen years later. The facility’s main attractions are lifelike recreations of gruesome murder scenes. Its curator, Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossien), is nothing if not fastidious. It partially explains why the museum retains such a spooky atmosphere and the effigies are etched in such horrific detail, including one that depicts her own father’s murder. A young man bets that he can spend an entire night inside the museum and leave through the front gates the next morning. Turns out, he couldn’t. Soon, people start disappearing from the streets of Rome and the halls of the museum halls begin filling up with new figures. Even if The Wax Mask isn’t up to the standards previously set by Argento and other incarnations of the same story, it should satisfy fans of Hammer’s goriest horror classics. The Severin package features a 4k scan from the original negative, supervised by Stivaletti; rare behind-the-scenes footage; fresh interviews; commentary with Sergio Stivaletti and Michelangelo Stivaletti; and featurettes “Beyond Fulci,” “The Chamber of Horrors,” “Living Dolls,” “The Mysteries of the Wax Museum,”“The Waxworks Symphony,” “The Grand Opening” and “Wax Unmasked”; and vintage pieces on special effects, behind the scenes and on set with Argento.

The Prey: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Shot in late 1979, but not released theatrically until the fall of 1983, Summer and Edwin Brown’s The Prey crosses several subgenre boundaries to get to the point most graduates of the Roger Corman School of Low Budget Exploitation Cinema reach in three weeks or less. Three versions of a movie most people can’t recall – even horror/slasher freaks – have been preserved and restored specifically for the new Arrow Video package. They include an alternate cut of The Prey, which runs approximately 17 minutes longer than the 80-minute theatrical cut, and a composite version made by a devoted fan. One is informed by the spectacular scenery around Idyllwild, in the mountains north of San Bernardino. The longer cut adds a background story, involving members of a gypsy caravan who were slaughtered by local rednecks, convinced that one of them had raped the wife of a friend. This version adds almost 20 minutes’ worth of sepia-tinted sex and exotic dancing around a campfire, at the expense of some nice scenery. The extended material features the work of Eric Edwards, Arcadia Lake and John Leslie, all of whom were big stars during the Golden Age of Porn. (The Browns were involved in “the industry,” as well.) While the gypsies barely figure in the theatrical cut – except to explain the possible origin of the monster – they’re essential to any understanding of the international iteration. The funny thing is that the Browns claim to have had nothing to do with the added material. Anyway, several years after a fire burned through the area, a pair of elderly campers are slashed to death by an unseen assailant.  A few months later, three young couples set up camp near the site of the previous murders. Naturally, they’re sitting ducks for the monster, who appears to have survived the forest fire. For those interested in watching The Prey, without sitting through all three editions, I recommend starting with the composite and taking advantage of the 45-minute outtake package and freshly taped interviews with some of the stars. There’s plenty more where they came from.

In the Aftermath: Special Edition: Blu-ray
This intriguing merger of artfully drawn anime and dystopian drama reminds me of what happened when Woody Allen took a particularly insipid Japanese spy film, “International Secret Police: Key of Keys,” and overdubbed it with completely original dialogue that had nothing to do with the plot of the original film. By putting in new scenes and rearranging the order of existing scenes, he completely changed the tone of the film from a James Bond clone into a comedy about the search for the world’s best egg salad recipe. In the Aftermath (1988) may not look anything like What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), but the effect is curiously similar. In his directorial debut, Carl Colpaert (Swimming With Sharks) took New World’s 71-minute acquisition, Mamoru Oshii’s Angel’s Egg (1985), and padded it with 15 minutes of live-fiction footage shot at an abandoned steel plant in Fontana, California. Anyone familiar with Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) and Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008) already knows how amazing an anime can look, when it isn’t burdened by commercial concerns and constraints on intellectual, metaphysical and artistic exploration. A summary of Angel’s Egg describes it thusly, “A pretty young girl is the sole protector of a large and precious egg, containing some kind of life force. She lives in a decaying gothic city, inhabited by restless shadows. A mysterious young man arrives one day, eventually winning her trust. They converse sparsely about obscure philosophical and theological topics, and she shows him some astonishing fossils and works of historic and scientific art. The ambiguous ending leaves many unanswered questions and plenty of room for interpretation.” The new, live-action material is the opposite. It turns In the Aftermath into a post-apocalyptic tale of exploration and human connection. While the little girl still plays a key role in the blended narrative, her angelic qualities have been muted to serve the needs of humans running out of non-toxic air to breathe. They’re represented in the radiation-soaked wasteland by a pair of soldiers wearing Hazmat suits and sucking oxygen from portable tanks. After a violent confrontation with a desperate survivor and a near-death experience that leaves Frank (Tony Markes) in a hospital room that is safe from the toxic atmosphere. He’s haunted by visions of an angelic young girl (Rainbow Dolan), holding the giant egg, whose contents could help cleanse the air and provide potable water for survivors. The revolving door of anime and live-action takes a great of patience – and, perhaps, a couple of tokes of good pot – to fully absorb. The high point for me was watching Frank serenade his beautiful doctor (Filiz Tully) on a piano, located just outside his hospital, while wearing a gas mask. (The piece is “Carnavalito Tango,” written by Horatio Moscovici.) Anyone who’s made it this far will want to check out “The Path to Aftermath,” a newly filmed interview with producer Tom Dugan; “Apocalypse Then,” with Markes; “Before the Aftermath: The Influence of Angel’s Egg,” a fresh appreciation of Oshii’s original film, by Andrew Osmond, author of Arrow Books’ “Ghost in the Shell”; a still and poster gallery; reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley; and, first pressing only, a booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Jon Towlson.

Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots
As played by co-writer/director/star Thales Corrėa, this film’s co-protagonist, Leo, is an aging Brazilian ex-pat who finds the gay scene in Los Angeles lacking. Learning that his on-line friend, Totah (Felix Olmedo), may be visiting San Francisco while he’s hanging out there with his friend, Donnie, Leo enters the “Waiting for Godot” stage of their romance. No matter, because Donny (co-star and co-writer Izzy Palazzini) convinces Leo to embark on a magical mystery tour of the Castro District, which shines brighter than almost anything else in the movie. Somewhere along the line in the not-at-all-graphic Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots, they’re joined by Donnie’s “straight” friend, Hunter (Oscar Mansky), who hopes to teach Leo how to turn a casual sexual relationship into a more meaningful one. Their bar- and party-hopping takes them to places in the Castro that aren’t on the Gray Line’s sight-seeing tours of the Bay Area. They also meet a variety of people, who lead them into some of the city’s more precarious corners. Much of the dialogue is smart and witty, and the good-looking characters don’t fit any single LGBTQ pigeonhole. The DVD’s bonus package adds deleted scenes, bloopers, behind-the-scenes and making-of material, interviews, the original soundtrack and short film, “Parents.”

Sesame Street: 50 Years and Counting
USA Network: Power of Grayskull
When “Sesame Street” began its unprecedented 50-year run on public television, shows produced for the consumption of youngsters was as sugary and unsubstantial as the cereal their sponsors peddled on Saturday mornings. The Muppets only occasionally were spotlighted on such variety programs as “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Jimmy Dean Show,” and Jim Henson’s contributions to the first year of “SNL” were still six years away. In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett began developing a children’s educational television program and approached Henson to design a cast of Muppet characters during this stage. It would be produced by the Children’s Television Workshop and debut three years later, as “Sesame Street.” The creators’ goal was to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them,” such as helping young children prepare for school. If critics and educators would quickly voice concerns about the show’s educational methodology and its ability to hold the interest of young viewers, kids took to it like a duck to water. By its 50th anniversary, in 2019, there were over 150 versions of “Sesame Street,” produced in 70 languages. Its  format, characters, actors and audiences have changed over the same time period, but only for the better. The new commemorative package is broken into two parts: Disc One contains more than three hours of fan favorites, including: Kermit, Alastair Cookie, the Frazzles, Forgetful Jones, the Amazing Mumford, Sherlock Hemlock, Don Music and Lefty the Salesman; while Disc Two adds such beloved moments as   Maria and Luis’ marriage, the passing of Mr. Hooper, Snuffleupagus becoming “real” and Big Bird and Snuffy running the New York City Marathon. Joining the festivities are a host of special guests, including classic clips of Madeline Kahn, REM, and Patti LaBelle; songs from Solange, Sara Bareilles, Janelle Monáe, and Josh Groban; and belly laughs courtesy of Amy Poehler, Jeff Goldblum and Ricky Gervais.

The full title of the second item here is “Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” For millions of Boomer Boomlets, that’s all the inspiration they’ll need to check out this exhaustive history of one of the popular toys – oops, action figures – ever molded in plastic. He-Man and the accompanying “Masters of the Universe” franchise would make their debut in 1982, five years before Tom Wolfe used the phrase to describe the gods of Wall Street, in “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” with Mattel’s release of the original line of 5.5-inch action-figures. It also preceded “Power Rangers,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Biker Mice From Mars,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Darkwing Duck.” The initial MOTU mini-comics were soon followed by several children’s books and issues of DC Comics. The “Masters of the Universe” franchise would become best known through Filmation’s groundbreaking “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” which debuted in fall of 1983, ran 130 episodes over two seasons, and was rebooted in 2002. It spawned a spin-off series, “She-Ra: Princess of Power,” following the adventures of He-Man’s sister, Princess Adora. Mattel’s subsequent attempts to relaunch the He-Man toy line also led to the short-lived sequel series, “The New Adventures of He-Man,” in the early 1990s, and an update of the series for a contemporary audience in 2002. “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” a direct-sequel series to the original series will be released on Netflix. It will be directed by Kevin Smith and will be animated by Powerhouse Animation. Among the many people interviewed here are Dolph Lundgren (He-Man), Frank Langella (Skeletor), fight coordinator Anthony De Longis, FX designer Richard Edlund, animator Tom Sito, comic artist Larry Houston and “He-Man” historian Val Staples.

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