MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrap: Red, Secretariat, Broadcast News, White Wedding, and more …

 Red: Blu-ray

There are so many holes stitched into the fabric of Red, it would make a wedge of Swiss cheese turn green with envy … or is that mold? No matter, because the whole point of Robert Schwentke’s comic thriller is to enjoy watching a veritable over-the-hill gang of retired CIA agents – played by Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman Jr., John Malkovich, Helen Mirren — outwit wet-behind-the-ears spooks at their own game. Willis plays Frank Moses, a former master of black ops whose home is invaded one night for no apparent reason by men in ninja outfits. Frank dispatches the raiders in explosive fashion, but requires the help of his RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) teammates to discover who’s trying to kill him – and them – and why. Along the way, Frank seeks shelter at the home of Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a lover of spy thrillers with whom he exchanges bon mots during phone conversations about his retirement benefits. Long story short, Frank and Sarah break into CIA headquarters, where an old colleague (Ernest Borgnine) provides him with enough evidence to surmise the team is being targeted by the Vice President of the United States, who fears the retirees could implicate him in a career-ending scandal. Although a small army of CIA and Secret Service agents is hot on their trails, Frank and Sarah manage to make contact with Mirren, Malkovich and Freeman, as well as a former KGB adversary (Brian Cox) who’s also game for some old-school “wet work.” Rounding out the geezer cast is Richard Dreyfuss, whose slimeball billionaire provides the link between Frank’s team, the VP and a nasty bit of business in Guatemala, in 1981.

Actually, any synopsis of the plot makes Red sound more complicated than it is. The fun comes in watching such wonderful actors tearing through an arsenal of high-powered ordinance and weapons in ways that recall previous roles they’ve all played. Red is adopted from a graphic novel, by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, in which Frank Moses is a far less buoyant and charismatic hit man than the one played by Willis. Here, though, as much emphasis is put on comedy and romance as death and destruction. And, for the most part, it works. The Blu-ray package includes deleted and extended scenes; the interactive “Access Red,” a package of pop-up trivia, videos and interviews; the featurette, “CIA Exposed”; and commentary with retired CIA field officer Robert Baer. 

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Secretariat: Blu-ray

It’s the rare race horse that’s accorded the distinction, “athlete,” even if the jockeys who ride them rightly are treated as such. In the recent “ESPN SportsCentury” retrospective, two jockeys and three Thoroughbreds were listed among the 100 greatest North American athletes of the last 100 years. Secretariat came in 35th, right behind Lou Gehrig but directly ahead of Oscar Robertson. (Willie Shoemaker, Eddie Arcaro, Man o’ War and Citation also made the cut.) Although Big Red, as the colt was known to his fans and owner, didn’t go undefeated or become a great sire, no one could forget his amazing performances in the Triple Crown races, especially a 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes. If races were all that mattered, though, Secretariat’s life would make a better documentary than a theatrical film.  As was the case with Seabiscuit – the horse and 2003 biopic – more was at stake in Secretariat’s races than trophies and bragging rights. In Secretariat, Disney asks the champion to make room in the picture for the equally compelling story of embattled owner Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), her family and eccentric trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich).

If Seabiscuit remains a more compelling dramatic achievement than Secretariat, it’s because Big Red’s accomplishments remain relatively fresh in our mind. No Kentucky Derby or Preakness would be complete without endless speculation over the possibility of another Triple Crown winner. Neither would a Belmont broadcast again be contested without countless replays of the 1973 miracle race. Regally bred, Secretariat looked the part of a champion and never was accorded the same underdog status as ugly-duckling Seabiscuit. Despite the foregone conclusion, though, Randall Wallace’s film is consistently entertaining and often heart-warming, as are the performances of Lane and Malkovich. The Blu-ray package adds several interesting featurettes, including “Heart of a Champion,” “Choreographing the Races,” a conversation with Penny Chenery, commentary by Wallace, deleted scenes, a music video and piece on special effects. 

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

And, so, the cinematic adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s amazing Millennium Trilogy comes to end, with several loud bangs and the whimpers of corrupt politicians and industrialists. Even knowing David Fincher’s English-language version of Part One, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is scheduled for release this Christmas, fans of the novels are well advised to whet their appetites with the Swedish versions ahead of time. For one thing, they’re terrifically exciting and thoroughly entertaining. Primarily, though, you won’t miss the splendid performance of Noomi Rapace as the title character. Suffice it to say, 25-year-old Rooney Mara has some mighty large combat boots to fill. 

In the third installment, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, we watch as Lisbeth Salander recovers from the beating she took at the hands of her psycho-freak brother at the end of The Girl Who Played With Fire. She’s been ordered to stand trial for the death of her demonic father, whose allies would like nothing more than to see her judged insane and locked away for the rest of her life. Neither would they mind if the sexually tormented Salander were murdered before she had any opportunity to defend herself. Joining in this race against the clock are journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the crusading staff of Millennium magazine, as well as several skeptical prosecutors. For some deep-seeded reason, Salander refuses to participate in her own defense, a decision that adds to the tick-tock tension and mystery surrounding her sordid past.

Fans should know that all three films will be made available next month in a compilation that includes a fourth disc, with two hours of bonus features.

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Broadcast News: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

Nearly as much as Network, Broadcast News anticipated the day when the evening newscasts presented by ABC, CBS and NBC would be reduced to near irrelevancy, mostly through the actions of network bean-counters and personality-driven newscasts. James L. Brooks’ approach to the same subject isn’t nearly as satirical as the one chosen previously by Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky. The diminishment of the newscasts is played relatively straight. The primary characters, including William Hurt’s seemingly vacuous newsreader and Albert Brooks’ jealous wonk, all appear to have been inspired by actual people. It’s no secret, for instance, that Holly Hunter’s hyper-obsessive Jane Craig was modeled after real-life CBS producer Susan Zirinsky, or that the news division of the “Tiffany network” was simultaneously being pillaged by incoming CEO Larry Tisch. Finally, though, Broadcast News also pinpoints what’s lost in a person’s life when obsessive behavior forces love to take a backseat to duty. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray features a newly restored high-def digital transfer; new commentary with writer/director Brooks and editor Richard Marks; deleted scenes and an alternate ending, with commentary by Brooks; a new interview with Zirinsky; a making-of piece; original theatrical trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Carrie Rickey.

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Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965

I’d hate to think that Americans of any ethnic background limited their consumption of movies and books about black history to the month of February. For those who do, though, watching the celebrated PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize is always a good place to start. This year, for the first time, the first six hours of Henry Hampton’s landmark series is being made available on DVD at competitive prices to consumers not associated with schools and other educational institutions. (The entire 14-hour set, which covers the years 1954 to 1985, still costs upwards of $400.) The focus of the series is on the “ordinary” people who were involved in the movement and some of the extraordinary things they were able to accomplish. Because the outcome of the struggle was always in doubt during the 1950s and ’60s, Eyes on the Prize sometimes feels as if it were a political thriller. Moreover, it’s a story that doesn’t get old with repeated telling. The series, which has won six Emmys, a Peabody and DuPont Columbia Award and Academy Award nomination, is narrated by Julian Bond. The DVD set adds an interview with the late documentarian Hampton, who founded the production company, Blackside Inc.

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White Wedding: Blu-ray

The movies from South Africa that have made the journey to the U.S. have almost exclusively focused on the anti-Apartheid struggle or post-Apartheid crime. White Wedding tells a far different, yet entirely recognizable story. I don’t know how the movie played in South Africa, where the marriage customs and rural countryside already are familiar to audiences, but I found Jann Turner’s film most interesting when it took me to places I’ve never been. This includes the homes of black South Africans, who, 25 years ago, couldn’t dream of the freedoms on display here.

White Wedding opens in an upscale yuppie neighborhood of Johannesburg, but quickly moves to coastal Durban and, ultimately, Capetown, where the bride’s family is reluctantly going along with her desire for an intimate, upscale ceremony and reception. Her mother’s desire for an old-fashioned township-style soiree — to which everyone they know is invited – is rejected as being too unsophisticated. The groom and his best man have elected to travel the 1,000 miles of mostly uninhabited land between Durban to Capetown by car, opening up a myriad of possibilities for near-farcical encounters with rural relatives, ill-fated goats, Afrikaners nostalgic for the good old days of Apartheid and a white British woman hitch-hiking along the same route. Although the comedy sometimes veers into shallow waters, the South African setting is consistently fresh and often very beautiful. That everything eventually works out swell for relatives, friends and the obligatory gay wedding planner qualifies as something of a foregone conclusion. That White Wedding also satisfies audiences half a world away from Capetown is a nice surprise.

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Santa Sangre

Alejandro Jodorowsky has only made a half-dozen feature films in a show-business career that spans more than a half-century. If the Chilean-born multi-hyphenate had only produced the cult classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain, though, he’d still be recognized as one of the most influential artists of his generation. Released in 1989, Santa Sangre is widely considered to be his masterpiece. The surrealistic memory piece combines aspects of Jodorowsky’s own background as a circus gypsy, mime, comic-book artist and student of “psychomagic,” with the phantasmagoric visuals of Federico Fellini and horror of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Italian giallo.  Jodorowsky’s sons, Axel and Adan, play a boy raised in a cheesy traveling circus by his philandering American father, a knife-thrower, and saintly Mexican mother, a trapeze artist.

At a tender age, the boy, Fenix, is forced to deal with the partial dismemberment of his mother and death by castration of his father. The bozo was openly schtuping the tattooed lady, an Amazonian beauty whose deaf-mute daughter was Fenix’s first love. Flash forward 10 years and Fenix is residing in an asylum, where he fancies himself to be a bird of prey. Eventually, Fenix re-connects with his armless mother, who requires the service of her son’s limbs to perform her freakish nightclub act and everyday tasks, ranging from ordinary to the macabre. Under her spell, Fenix goes on a killing spree immediately reminiscent of Norman Bates and Mexican serial killer, Goyo Cardenas. Santa Sangre is nuts, all right, but in a wonderfully twisted way.

Severin’s DVD package adds five hours’ worth of bonus material, all of which helps make sense of what you’ve just seen and the method to Jodorowsky’s cinematic madness. It includes several fascinating interviews with the filmmaker and a feature-length making-of doc.

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My Last Five Girlfriends

Twenty years ago, the British rom-com, My Last Five Girlfriends, might have drawn the attention of rising-star Hugh Grant and been a significantly better film for his participation. Based on Alain De Botton’s On Love, the lighter-than-air story focuses on a thirtysomething yuppie, Duncan (Brendan Patricks), whose ability to win the hearts of beautiful women is negated by an inability to forge the one permanent relationship that matters to him. In an effort to understand what he’s doing wrong, Duncan puts five of his most recent failed romances under a microscope, even if the dysfunction is obvious to viewers practically from the get-go. As an actor, Patricks is an appealing enough presence, but he lacks the ticks and grimaces that have worked so well for Grant.

Only one of Duncan’s girlfriends would seem to be worth the effort of a post mortem. That’s Naomie Harris, who’s also very good in the new Ian Dury biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Otherwise, nothing more of any consequence goes on here. To compensate, director Julian Kemp adds such diversions as animated interstitials, a fantasy amusement park and occasional fissures in the fourth wall. My Last Five Girlfriends isn’t any worse than most of the other rom-coms in circulation, but, sadly, that’s not saying a heck of a lot. The bonus package includes interviews with Kemp and cast members; commentary; a look behind the scenes and special effects; deleted scenes; and an “Extended Probability Sequence.”

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Adventures of Power
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Judging simply from the evidence presented in the trailer, I might have paid money not to be required to watch Adventures of Power, let alone review it. Not only did it resemble a dozen other Napoleon Dynamite clones, but the nerdy protagonist also was obsessed with air-drumming … air-drumming, for God’s sake! No offense to the millions of men, especially, who imitate their favorite drummers during traffic jams, in offices and classrooms, and while showering, but air-drumming is something best enjoyed outside the presence of other human beings. Of course, the same could be said about masturbation and air-guitar fanaticism, which has spawned organized competitions and one documentary, at least. 

Somehow, the feature-length Adventures of Power is much more entertaining than the material submitted in the trailer. Air-drumming isn’t made to seem any less lame a pursuit, but, at least, the saga of a Southwestern mine worker named Power is breezy and often quite endearing. At first, of course, Power is mostly the subject of ridicule by the manly men who work the region’s copper pits. As he makes his way to the pinnacle of his craft, however, the chronically awkward geek is allowed to carry the banner of striking miners being terrorized by a tyrannical boss. As it turns out, the boss’ son (Adrian Grenier, in a goofy turn) is Power’s chief rival for the title of world’s greatest air-drummer.

None of this would be remotely entertaining if it weren’t for the energetic performances of writer/director/star Ari Gold and mockumentary stalwarts Jane Lynch and Michael McKean, who could make a nightmare seem funny. The DVD adds an interview and drum-off with Rush’s Neil Peart; a music video starring Grenier; deleted scenes; and commentary.

A special place in rock ’n’ heaven would have been reserved for Ian Dury, even if he’d written no other song than Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. In a few short stanzas, it explains the lure of existing in an alternative universe to the one favored by the legions of conformists and squares. Air-drummer Power would surely be aware of the ditty. Mat Whitecross’ energetic biopic of the late British New Wave icon, stricken with polio as a boy, is a portrait of an artist/musician/actor/father who had no problem walking the walk, while also talking the talk.

Andy Serkis delivers the performance of a lifetime as Dury, whose music was informed as much by traditional British Music Hall as the Sex Pistols. He lived life just as ferociously off the stage. S&D&R&R isn’t much different than other rock biopics, in that it uses flashbacks to re-visit Dury’s struggle with polio and difficult experiences in a home for crippled children. Neither does Whitecross avoid Dury’s troubled marriage and unconventional parenting techniques. For many American viewers, the music will come as a revelation.

The movie also stars Naomie Harris, Ray Winstone, Olivia Williams and Toby Jones. Among the bonus features are interviews and commentary.

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Like Dandelion Dust

Adoption is a difficult enough proposition for parents on both sides of the situation, without throwing in the possibility that the child’s life could be ruined years later by a legal glitch that reverses the agreement. That’s what happens in Like Dandelion Dust, a faith-based drama that’s light on the faith and heavy on the drama. Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper play the working-class birth parents of a child presently living an ideal life in the beachfront home of his adoptive parents. Sorvino’s Wendy gives up custodial rights to the boy after her abusive husband, Rip, is imprisoned for his violent attacks on her. When an Ohio judge learns that someone at the prison forged Rip’s name on the agreement, he orders Joey returned to his birth parents. Seven years older and more mature, Wendy and Rip welcome their son’s return. The same decision tears the hearts out of Jack and Molly, and threatens the emotional and financial stability of Joey. Based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury, Like Dandelion Dust stacks the deck against Wendy and Rip by having Jack inadvertently instigate a confrontation with the parolee that puts him in a tailspin. It also puts Jack and Molly’s claim in jeopardy by having them hide out in Haiti, with Joey, at a church-sponsored relief project. Sorvino’s Wendy turns out to be the most sympathetic character, in that her extremely difficult decision to give up Joey at birth ultimately results in near-disaster for everyone else. The pain in her eyes when the rug is pulled out from under her, again, is palpable.

So, who’s to blame? Even if Rip is the most obvious villain, he didn’t learn of Joey’s existence until after he was released from prison. The adoptive parents couldn’t be nicer people. That leaves the State of Ohio, which let a legal glitch upend the good intentions of so many well-meaning people. But, to what end? Although Molly’s sister encourages her to pray for a just solution, apparently God is sitting this one out. He reappears in the bonus features, during interviews with real-life adoptive parents who seemingly “pray on” every decision made in their households. Like Dandelion Dust is a powerful drama, but, after only a few minutes, it’s impossible not to feel manipulated by director Jon Gunn and screenwriter Stephen J. Rivele. – Gary Dretzka

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Year of the Fish

It might be difficult to imagine an updating of the Cinderella story set in a sleazy massage parlor in New York’s Chinatown and not also anticipate a XXX fantasy. Year of the Fish is hardly appropriate viewing for kiddies enraptured by the Disney version, but it falls far short of being porn. Ye Xian (An Nguyen) is an innocent 17-year-old girl, smuggled into the United States to serve as a slave for an otherwise respectable Chinatown businesswoman. Her duties would include servicing clients, if she weren’t so inept at it. In any case, Ye Xian won’t be set free until she pays off her debt to the parlor owner and smugglers.

During one of her rare trips outside the parlor, Ye Xian encounters a grotesque soothsayer, who entrusts her with an enchanted goldfish. She also meets a handsome musician, who could be the answer to her prayers.

Writer/director David Kaplan employs the animation technique known as rotoscoping to illustrate the urban fairy tale. It straddles the border between traditional animation and reality, with characters that feel drawn but are recognizable as actors. Here, as befits the Chinese theme, the rotoscoping palette is composed of fluid water-colors, not the jittery texture favored by Richard Linklater. The DVD adds commentary, an early rotoscoping test and before/after rotoscoping shots.

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Zorro: The Complete Series
Glee: Season 2, Volume 1
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Season 4, Volume 2
Matlock: Sixth Season

Thanks in large part to representations of Zorro in the movies and television, Johnston McCulley’s enduring literary creation has become a key figure in the mythology of the American Southwest. Don Diego de la Vega’s alter ego, Zorro, was introduced in pulp form in 1919 and, a year later, chosen by fledgling United Artists to launch their studio. Since then, the original caped crusader has appeared in dozens of books, comics, movies and TV series. Zorro: The Complete Series represents the Family Channel’s take on the legend, which was filmed in Spain and ran from 1990-93. De la Vega was played by Duncan Regehr, while Patrice Martinez portrayed the beautiful tavern-keeper, Victoria, and Michael Tylo was replaced J.G. Hertzler as the corrupt Alcalde. Among the other featured characters and guests were Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Daniel Craig, Andre the Giant, Philip Michael Thomas, Jesse Ventura and Adam West. The new boxed set collects all 88 episodes, an alternate series pilot, a photo gallery and a bonus disc with the Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford production of The Mark of Zorro; the first chapter of the 1939 theatrical serial, Zorro’s Fighting Legion; and trailers for other classic serials.

Usually, I’m not a huge fan of TV-to-DVD collections that split a series in half, by sending out separate volumes that will be stitched together later with extra bonus features. Glee is the rare exception that sends out installments almost immediately before the second half of the season is about to begin. It allows viewers without TiVo and other recorders to catch up with the episodes just shown. In the current season of Glee, the kids are confronted with stiff budget cuts, the lingering disappointment from last year’s regional competition and, of course, Sue’s dastardly connivances. It only made them work harder. The new three-disc set begins with auditions and includes tributes to Britney Spears and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as a Christmas special and Gwyneth Paltrow guest spot. The set adds a “Glee Music Jukebox,” “Getting Waxed With Jane Lynch,” “Sue’s Quips” and “Glee at Comic-con 2010.”

The 13 episodes collected in the latest Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea set represent the final stanza of Irwin Allen’s of sci-fi classic. If life weren’t testing enough for Admiral Nelson, Commander Crane and the crew of the Seaview, the writers ratcheted up the thrills by bringing back the pirate, Blackbeard, and introducing an evil leprechaun, an abominable snowman, a “lobster man,” time-traveler, deadly amphibians and flaming ice. It was a memorable show and I wouldn’t be surprised if a complete-series boxed set wasn’t already in the wings.

We’re now about to Season 6 in the release of full-season Matlock sets. I’ve said about as much as I can about the show, but would like to direct fans to early Andy Griffith triumphs that now are available on DVD. A Face in the Crowd is included in the Elia Kazan collection, while the teleplay of No Time for Sergeants is included in Criterion’s “The Golden Age of Television.” The performances are nothing short of revelatory. It’s nice that Griffith is still around and kicking.

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One Response to “The DVD Wrap: Red, Secretariat, Broadcast News, White Wedding, and more …”

  1. Where is this blog’s contact us section because i cant seem to locate the section, prehaps the site owner should make it more easier to locate.

Dretzka

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“But okay, I promise you now that if I ever retire again, I’m going to ensure that I can’t walk it back. I’ll post a series of the most disgusting, offensive, outrageous statements you can ever imagine. That way it will be impossible for me to ever be employed again. No one is going to take my calls. No one is going to want to be seen with me. Oh, it will be scorched earth. I will have torched everything. I’m going to flame out in the most legendary fashion.”
~ Steven Soderbergh

I feel strongly connected to young cinephile culture. The thing about filmmaking—and cinephilia—is that you can’t keep hanging out with your own age group as you get older. They drop off, move somewhere. You can’t put together a crew of sixty-somethings. It’s the same for cinephilia: my original set of cinephile friends are watching DVDs at home or delving into 1958 episodes of ‘Gunsmoke,’ something like that. The people who are out there tend to be young, and I happen to be doing the same thing still, so it’s natural that I move in their circles.

In terms of the filmmaking, there was a gear shift: my first movies focused on people around my age, and I followed them for three films. Until The Unspeakable Act, I was using the same actors, not because of an affinity for people at a specific age, but because of my affinity for the actors. I like to work with actors a second time, especially if I don’t feel confident casting a new film. But The Unspeakable Act was a different script, and I had to cast all new people. Even for the older roles, I couldn’t get the people I’d worked with before. But when it was over, the same thing happened: I wanted to work with Tallie again in the worst way, and I started the process all over again.

I think Rohmer did something similar around the time of Perceval and Catherine de HeilbronnHe developed new groups of people that he liked to work with. These gear shifts are natural. Even if you want to follow certain actors to the end of their life (which I kind of do) the variety of ideas that you generate makes it necessary to change. And once you’ve made the change, you’ve got all these new people around.”
~ Dan Sallitt