By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: Drive Angry, Once Upon a Time in the West, Adua & Her Friends, A Clockwork Orange, Undertow, The Joke, Passion Play, Kaboom, Harvest …
Drive Angry: Blu-ray
Apparently, the only person unaware that Nicolas Cage’s career is stuck in replay mode is Cage, himself. If the Oscar-winner is disturbed by how predictable he’s become since “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Honeymoon in Vegas” and “Moonstruck” put him on the A-list – and roles in “Face/Off,” “Adaptation” and “World Trade Center” further demonstrated his range – he’s made precious little effort to get off the wagon. If nothing else, over-familiarity with Cage’s manic shtick has served to steer older audiences away from fine performances “Kick-Ass” and “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans,” pictures in which some craziness was demanded of his characters. Too often, lately, directors have merely required of Cage that he a give them variations of his over-the-top Elvis-on-crack impersonation in David Lynch’s nonpareil psycho-thriller, “Wild at Heart,” and that includes PG-rated turns in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” Considering his appetite for expensive toys, homes and hobbies, all of which have contributed to serious financial problems, Cage probably won’t turn down a well-paying gig any time soon.
For all intents and purposes, “Drive Angry” is a sequel to “Ghost Rider.” Both pictures are populated with minions of Satan, who often find themselves surrounded by flames and the corpses of vanquished souls soon to make his sulfurous acquaintance. Cage plays John Milton, an escaped prisoner of Hell with unfinished business to attend to on Earth. Unless he frees his infant grandchild from the clutches of the cult leader (Billy Burke) who killed his mother, the baby will be sacrificed in advance of an apocalyptic calamity. Trailing Milton is the dapper “Accountant” (a very convincing William Fichtner), assigned by Satan to round up the fugitive. The Accountant possesses powers that are otherworldly, as well as a twisted sense of humor commiserate with his willingness to use them. In desperate need of a cool car, Milton rescues a pretty blond waitress (Amber Heard) from her abusive boyfriend and is allowed to use her Charger. Together, they form a formidable team, if not a love connection, exactly.
The rest of “Drive Angry” is flat-out grindhouse, albeit on a budget estimated to be in the neighborhood of $50 million. While not a fortune, it afforded director Patrick Lussier (“My Bloody Valentine”) almost two hours worth of outrageously staged shootouts, car crashes and bone-breaking. For me, the highlight was an attack on Milton by a platoon of cultists armed with guns, scythes and axes, and various other garden tools. Because Milton is required to beat back his attackers, while in flagrante delicto with a different blond waitress (Charlotte Ross), the degree of difficulty is off the charts. That the waitress’ surgically enhanced boobies don’t move more than half an inch during the five-minute assault, throughout which the two lovers remain conjoined, crosses the border into absurdity (the good kind, though). This scene, alone, is almost worth the price of a rental. Even though “Drive Angry” was released in 3D, it disappointed its financial backers at the domestic box office. It also is available in that format in its video release, but I wouldn’t rush to Best Buy for the opportunity to experience it in 3D. The CGI effects look perfectly fine in hi-def and they’re what “Drive Angry” is all about, anyway. The Blu-ray edition arrives with audio commentary with filmmakers Lussier and writer Todd Farmer; “scene specific” features, including interviews with cast and filmmakers; deleted scenes with commentary; and a “body count” tracer that synopsizes the movie according to the deaths perpetrated by Milton. – Gary Dretzka
Once Upon a Time in the West: Blu-ray
Adua & Her Friends
It would be difficult for anyone born after 1975 to appreciate just how little Americans trusted anything manufactured in the countries devastated economically in the wake of World War II. In the 1950s and ’60s, products stamped “Made in Japan” were dismissed as junk; only hippies and nerds embraced Volkswagens; and, with the exception of Fellini and the neo-realists, Italian filmmakers were ignored. When Sergio Leone dared make American westerns in Spain, they were labeled “Spaghetti westerns” and ridiculed as trash. (The same thing would happen a few years later when martial arts movies were exported from Hong Kong and Japan.) Over the course of the next decade, slowly, the dissing dramatically disappeared.
“Once Upon a Time in the West,” was made after “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” stunned European audiences and made Clint Eastwood an international star. It must have raised eyebrows in Hollywood when it was revealed that Leone would stage much of his epic western in Monument Valley, which John Ford and John Wayne had turned into hallowed ground for film lovers. (It was already hallowed ground for the Navajo and Hopi, of course.) He cast several of Ford’s favorite character actors in roles that would disappear after the first gun fight and hire Henry Fonda and Jason Robards to play heavies. Charles Bronson, familiar only for his performance in “The Dirty Dozen,” would be the anti-hero and Italian bombshell Claudia Cardinale the hooker with a heart of gold. Ennio Morricone’s famously atmospheric score and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli’s super-tight close-ups were completely foreign, as well.
For all of those reasons and others, “Once Upon a Time in the West” left American audiences, critics and studio executives confused, cold and pissed off. Twenty key minutes were chopped from the final cut, making the ending far less operatic and tragic. Audiences stayed away … in droves. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby tarred it as “absurd”; Variety called the violence “unconvincing”; and a very young Roger Ebert gave it 2 1/2 stars. Forty years later, “Once Upon a Time …” would named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and (it) will be preserved for all time.”
But don’t take my word for it – or that of the Library of Congress, for that matter – use the occasion of the release on Blu-ray of this fully restored, often breathtaking Blu-ray edition, from Paramount, to judge it for yourself. Then, if you’re so inclined, watch it again, with commentary by directors John Carpenter, John Milius and Alex Cox; film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall; and cast & crew members, including Cardinale and Fonda. Don’t forget the five making-of featurettes, which include the recollections of co-writer (with Dario Argento) Bernardo Bertolucci and other Italian filmmakers. Genre buffs are encouraged, as well, to try their hand at identifying the “hundreds” of conscious references and homage to classic American westerns, including the Monument Valley locations.
Outside of one or two theaters in New York, Antonio Pietrangeli’s “Adua & Her Friends” (a.k.a., “Love a la Carte”) has gone virtually unseen in the U.S. since its release in 1960. The reason some may find that to be surprising is the presence of such fine and attractive actors as Simone Signoret, Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo, Emmanuelle Riva and Gina Rovere in principal roles. The four women play prostitutes whose jobs were eliminated when Italy forced brothels to close in the late 1950. Instead of becoming street-walkers, they decide to move to the country, where they rent a building that can double as a restaurant and brothel. Corruption being what it was in post-war Italy – and probably still is – the women are forced to cut a deal with a local businessman, who’s less interested in their food than in their goodies. They’re given four month of breathing room to get the bistro up and running, before the brothel also is opened for business. In the meantime, the women not only discover they have a knack for the restaurant business, but also the ability to making a living on their feet, not on their backs. A couple of them even find love.
Of course, nothing’s quite so simple in the movies, then or now. Just when the ladies feel as if they’ve gotten things rolling, the landlord insists they get back into the brothel business. Police in Rome didn’t expunge their records, as promised, and the women are hung out to dry by local authorities. Neither are their boyfriends (including a shady car dealer, played by Mastroianni) supportive, even though they were made aware of the women’s pasts. The ending is a tad on the moralistic side, but it’s not out of place given what’s happened previously.
It’s also interesting that Pietrangeli’s style shifts from urban neo-realism to rural naturalism, with other scenes in the “La Dolce Vita” groove. The actors were emerging as major international stars, as well. Sadly, the Italian cinema would soon collapse economically, eventually opening the door for Leone and giallo specialists. “Adua & Her Friends” benefits mightily from a restoration commissioned by RaroVideo’s Italian partners. – Gary Dretzka
A Clockwork Orange: Anniversary Edition
Few movies actors have become as prominent in so short a time as Malcolm McDowell, who, between 1968 and 1973, wowed audiences in “If,” “Long Ago, Tomorrow,” “Figures in a Landscape,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Royal Flash,” and “O Lucky Man!” In them, McDowell was directed by the eminent Lindsay Anderson (twice), Joseph Losey, Bryan Forbes, Richard Lester and, of course, Stanley Kubrick. It could be argued that he met his Waterloo in the hugely time-consuming and laughably re-edited “Caligula.” It didn’t help, though, that a failing economy back home forced the best British actors and filmmakers to move to the U.S. to find regular work. Once in Hollywood, McDowell embraced the vices that come with having too much money and a naturally mischievous nature. Since cleaning up, McDowell has carved a different niche, playing villains and amoral business executives in dozens of screen roles and television series, as well as voicing cartoons and video games. There’s no question his presence has been noticed and appreciated in all of them.
Certainly McDowell’s performance in “A Clockwork Orange” has stood the test of time and isn’t likely to be forgotten any time soon. As the sadistic, Beethoven-loving rapscallion Alex, he made viewers laugh out loud and gasp with revulsion almost within the same breath. They still do. The new Blu-ray 40th anniversary edition isn’t much different than the one released in 2007. It arrives in a 40-page Digibook package, along with all of the original bonus features and a couple of hi-def extras: “Turning Like Clockwork,” in which McDowell reflects on the film’s controversial launch and state of cutting-edge cinema with several noteworthy filmmakers; “Malcolm McDowell Looks Back,” a piece on the production itself; the feature-length biodocs “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures” and “O Lucky Malcolm!”; BD-Live functionality; and access to a digital download.
“Never Apologize” is a theatrical piece performed in appreciation of Lindsey Anderson, a filmmaker who became more of a father figure to McDowell than the pub owner who raised him. The actor first describes how Anderson discovered him for the key role of the rebellious public-school student, Mick Travis, in “If,” and then revisited the character in “O Lucky Man!” and “Britannia Hospital.” The stories McDowell relates during the monologue are fascinating, as much for the period from which they originated as for the famous Brits who populate them. – Gary Dretzka
Communism Was No Party: The Joke/The Shoe
And Give My Love to the Swallows
As we watch the events of the so-called Arab Spring unfold before our very eyes, via CNN and Al Jazeera, it’s worth remembering another period of near-euphoric political and cultural change, the Prague Spring of 1968. No sooner had the Czech people begun celebrating the advancement of “socialism with a human face,” than Soviet tanks began rolling into the cities to enforce the company line. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen in northern Africa and the Middle East, where the stakes have never been higher. One of the most visible cultural manifestations of the Prague Spring came in the cinema created by such New Wave filmmakers as Milos Forman, Ivan Passer, Jan Nemec, Jan Kadar and Jaromil Jires. If Jires is one of the least remembered of the group, it’s only because he didn’t defect to the west after the Soviet invasion and several of his most important pictures were banned outright. Facets is releasing two of his most scathing commentaries on communism, in “The Joke” and “The Shoe,” both of which depict absurdities that led to greater tragedies. “The Joke” was adapted from a book by Milan Kundera, in which he described his loss of faith in communism.
Jires made “And Give My Love to the Swallows” after the exodus of his friends to the west. It was adapted from the memoirs of the young Moravian resistance fighter, Maruska Kuderikova, who was imprisoned and martyred by the Nazis for lying and refusing to identify her comrades. Her anti-fascist spirit, along with Jires’ depiction of Nazi intolerance, was deemed an acceptable subject by pro-Soviet Czech censors. Jires superbly captures the indomitable blond sprite’s contagious spirit and determination in his artful portrait, while also making her martyrdom look as if it might have been inspired by Renaissance paintings. It is an exception movie, virtually unknown outside Europe. – Gary Dretzka
A Small Act
If there ever was an argument to be made against the pursuit of pure scientific knowledge, it could be found in “Transcendent Man,” a documentary portrait of inventor, futurist and best-selling author Ray Kurzweil. It is Kurzweil’s belief that technological change is happening so rapidly, humans soon will be required to add artificial-intelligence mechanisms to their bodies to keep up with it. Our brains, alone, won’t be able to comprehend the possibilities afforded by advances in computer technology. And this, he muses, is a good thing. According to producer Felicia Ptolemy, if Kurzweil is correct, “we will be trillions of times more intelligent and there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality. Human aging and illness will be reversed; world hunger and poverty will be solved; and we will ultimately cure death.” Personally, I’d settle for a cure for cancer and an affordable alternative to oil consumption. Apparently, though, futurists are already beyond such mundane concerns and naively believe patent holders will work toward the common good, not personal greed or nationalistic power.
Kurzweil’s a fascinating fellow, with a track record of remarkably accurate predictions and 24 U.S. patents. “Transcendent Man” puts his theories of singularity in as close to layman’s terms as possible and offers a forum for colleagues and detractors to voice their opinions, as well. What are missing are the points of view of humanists, theologians and people who would prefer to die without pain than live forever. Moreover, Kurzweil isn’t able to rule out the possibility that the world’s superpowers wouldn’t use the fruits of artificial intelligence to produce new and even more destructive weapons of mass destruction. The DVD’s bonus features include extended interviews; deleted scenes; and a Tribeca Film Festival Q&A with Kurzweil and director Barry Ptolemy.
Until such time as humans are required to implant computers in their brains, simply to keep up with the nerds next door, let us continue to praise less-famous heroes. No better place to start would be the subjects of the illuminating documentary, “A Small Act.” In it, we’re introduced to Hilde Back, a Swedish schoolteacher, who, through an act of charity, was able to avoid the fate of her German-Jewish family, all killed in the Holocaust. Years later, Back paid this act of kindness forward by agreeing to help an impoverished Kenyan child, by contributing $15 a month to his education. That boy, Chris Mburu, eventually would go to Harvard, become a lawyer and an advocate for human rights for the United Nations. Mburu also focused on the role education could play in solving the deep-seated problems of Kenya and other developing countries, even as civil wars threatened to destroy them. Neither did the young man forget his benefactor. Even before meeting Hand, Mbutu instituted an educational fund in her name to provide high school scholarships to 10 outstanding African children each year. Director Jennifer Arnold’s camera was there to capture Hand’s reaction to the reception she received when she finally met the students competing for scholarships and witness what a monthly contribution of $15 can accomplish in Africa. – Gary Dretzka
In this often shrill portrait of a upper-middle-class family in disarray, the estimable Robert Loggia delivers a bravura performance as a patriarch fighting against the dying of the light. His Siv Monopoli is a World War II veteran who probably witnessed more carnage than anyone should experience in a lifetime and returned home to build a comfortable life for his wife and children yet to arrive. We suspect that Siv could have been an ornery cuss, at times, but he continues to command the respect of everyone around him. His wife (Barbara Barrie) lives with him and two of their children in the airy family compound in Connecticut, even though Alzheimer’s has reduced her to a shadow of her former self. Like certain genetic traits, compassion and maturity have skipped a generation among the Monopolis. One son (Peter Friedman) is carrying a grudge against the old man and has to be shamed into visiting Siv while he’s still in relatively good shape. The other son (Arye Gross), who stills lives at home, is a conniving little prick actively seeking to change his father’s will to put him at an advantage over his siblings. A divorced daughter (Victoria Clark), also living at home, is a wilted flower child with a college-age son and a victim complex.
As is usually the case in such melodramas, the grandson (Jack Carpenter) is portrayed as being far more adult than his mother and uncles. As Siv’s cancer becomes more pronounced, Josh takes it upon himself to create a familial bond, however short-lived. By acceding to his mother’s demands to remain at home during his summer vacation, Josh is required to sacrifice a blooming relationship with a young woman who would prefer that he dote on her between semesters. A ditzy housekeeper, who’s alternately considered part of the family and treated like a doormat, also figures in the mishigas. As written and directed by Marc Meyers (“Approaching Union Square”), “Harvest” could just as easily have been targeted for the New York stage as a contemporized dissection of themes introduced by Eugene O’Neill. Instead, it benefits mightily from its lovely suburban Connecticut setting, well shot by cinematographer Ruben O’Malley, and a terrific ensemble cast. The melodramatic approach will appeal more to older audiences, who will recognize such characters and have the patience to endure their more idiosyncratic behavior. – Gary Dretzka
Not being in the prime MTV demographic, I wasn’t aware that it was considering getting into the horror business, alongside every other production company in the U.S. and Canada. First, though, it polled its viewers to see what kind of audience it could expect for such gnarly fare. Apparently, it received a positive response, because “Savage County” aired last fall, albeit with little fanfare outside the MTV family of networks. It’s just as well, because “Savage County” isn’t anything to brag about, let alone write home and recommend to mother. Like most other movies that fall into the category of “teens in jeopardy” and/or “torture porn,” David Harris’ dark and nasty thriller begins with a dare. A group of socially diverse teens decides to get a head start on the prom by having a party at a lake perfect for skinny-dipping. In need of beer, the runt of this litter is coaxed into hitting up one the locals for a contribution. Instead, he’s confronted with a shotgun and a baboon with an itchy trigger finger. One of the buddies puts an end to the threat by bopping the geezer over the head with a shovel, killing him. His possibly inbred kinfolk then decide to exact their revenge on the kids, by kidnapping as many of them as they can, torturing them and disposing with them in a vat of acid … or something. In the battle of nitwits that follows, lots of people die horrible deaths. Yummy.
“He” is the latest DVD title from the horror factory of the exceedingly prolific Creep Creepersin. This one is about a married couple, so alienated that they exist in fear of having to communicate with each other. The wife wouldn’t mind seeing her husband die, but it isn’t clear whether the delusional fellow is truly being targeted for murder or it’s a figment of his imagination. – Gary Dretzka
Gregg Araki has been making films about teens and young adults for more than 20 years, now. In most of them, the characters either are struggling with their sexual identity or have recently broken out of one sort of conformist shell or another. Already one of the funniest movies of the last decade, “Smiley Face” also may be the smartest “stoner” comedy to date. “Kaboom” is comedy, too, but one that drifts in and out of three other genres. Early on, “Kaboom” looks as if it might simply be an offbeat rom-com in which a group of obsessively hip college freshmen play musical beds, again primarily in search of their sexual identities. The debauchery continues until students seem to vanish in thin air and masked goblins invade the campus. Thomas Dekker (“A Nightmare on Elm Street“) plays Smith, a disheveled 18-year-old bisexual who suddenly begins wondering about the nature of his father’s long-ago death and why he’s drawn to a book, written by a mysterious cult leader in anticipation of an apocalyptical event. It is at the point that “Kaboom” picks up speed as a sci-fi fantasy, inspired, perhaps, from the fiction of L. Ron Hubbard. If the narrative is on the shaggy side, it’s not out of character with other of Araki’s movies. His fans probably wouldn’t have wanted the ride to be any smoother. – Gary Dretzka
If the HBO series “Carnivàle” had been extended for another season and updated a bit, it might have looked a lot like “Passion Play,” a movie that can’t decide if it wants to be a noir thriller or surrealistic wet dream. In it, Mickey Rourke plays a trumpet player — lifted from the Chet Baker sketchbook — who makes two mistakes: screwing a mob boss’ wife and, then, getting caught. He’s driven into the badlands of New Mexico, where he’s forced to contemplate the inevitably of his death, while standing on the edge of a cliff. He’s rescued by an Apache gunman, who just happened to be in the neighborhood, and dropped off at a carnival decamped in the middle of nowhere, literally. There, among the other sideshow attractions, resides a beautiful woman (Megan Fox) with wings growing from her back. She looks like an angel and has the wingspan of a California condor. Fortuitously, Lily is a fan of the musician, as we can see from the album jacket inside her trailer. (An album jacket, in 2011 … really?) Not one to miss an opportunity to exploit another human being – or go three minutes without a cigarette – Rourke conspires with the mob boss who tried to kill him to put her on display, topless, in a gilded cage. In case you were wondering, I’ve left out the complicated parts of the narrative. It’s that kind of movie.
“Passion Play” is the fourth movie I’ve reviewed in the last six months in which a human sprouts wings. That’s some coincidence. Maybe CGI technology has finally advanced to the point where human wings can look every bit as realistic as those applied to the backs of Victoria’s Secret models in catalogues and commercials. If writer/director Mitch Glazer had a more perverse sense of humor, he might have considered putting the wings on Rourke and made Fox a topless trumpet player. After his star called the movie “terrible” in the presence of a reporter, he probably wished that the Apache had missed and Rourke actually had been pushed off the cliff. The actor has since retracted the remark and apologized to his longtime friend, but, given the velocity of negative gossip, the damage already was done. On the plus side, there’s Bill Murray, who plays the gangster, Happy Shannon; Kelly Lynch, as the musician’s confidante; Rhys Ifans plays an evil carnival barker; and, in hi-def, the Southwestern scenery looks terrific. If any of that sounds appealing, you might want to consider a rental, or therapy. – Gary Dretzka
The story told in this exquisitely made Peruvian export may be familiar to followers of the new gay cinema, but everything else about “Undertow” is remarkably fresh and compelling. On its surface, Javier Fuentes-Leon’s feature debut describes forbidden love in a community inhabited by simple working folks devoted to their families, religion and traditions. Nothing extraordinary there, certainly. Ultimately, what grips the viewer is the realistic look of the residents of the tiny fishing village and total absence of clichéd dialogue and gratuitous sexual intrigue. “Undertow” also benefits from some spectacular scenery, beautiful sunsets and sharp cinematography.
A young fisherman, Miguel (Cristian Mercado), and his beautiful bride, Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), are about to welcome their first child. He hangs out with guys he’s known since he was a toddler and laughs along to their macho bragging and homophobic humor. He also is engaged in a sexual relationship, bordering on love, with a painter and part-time resident of the village. They go about their business in and around a cave carved from nearby cliffs, by several centuries’ worth of storms. They don’t flaunt their feelings for each other in public, at least until the painter convinces the fisherman to be true to himself and not hide his love, and, then, only guardedly. After all, even if they lived in the big city and one were a house painter and the other a fishmonger, an open display of affection could lead to violence. As is explained to Miguel by his best friend, any married man who admits to having a gay lover in a small village risks not only his own reputation, but that of his wife, her family and their as-yet-unborn child. If, however, he turns his back on his lover, his lies could come back to haunt both of them. Santiago may have options available to him in the city, but, at home, Miguel is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. As the drama continues to unfold, everyone in the village – especially the beloved Catholic priest — is forced to take a stand. The Blu-ray adds interviews, a making-of featurette and deleted scenes, including a couple with sunsets and beach scenes that really belonged in the feature. – Gary Dretzka
Tom Cruise starred in this, the first and longest film adaptation of a John Grisham legal thriller. In “The Firm,” he plays a freshly minted Ivy League lawyer, who accepts a position with a Memphis law firm that caters to needs of various shady characters. In almost record time, his Mitch McDeere discovers that he’s signed a devil’s bargain – not unlike the one entered into by Charlie Sheen, six years earlier, in “Wall Street” — and his once-bright future has turned into a nightmare. The FBI knows what goes on behind the firm’s closed doors and sees in Mitch an opportunity to secure a mole. They recruit him with the same fervor as the corrupted lawyers, only they have the force of law behind them, not a mere confidentiality agreement. Not only could an act of conscience threaten the incomes of Mitch’s bosses and the mobsters’ anonymity, but it also could put his marriage and career in jeopardy. “The Firm” is an exciting, if exhausting movie. Sidney Pollack, never one to apologize for excess baggage, surrounds Cruise with a stellar supporting cast, which includes Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn, Gary Busey and Tobin Bell. Adding mightily to the movie’s budget, no doubt, was a screenplay that carries the fingerprints of David Rabe, Robert Towne and David Rayfiel. For the time being, the Blu-ray is only being made available at Best Buy. There are no bonus features worth mentioning. – Gary Dretzka
Ben Bailey: Road Rage & Accidental Ornithology
Not ever having watched the Discovery show “Cash Cab,” I had no idea who Ben Bailey was, before putting “Road Rage & Accidental Ornithology” on my DVD player. Apparently, Bailey drives around New York in a real taxi cab, asking passengers questions in return for cash. He may be the only American-born driver left navigating the streets of Manhattan, so he’s easy to spot. In this taped concert, Bailey proves himself to be personable, reasonably good-looking, funny, well-spoken and observant. It’s easy to believe he can handle the traffic and host a game show simultaneously. The “Road Rage” half of the DVD’s title is easy to understand. The “Accidental Ornithology” arrives in the form of stops he makes while Googling the Internet. He spends a lot of time here riffing on “flightless” and “almost flightless” birds and, pulling it all together, flipping the “bird” at jerks in traffic. The DVD arrives with deleted scenes and a performance of “Cash Cab Blues.” – Gary Dretzka
Rookie Blue: The Complete First Season
Swamp People: Season 1
Hijos Del Carnaval: Season One & Two
PBS: Nature/Nova/Secrets of the Dead
It would be far easier for me to like such ABC workplace dramas as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Rookie Blue” if the characters didn’t look as if they’d just stepped out of a Michelob Lite commercial and weren’t old enough to buy cigarettes without being carded, let alone perform heart surgery or wear a badge. But, what do I know? “Rookie Blue,” a summer hit that is back on the air, follows a group of recent police-academy graduates who are about to do their graduate work in the streets of a big American city. (Naturally, the series was shot in Toronto.) The first-season DVD package adds a making-of featurette; cast and crew interviews; and behind-the-scenes footage.
On the other hand, the hunters, trappers and various other bayou dwellers we meet in History Channel’s “Swamp People” look as if they might have been in a commercial for fishing lures or chewing tobacco. They look real, because they are real. So are the unfortunate alligators whose peaceful lives in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River Basin are about to end. The series follows the licensed hunters as they rush to collect hides and meat in the state’s 30-day season. Additional footage in included in the DVD package.
“Hijos Del Carnaval” (“Sons of Carnival”) is HBO Latino’s big-budget telenovella, in which the sons of a deceased crime lord are required to fend for themselves in the mean streets of Rio de Jainero. Much of the series is set in and around a prestigious samba school, thus guaranteeing much good music and flashy costumes. In Portuguese, the episodes are subtitled in English and Spanish.
This month’s collection of DVD and Blu-ray titles from PBS includes “Japan’s Killer Quake,” “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet” and a pair of episodes from “Secrets of the Dead,” “Lost in the Amazon” and “China’s Terracotta Warriors.” It’s been less than three months since a devastating earthquake and tsunami rocked northeastern Japan, but “Nova” has already produced a show that puts everything in context for PBS audiences. “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet,” from “Nature,” describes the many obstacles facing endangered salmon species in the Pacific Northwest and its once-thriving fishing industry. “Lost in the Amazon” chronicles an expedition undertaken to learn what might have happened to the doomed explorers in the party of Colonel Percey Fawcett, who were scouring the rain forest in search of the lost city of “Z,” in 1925. “China’s Terracotta Warriors” revisits the discovery of 8,000 immaculately preserved terracotta statues, guarding the tomb of the first emperor of China. All of these episodes are fascinating. — Gary Dretzka
Bands on the Run: The Rubber Band Movie
Scrambled States of America
The North Star & More Stories About Following Your Dreams
Fanboy & Chum Chum
Not having any children around the house, anymore, I must plead ignorance as to the “Rubber Band” craze … or what I’m told is a craze, anyway. In the 50-minute “Bands on the Run,” the elastic characters fall off a truck and “join together to make their way to the toy store and onto the wrists of three happy children.” (I can’t make this stuff up.) The DVD includes animated storyboards, interviews with the animators, split-screen animatics and 10 free bands, featuring characters from the film.
Scholastic’s “Scrambled States of America” is based on the stories of Laurie Keller, in which the 50 states of our union are anthropomorphized to the point where they exchange positions on the map, if only because they’re bored by their own geo-physical characteristics. The animated sequences are accompanied by songs deemed patriotic by people on both sides of the political spectrum. Among voicing talents are Aretha Franklin, Arlo Guthrie and Samuel L. Jackson. Bonus stories include “John Henry” and “Johnny Appleseed.”
Zooey Deschanel, Allison Moorer, Walker Harrison and Tim Curry narrate animated stories, inspired by the books of Peter H. Reynolds. In them, young viewers are encouraged to realize to their full potential and follow their dreams. (Do kids really have to be prodded to do this or have they become prematurely jaded?) Besides “The North Star,” the stories include “That Book Woman,” “Yo! Yes?,” “Players in Pigtails” and “Swamp Angels”
Nickelodeon is represented this month by collected episodes of “Fanboy and Chum Chum,” a CG-animated comedy series, voiced by Josh Duhamel and Jamie Kennedy. Extras include six short pieces and the pilot episode of Nickelodeon’s “Planet Sheen.” Fanboy and Chum Chum are “super fans” of all things sci-fi and fantasy, and their curiosity inspires them to embark on wildly imaginative adventures. – Gary Dretzka