MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The Lion King, African Cats, Submarine, Fast Five, Buck, Nostalgia, Dust, Gamera, Bette Midler, Pee-wee Herman …

The Lion King: Diamond Edition: Blu-ray/Digital Copy/DVD/3D
Disneynature: African Cats: Blu-ray/DVD Combo

After 17 years in circulation, one way or another, it would be reasonable to think that the only people who would be interested in shelling out even more hard-earned money to see “The Lion King,” would be those viewers who collect their favorites in every conceivable format or whose kids finally are old enough sit through a 90-minute. But, there’s no stopping this animated juggernaut. “Lion King” is that rare creature that attracts new and repeat audiences wherever it’s playing and whenever it’s re-released into theaters, on stage and in video, DVD, Blu-ray and now 3D. Its current theatrical re-release has found “Lion King” at or near the top of the box-office heap for the past three weekends, passing the $400-million milestone in domestic revenue alone on Sunday. If the animated treasure hasn’t reached No. 1 on the video charts by the time one reads this review, it soon will. I don’t own a Blu-ray 3D player, but everything I’ve been able to experience in the Diamond Edition tells me it’s damn near perfect.

This time around, repeat viewers might want to experiment with the picture-in-picture experience and focus on specific cinematic attributes, instead of merely sitting back and enjoying the story. That much hasn’t changed, after all. Concentrate on the wildebeest stampede, for example. It took three years to complete and sounds as if the techies were able to capture thunder in a bottle. Look for the hidden messages in the stars, smoke and dust clouds. Study the raw sexuality in the adult Nala’s eyes, when she recognizes the grown-up Simba. Check out the similarities to “Hamlet,” “Bambi,” Egyptian mythology and the Bible. Then, sample the bonus features, which include commentary with producer Don Hahn and co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff; the sing-along track; and Disney Second Screen, which syncs the movie with interactive and informational content, via a downloadable app. Other HD extras include a pair of making-of featurettes, deleted and alternate scenes, bloopers and outtakes, an interactive art gallery and “The Morning Report,” which brings a song written for the stage to animated life. The “Virtual Vault” holds much previously released supplemental content. A second disc adds the DVD copy, as well as background featurettes, animated games and two navigational platforms. It isn’t necessary for DVD owners to buy the all-inclusive Blu-ray, 3D and Digital version of the Diamond Edition. Anyone considering purchasing a 3D platform for the holidays probably would do well to pick up the combo now, instead of later, though.

While you’re at it, pick up a Blu-ray copy of “African Cats.” Know this, however, ahead of time. Like “Lion King,” Disney’s perfectly complementary documentary, “African Cats,” scored a “G” from the MPAA ratings board. I think some parents might find that rating to be a tad generous … a break cut for Disney that other distributers don’t necessarily get. It’s nothing new. When “Bambi” was re-released in theaters, in the 1970s, it received a G, as did all of the classic animated features with nasty old witches, wicked stepmothers, comatose princesses, prosthetic-wearing pirates and cursed donkey boys. If “Old Yeller” had been re-released, as well, it would likely have gotten a “G,” despite the title character’s untimely demise, due to rabies and bullets. (For some boys, that scene was more upsetting than anything in “Bambi.”) If any other studio, besides Disney, had made and released these movies, there’s a very good chance that three of them, at least, would have went out “PG.”

Don’t get me wrong, I consider the vast majority of all movies that wave the Walt Disney banner – as opposed to its Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures labels and, until last year, Miramax – to be genuinely family friendly. The fact is, though, just as the NC-17 rating has been misinterpreted by exhibitors, media outlets and pundits, so, too, is the hair’s-breadth difference between “G” and “PG.” If the MPAA doesn’t expect exhibitors and their landlords to ban NC-17 titles, strictly based on financial factors, then it should be honest about the commercial benefits of going out “G,” instead of the similarly harmless “PG.”

I only mention this because, while the words to “Circle of Life” may sound terrific on a soundtrack album, the facts of life as they play out in the wild aren’t always so pretty. Add dynamic sound effects to images of animals dying, being separated from a parent or threatened by menacing predators and a child’s learning experience can instantly turn into a waking nightmare. Some, if not all children need parental guidance to interpret what they’re seeing on the big or small screen, and, for that to happen, an adult or older sibling must be within spitting distance of the impressionable viewer. Such, I think, is the case with “Lion King” and “African Cats,” both of which contain images from the dark side of the circle of life.

That said, however, I have no trouble encouraging parents to plan a double-feature of “African Cats” and “Lion King,” with refreshments, trailers and a sing-along feature to complete the party. Today’s home-theater systems are perfectly capable of reproducing the megaplex experience – even 3D — and bathroom breaks merely require a pause button. As is typical in Disney’s long history of nature documentaries, the lions and cheetahs in “African Cats” are given names and implied personality traits. It’s an entry point discouraged by most other documentarians, as the conceit allows a palpable degree of subjectively to creep into the narrative. Certainly, it’s easier to take sides in a naturally occurring standoff between a lion and crocodile if one knows the name of the pride’s guardian, Fang, and his oldest concubine, Layla. If we feel little pity for the gazelle run down by a cheetah named Sila, it’s because we’ve already met her hungry, sightless and impossibly cute cubs and her prey is anonymous. Even narrator Samuel L. Jackson is pulling for Fang, Layla and Sila.

I’m not sure which of the two movies I would choose to open my fantasy double-feature. The stories parallel each other, right down to the wildebeest stampedes, threatening storms and majestic vistas. A confrontation between Sila and a potential young-buck rival to Fang is, at once, fascinating, exhilarating and exciting to witness. When Jackson tells us that hyenas have carried away two of Sila’s cubs, while she was fending off the upstart lion, I found it difficult to keep tears from welling in my eyes. The filmmakers dial up the drama, as well, when the seriously wounded and elderly Layla is shunned by the pride’s other lionesses, along with her still-needy “daughter,” Mara. Hey, it’s a jungle out there.

Documentary directors Alastair Fothergill (“Planet Earth”) and Keith Scholey (“Nova,” “Nature”), along with cinematographers Sophie Darlington and Simon Werry, do a masterful job capturing both the drama and banality of everyday life in Kenya’s Maasi Mara National Reserve. Their hi-def equipment keeps everything in extreme focus, whether it’s Fangs blood-soaked whiskers, a mid-range chase between rival cats or a distant mountain. The soundtrack neatly captures the regal power of the lions’ roars, without diminishing any of Fang’s post-meal grunts or Sila’s delicate chirps, as she futilely attempts to reconnect with her lost cubs. The poignancy of her despair is heart-breaking. Repeat viewers will want to experiment with “Filmmaker Annotations,” an interactive picture-in-picture experience in which the filmmakers share their memories of the shoot, and access is provided to deleted scenes, pop-up trivia, factoids and making-of material. Much shorter pieces describe conservation and fund-raising efforts, and there’s a Jordin Sparks music video. – Gary Dretzka

White Wash
Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story

For nearly 50 years, surfers have been portrayed as being universally white and almost always blond, with tattoos and wetsuits optional. If it weren’t Annette Funicello and the half-dozen or so actresses who played Gidget, the media might not have known that women surfed, too. Now, of course, they compete on an international circuit of their own and Hollywood has stopped portraying them as weak sisters and “surfer girls.” If women athletes no longer are strangers to the sports pages, nightly news wrap-ups and movies, the presence of blacks in niche sports – surfing including — continues to be underreported. Ted Woods’ enlightening documentary, “White Wash,” somewhat rectifies that situation.

Lest one forget, the surfers who greeted Captain James Cook, when he became the first European explorer to visit the Hawaiian Island, were Polynesians of color. Native Hawaiian George Freeth, several princes and a duke, Kahanamoku, would introduce the sport to California and Australia, and, a half-century later, the Beach Boys would sell a more Aryan myth to the world. In “White Wash,” we learn that African-Americans not only have enjoyed surfing our breaks for as long as “beach culture” has been recognized, but some have also excelled at the sport. Not many, to be sure, but enough to suggest that there might have been more, if social, cultural and racial factors hadn’t intervened. The most prominent barrier, not surprisingly, was segregation. Just as black historically were barred from swimming in pools designated whites-only, the best beaches also were made off-limits to them, and not only in the South. With few pools and beaches open to them, it was almost impossible for them to learn how to swim well enough to test the big surf and razor-sharp coral below them. It’s also true that beach culture was so closely identified with young whites that black surfers were ridiculed by members of their own race. In turn, companies that exploited the beach phenomenon saw no point in marketing to such a limit customer base.
Were these people racist, per se, or is green truly the only color that motivates Madison Avenue. Hardly anyone markets to white surfers, either. It’s telling, perhaps, that “White Wash” is hosted by musicians Ben Harper and Tariq5 “Black Thought” Trotter, both of whom have had to overcome being pigeon-holed by critics, labels and record-buyers. Raymond Gayle’s 2005 documentary, “Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker,” makes many of the same points as Woods does in “White Wash.”

Selling the accoutrements of beach culture to women has never been a problem for the Don Drapers of the world, but it took teenage Kathy “Gidget” Kohner to sell surfing to women. As “Accidental Icon” demonstrates, only a girl with an overabundance of chutzpah could have done it. The guys who surfed Malibu in 1956 — Kahuna, Moondoggie and Tubesteak, among them – adopted the brash kid, who literally demanded to be taught surfing. Her nickname came naturally: “girl” plus “midget” equaled “Gidget.” Kohner kept a diary, which, when it was discovered by her screenwriter father, was turned into a best-selling book. It would inspire a half-dozen movies and a pair of TV series. A half-century later, petite teenage girls who catch the surfing bug still wear the nickname with pride.
Brian Gillogly’s “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story” is informed by the lively recollections of Kohner, survivors of the 1950s’ Malibu crowd, several pro surfers, actors Gregory Harrison (“North Shore”), Cliff Robertson (Big Kahuna, in “Gidget”), James Darren (Moondoggie in “Gidget,” “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” “Gidget Goes to Rome”) and Caryn Richman (“Gidget’s Summer Reunion,” “The New Gidget”). Neither documentary would score well in a contest based solely on style points, but both shine a bright light on a niche pursuit that still says a lot about the way some of us were, 50 years ago. – Gary Dretzka

Submarine: Blu-ray
Knowing that writer/director Richard Ayoade acted in and wrote such offbeat British entertainments as “The IT Crowd,” “Benny and the Bull,” “The Mighty Boosh” and “Snuff Box” should give those unfamiliar with “Submarine” a reason to take a chance on it. Even the coming-of-sexual-age theme has nearly been beaten to death, “Submarine” still manages to feel completely fresh and non-generic. For one thing, it wastes little time dispensing with all the usual mystery, trauma and exhilaration associated with a teenager’s loss of virginity. Sure, the once-in-a-lifetime event floats like a puffy white cloud over the rest of the movie, but it doesn’t overshadow Ayoade’s broader target, which is the inability of adults to cope with the vagaries of their own sexuality. “Submarine” is set in Wales, a corner of the United Kingdom that time and fashion appear to have forgotten. Judging from the hairstyles and clothes favored by the grownups, the events depicted in the movie could have occurred 40 years ago or yesterday. The teen characters look a bit more au courant, but it’s tough to pin them down to a precise decade. In any case, it doesn’t much matter.

At 15, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) spends an inordinate amount of time daydreaming about love, death and other weighty subjects. He’s smart enough to do well at school, but too insecure to ignore the sexual braggadocio and stupid advice of his male friends. It causes him to rush into a sexual relationship with the first girl (Yasmin Paige) who makes him feels as if he’s not alone in the world. For her part, Jordana Bevan treats the relinquishment of her own virginity as a welcome diversion from the serious illnesses afflicting her mother and pet dog. Their romance is interrupted by Oliver’s obsession with saving his parents’ emotionally stunted marriage and Jordan’s desire to spend as much time with her mother as possible.

A teenager as fixated with sex as Oliver would have to be deaf and blind not to notice the fissure growing between his parents, Lloyd and Jill (Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins). By his calculations, they haven’t had sex for seven months and a new neighbor has captured her fancy. As played by Paddy Considine, the mullet-haired newcomer, Graham, is something of a New Age snake-oil salesman. By comparison to Lloyd – an extremely boring and socially inept marine biologist – Graham might as well be Bruce Springsteen. Apparently, Jill has some previous history with Graham and Oliver fears his father simply can’t compete with the flashy interloper. Although Oliver’s desperate attempt to save their marriage, by revealing Graham as a charlatan, backfires – he’s too young to understand how sexual ennui and depression can be mistaken for irreconcilable differences — things eventually work out fine for everyone involved. If that sounds to you like a spoiler, know that real fun here comes in watching some of Britain’s finest actors at work and marveling at Ayoade’s ability to keep pulling rabbits out of his hat. The scenery isn’t bad, either. The Blu-ray comes with a decent making-of featurette. “Submarine” was executive-produced by Ben Stiller, among several others, and features original songs by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. – Gary Dretzka

Fast Five: Blu-ray
Watching the intricately choreographed race sequences in “Fast Five,” I wondered how all the expensive vehicles could maintain their high-gloss shine and avoid being trashed, even after being pushed off trains and careening through the streets and teeming favelas of Rio de Janeiro. I can’t drive two blocks without needing a car wash or hit a curb without flattening a tire. Even after watching the featurette that explains how the stunt coordinators pulled off the scene in which three expensive automobiles are stolen from a moving train, I couldn’t understand how it was accomplished. Leaving a theater bewitched, bothered and bewildered by what you’ve just witnessed is what Hollywood moviemaking is all about, though. No matter how much money is budgeted for stunts and special effects, few movies these days leave any impression at all. Upwards of $125 million reportedly were spent to make “Fast Five” and every penny of it can be found on the screen.

This isn’t to say the fourth sequel to the 2001 “The Fast and the Furious” – whose title, at least, came from a 1955 Roger Corman production – is anything more substantial than a very well made and hugely expensive genre picture. As heist pictures go, however, “Fast Five” is several times more entertaining than the most recent “Ocean’s …” pictures, which it resembles in several unmistakable ways. In it, Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto escapes police custody with the assistance of characters introduced in previous “TF&TF” installments. They include Paul Walker’s former federal agent Brian O’Conner and his girlfriend, Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), who’s also Dom’s sister. To escape federal prosecution and extradition, they split for Rio de Janeiro. After robbing the train of three hot sports cars, they discover that they are in possession of something of great value to American agents, led by Dwayne Johnson, and a Brazilian crime kingpin. It’s a computer chip listing the locations of drug houses and bank accounts belonging to the well-connected mobster. The cache amounts to $100 million, which is a juicy enough sum to lure the old gang to Brazil and exploit their individual skills to crack an impenetrable safe at police headquarters, which is where the money now is being stashed. The rest of the movie is dominated by one long chase, interrupted by loud gun fights, brief strategizing sessions and chaotic fist fights. It’s all a lot of fun, with a high body count and a mountain of destroyed automobiles.

The bonus supplements are unusually plentiful, with interesting making-of featurettes and character studies; the theatrical release and slightly longer extended cut; second-screen interactive viewing; a U-Control picture-in-picture track and scene explorer; and several other backgrounders. – Gary Dretzka

The High Cost of Living
It isn’t unusual for someone who’s committed a crime or caused someone physical harm to think he can ease his conscience by approaching the victim and apologizing in person. If things work out, the victim will accept his apology and agree that the act was an aberration. If they don’t, such a confrontation could add to victim’s pain or a good ass-kicking from her dad or brothers. Some perpetrators delude themselves further, by thinking romance could make both parties whole, again. More or less, that’s what happens in Deborah Chow’s debut feature, “The High Cost of Living,” a drama in which none of the characters acts in ways normal people do. In it, Zach Braff plays a fashionably scruffy American deal dealer, Henry, who feels right at home among the French-speaking yuppies of Montreal. While responding to a call from a desperate customer, Henry turns the wrong way into a one-way street and hits a young woman hailing a cab. The woman, Nathalie (Isabelle Blais), is entering the third trimester of her pregnancy and is experiencing pains that resemble premature labor. Her inconsiderate, if dreamy-looking husband has been spending as little time as possible with her and isn’t available to drive her to the hospital. Henry’s first thought was to avoid being busted for the drugs in the car, so he merely heads for the nearest pay phone, calls paramedics and splits.

The next day, Nathalie learns that, while she’s only suffered a concussion, the baby will have to be delivered stillborn. She’s devastated by the news but her husband treats it as if it’s just another pothole in the road of life. It’s agreed that Nathalie will have to undergo an induced pregnancy, but she balks at the last minute. Indeed, she hadn’t even taken off the blouse she was wearing at the time of the accident. The thought of eliminating any evidence she was pregnant paralyzes her. It’s at this point that Henry re-enters the picture. To learn her name and condition, he pays a teenager to make inquiries. Once that’s accomplished, Henry puts himself in a position to observe her movements and, perhaps, cross paths. As Nathalie’s relationship with her husband collapses, Henry’s in the perfect place to make contact. Instead of immediately revealing the truth, he allows himself to become her unwitting friend and confidante. Meanwhile, the police have come to the conclusion that the teenage boy is the hit-and-run driver. The possibility that his young friend might end up taking the fall for him concerns Henry, but not to the point where he’ll admit his guilt either to the police or Nathalie.

Finally, of course, the truth can be hidden from the still-fragile young woman no longer and, once again, her heart is broken. Like any yuppie worth his sea salt, Henry fills as badly for himself as he does for Nathalie, the dead baby and a customer he’s just learned has OD’d and is fighting for her life. Chow is too inexperienced a director to keep “High Cost of Living” from becoming maudlin and emotionally unrealistic. I don’t know how drug dealers dress these days, but Braff is reasonably believable as someone who makes his living meeting requests for strictly regulated prescription pills. Blais is mostly asked to look blank, which she does pretty well. The only extra is a perfunctory interview with Zach Braff. – Gary Dretzka

Buck
Wild Horse Hank

At first glance, “Buck” looks as if it might be just another documentary about an aw-shucks cowpoke, who through the sheer force of cross-species charisma, is able to make horses do things they might not otherwise do voluntarily. A dozen years ago, Buck Brannaman served as the equine adviser on “The Horse Whisperer,” impressing Robert Redford with his ability to get his horses to perform stunts the specially trained Hollywood nags needed weeks to rehearse. Soft-spoken, but as tough as they come, Brannaman’s story was a movie waiting to be made. “Buck” is it. I can’t imagine any Hollywood portrait coming out any better.

First-time documentarian Cindy Meehl knocked around the country with Brannaman, from North Carolina to California, as he conducted seminars in front of serious horse enthusiasts, who, ostensibly, want to do something more than visit their oversized pets on the weekend. Here, Brannaman demonstrates such things as humanely breaking and training a colt, and teaching the owners how convince their horses that good behavior isn’t a virtue limited to humans. Not surprisingly, Buck is as patient with his students as he is with their animals. When need be, he can also be stern, laid back and humorous in equal measure.

New, I enjoy watching horses perform as much as the next guy, especially if the next guy is standing next to me at Santa Anita. I’m less keen on watching them being trained, even if they’re responding to whispers, instead of whips and spurs. What’s wonderful about “Buck” is witnessing the similarities between horses and humans, and how Brannaman’s wisdom applies equally to both. As a boy, Buck and his brother were raised by an alcoholic father who put together an act that included rope tricks. If they didn’t do well and, sometimes, even when they did, the boys would get whipped by their dad. Placed in a foster home after a gym coach reported the welts on his body to police, Buck found refuge in the home of a couple who understood that country ways didn’t preclude treating a stray with respect and love. His real break came when he reluctantly agreed to attend a clinic staged by Ray Hunt, a founder of the natural-horsemanship movement. In some ways, what Hunt was doing with horses, Buck’s foster parents were doing with him. He became a disciple of the natural method and continues to teach the discipline, today.

In “Buck,” Meehl also introduces us to Brannaman’s family and the rigors of living on the road for such a large portion of the year. Not surprisingly, perhaps, quite a bit of time is spent sitting around a cooler, swapping stories, showing off rope tricks and relaxing in the cool country air. The film’s most compelling scene is also its saddest. A young woman brings an unruly colt to the clinic, hoping Buck can find a way to mellow him out. Having survived a physically traumatic birth, the butter-hued colt has been a menace to himself and anyone who tries to tame him. Just when it looks as Buck may have gotten a handle on its misbehavior, the colt freaks out and nearly kills an experienced hand. Brannaman reluctantly agrees that the animal can’t be rescued and probably should be put down. Before giving up, however, Buck makes sure everyone at the clinic – including the owner – understands that the colt was being asked to do impossible things, given its condition. By not understanding its limits, the owner was effectively sealing the horse’s doom. After asking the owner a few more questions about her herd and stable, Buck revealed a psychological need in the woman that might have led to the core problem. Needless to say, Buck saw a whole lot of himself in that colt. The DVD adds a bunch of deleted scenes and commentary.

In 1979, the post-“Exorcist” Linda Blair starred alongside Richard Crenna in the contemporary family western, “Wild Horse Hank.” In it, Blair plays the title character, a college student who tries to save a herd of wild horses from being rounded up and sold for dog food by poachers. Hank devises a plan to round up the horses and escort them to federal land 150 rugged miles away from home. (That strategy might have worked 30-some years ago, but, today, the federal government would be in cahoots with the hoodlums attempting to exact blood money for the horses.) “Wild Horse Hank” was adapted from a novel by Mel Ellis. Shot in Alberta, Canada, it’s been difficult to find in video. Pair it with “Buck” and aspiring horsemen and horsewomen will find plenty to enjoy on a rainy weekend afternoon. – Gary Dretzka

Nostalgia for the Light
In Chile’s Atacama Desert, rain is more rumor than fact. At 10,000 feet above sea level, it is the driest place on Earth. Evidence of past aquatic and human life is everywhere, but it’s limited to fossils, shells and pictographs carved into the rocky cliffs. From the desert’s heights, an international team of astronomers studies the solar system, frequently capturing images of stars being born, dying and coming together in ways that seem to carry God’s own fingerprints. Nearby, in the desert, Satan’s handiwork lies inches below the Earth’s surface. The absence of humidity and harsh sunlight have conspired to limit the deterioration of bodies, be they the mummified remains of pre-Columbian inhabitants, the skeletons of explorers and miners, or the bodies of political prisoners who were murdered by police and soldiers in the wake of the U.S.-backed military coup, in 1973. The perforated and fractured skulls of anonymous students, activists and intellectuals reveal the cause of their deaths, if not the reasons why they were deemed too dangerous to be allowed to live. The affects of torture are evident on some decomposed bodies. While the astronomers go about their daily business, scanning the skies, the mothers, sisters and wives of “disappeared” activists sift the earth for evidence that their loved ones are buried there or if they existed at all. The discovery of mass graves keeps Chileans from forgetting what happened to their neighbors, associates and loved ones, who simply disappeared after right-wing militarists ousted Salvatore Allende, the first freely elected Marxist to become president of a Latin American nation.

Patricio Guzman has spent the better part of the last 40 years producing documentaries about Chile, before, during and after Allende presidency. In the face of political leaders who’ve asked citizens to put behind them the hellish events perpetrated during the Pinochet regime, Guzman has continually stood with mothers of the “disappeared” to ensure no one does. Even it’s impossible not to come to the same conclusions as those made in his previous docs, “Nostalgia for the Night” is far from being a rehash of old atrocities or a polemic. As poetic as it is informative, Guzman’s film tells several interesting stories simultaneously. First, we learn about the geological history of the remote Atacama Desert, where, last year, 33 miners were rescued after 69 days of being trapped 2,300 feet below ground. As we near the telescopes, we see the remains of concentration camps that housed political prisoners and labor leaders who were more fortunate than the already dead students, who were buried in the same desert or at sea. Inside the scientific encampments, we meet the men and women who are photographing the heavens, in search of evidence of its creation and clues to man’s origins. In Blu-ray, those images are spectacular. Finally, a visit to the mass graves forces us to address the persistence of memory and why it’s important not to forget the past.

The bountiful bonus package adds several featurettes that are more tightly focused on the individual political and scientific aspects of the documentary. The scientists get to expound on their discoveries and theories, while academics, politicians, relatives of the “disappeared” and survivors of torture discuss the importance of moving forward from the junta nightmare, without forgetting what happened. Among the more interesting speakers is a military official, old enough to remember taking orders from the leaders of the coup and police actions. His point of view is one not often registered in a country too ashamed of its past to try to learn from it. – Gary Dretzka

Dust
Stack enough tiny things on top of each other and eventually you’ll have a whole lot of something. That’s approximately half of the argument made in Harmtmut Bitomsky’s diverting documentary, “Dust.” The other half posits that dust, even at its least-visible manifestation, is so formidable a substance it can trigger devastating diseases and contribute to the creation of astonishingly beautiful things. Like the proverbial hot dog, though, the more closely one examines how dust is created, the less appetizing is the result. It can derive from something as simple as lint or flaking skin. Or it can be the detritus of things far less common and innocent. Without dwelling on the subject to the point of morbidity, Bitomsky reveals how dust still buried in nooks and crannies of buildings and subway tunnels of lower Manhattan — where the World Trade Center once stood — is composed, among other things, of construction debris, toxic garbage and human remains. Soldiers returning from our wars in Iraq have brought home with them minute particles of the depleted uranium used to make armor plating and armor-piercing projectiles. The photos of deformed fetuses, possibly the result of exposure to such poisonous dust, are not for the faint of heart.

“Dust,” however, doesn’t dwell on the dark side of dust. Indeed, the larger portion of it has fun with the impossible task of eliminating dust at home, work and play. Here, we watch fastidious German homemakers as they rid surfaces of a week’s worth of dust, but fail to conquer the particles trapped inside their televisions and other appliances. A janitor at a paint-making facility tries to sweep red particles onto a dustpan, always leaving a few visible on the floor. It also visits a plant where dust-cleansing machines are manufactured, thus perpetuating the myth that such a thing is even possible. The narrator delivers this news in a dry, matter-of-fact voice. The facts, after all, speak for themselves. Dust can devour entire cities, as happened in America’s Dust Bowl, and send its refugees packing for the green grass on the other side of the fence. It can clog essential water-delivery systems, from rivers to faucets. Without dust, the solar system as we know it couldn’t exist, let alone evolve. Hoagy Carmichael wrote “Stardust,” without knowing such a thing even existed.

The documentary doesn’t demand that we take action against the proliferation of dust, even though it’s probably a good idea to sweep the kitchen floor every so often. Neither does it promote a “green” agenda, per se. Anyone who doubts air pollution can be reduced, without devastating the local economy, need only compare photographs of Los Angeles from the 1950s to 2011 to see how regulations have worked to reduce smog. Informative and accessible, “Dust” is the kind of documentary that could be shown to high school science classes and not raise clouds of dissent from conservative parents or Tea Party activists. – Gary Dretzka

Soapdish
Although “Soapdish” isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as the genre parodies produced by Mel Brooks, the Wayans Brothers and the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker comedy factory, it should be. I’ve watched it several times and still find new things to enjoy. Not only do director Michael Hoffman and writers Robert Harling and Andrew Bergman send up the conventions, clichés and stereotypes of the networks’ afternoon soap operas – at a time, 1991, when there were several more such shows – but it also savages television executives, in general. Mostly, it has fun playing the actor against type, in roles that can only be described as outrageous. It would take a whole day to explain all of the plot twists, but it basically describes how far some actors, writers and executive-producers will go to sabotage the careers of their enemies and improve the odds for their own success. Sally Field stars as a soap-opera diva, Celeste Talbert, so unpopular with her co-workers that they conspire to get her killed off the show. When that proves difficult, they import a hated former boyfriend, Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline), who’s spent the last 20 years playing dinner theaters in Florida. Arriving in New York at about the same time is pretty ingénue Lori Craven (Elizabeth Shue), who’s grown up believing she’s Fields’ niece. In fact, the relationship is a bit more complicated, as becomes clear when Fields thinks Kline is hitting on the girl and the “All About Eve” subplot kicks in. Meanwhile, Cathy Moriarty’s Montana Moorehead (a.k.a., Nurse Nan) exchanges sexual favors for better parts with the director, played by Robert Downey Jr. Also appearing in key roles are Whoopi Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, Garry Marshall, Kathy Najima, Leeza Gibbons, John Tesh, Carrie Fisher, Costas Mandylor and Ben Stein. I’m not sure what, if anything is different in this DVD edition from previous ones, except for new cover art and a sticker marking the movie’s 20th anniversary. There’s also a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

Scream 4: Blu-ray
Elvira’s Haunted Hills

It isn’t often that a movie franchise is able to retain its director, writer, composer, DP and several of its stars over the course of four chapters and 15 years. The law of diminishing returns, alone, is sufficient cause for most of the original cast and crew to jump ship and find something else to do. If there’s a demand for another chapter, it makes more sense to hire younger, less expensive talent and release the sequel or prequel straight-to-video. Such is the respect accorded horror-meister Wes Craven that he was able to reunite writer Kevin Williamson, composer Marco Beltrami, cinematographer Peter Deming, voice actor Roger Jackson and stars Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell, for “Scream 4,” while also attracting a dozen or so of today’s brightest young actors. Anxious to be the next generation of pretty young things to be sliced and diced by Ghostface Killer were Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Dane Farwell, Aimee Teegarden, Emma Roberts, Britt Robertson, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Alison Brie, Hayden Panettiere, Marley Shelton, Rory Culkin, Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson.

Ten years after the last attacks, Ghostface has been elevated to cult status by students at Woodsboro High. The re-emergence of the hooded assassin coincides with the return of author Sidney Prescott (Campbell) to the town. Now married, Cox and Arquette’s characters also take the lead in investigating the bloody crimes. The students are more blasé, following the trail of mayhem on their cellphones and streaming video. For viewers, the horror owes more to the Foley artists and sound engineers than anyone else in the production. The vicious knife attacks would be much scarier, if we hadn’t entered the age of torture-porn in the period between No. 3 and No. 4. Now, the brutality is almost comical. Still, Craven and the returnees add a palpable touch of class to the proceedings. The Blu-ray edition adds a making-of featurette, commentary, an alternate opening and ending, 15 deleted scenes and a gag reel.

The double entendres in “Elvira’s Haunted Hills” begin with the title and end with … well … they never really end. While on her way to Paris, in 1851, the Mistress of the Dark is hijacked to a Carpathian castle, owned by an evil count who comes to believe she’s the incarnation of his late wife. While ensconced in the castle with her trusty maidservant, ZouZou, Elvira runs afoul of Lord Hellsubus’ current wife and mistress. Against them, Elvira’s feminine wiles prove to be pretty much worthless. If she isn’t rescued by the men she has under her spell, the Mistress of Darkness will be sliced in half, laterally, by a razor-edged pendulum. As the silver blade cleaves the canyon between her mountainous breasts, the title, “Elvira’s Haunted Hills,” is given added meaning. This scene and the few others that work owe everything to our memories of such Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe collaborations as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “House of Usher” and “Tomb of Ligeia.” These are titles Elvira’s alter ego, Cassandra Peterson, reveres and inform the entire project, which is less parody than homage. She gets solid support from veterans of the Groundlings comedy troupe and other sketch-comedy practitioners. Lord Hellsubus is played by Richard O’Brien, memorable as Riff-Raff in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The DVD includes a making-of featurette, “Transylvania or Bust”; a Richard O’Brien interview; outtakes; a photo gallery; and audio commentary.The cast and crew’s stories about working under primitive conditions in Romania are funnier than most of the gags in the movie, itself. “Elvira’s Haunted Hills” feels more like an extended sketch on SCTV than a fully realized feature. Elvira’s fans should enjoy it, though. – Gary Dretzka

Legend of the Millennium Dragon: Blu-ray
Gamera: Trilogy: Blu-ray
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris: Blu-ray

For the past 300 years, or so, American children of European descent have led a bland spiritual life, compared, at least, with kids whose heritage allowed for more than one god and other mystical lords of creation. The Old Testament is pretty entertaining, but, apart from the occasional serpent, polytheism is pretty much discouraged. Conquistadors made sure Aztecs and Incas bought into the New Testament, while the U.S. Cavalry made the American west safe for stodgy old monotheism. In return, the protectors of the faith were allowed to plunder any gold and land left behind. The recent spate of movies based on mythical and/or paranormal beings – “Thor,” “Clash of the Titans,” “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” – suggests that American kids are looking for heroes and quick fixes to this world’s problems. If someone dared make a movie about a caped and masked Jesus, who stopped terrorists and sexual predators in their tracks, a franchise could be built around his exploits.

Watching fantastical DVDs such as “Legend of the Millennium Dragon,” “Gamera” and too many others to count, I’m reminded that Asian, African, Native American and other aboriginal peoples have found answers to life’s most difficult questions in places biblical fundamentalists wouldn’t bother to look, including enchanted forests, great pyramids, the ruins of Atlantis or the ghosts of ancestors. I, for one, would be delighted to pick up a newspaper one morning and learn that a giant fire-breathing turtle, multi-headed dragon or Transformer had wiped out every military command post from North Africa to Kashmir. As it is, the End of Days scenario looks more plausible every day.

In the anime, “Legend of the Millennium Dragon,” a restive 15-year-old boy from present-day Japan is spirited 1,200 years back in time to prevent the future from becoming any more twisted than it already is. The boy, Jun, was born with a dragon-shaped birthmark on his chest, suggesting he is a descendent of tribe of warriors from the Heian period. Hairy demons are besieging the kingdom – upon which Kyoto now sits — and the rulers believe Jun can awake the resident sleeping dragon, Orochi, and save their regime. Not being quite what they appear to be, the demons kidnap Jun for the purposes of educating him about the true peaceful nature of his ancestors and the threat the current rulers pose to the health of the planet. A wimp in either millennium, Jun can’t imagine how he might be able to go against the demons or ride a dragon, let alone be anyone’s “savior.” His only experience with violence is destroying monster villains of the video-game variety. Even so, he listens to the arguments of both sets of combatants, before committing himself. “Millennium Dragon” benefits from some splendid animation. The natural backgrounds, temples and forests pop nicely in Blu-ray. As usual, though, the humans are drawn to resemble a generic ideal. By merging all nationalities into one, none stand out as being special … even Jun. The demons and dragons display more personality than the humans. The Blu-ray adds a concept-art gallery.

My exposure to Japan’s “Gamera” films is strictly through recent DVD compilations. The cult appeal of the cheeseball monster is obvious, but, having grown up on Godzilla and other mutant monsters, I wasn’t all that impressed with the giant, flying, fire-breathing turtle. The original series hit a wall in the early 1980s, when American special-effects wizards began turning out far more credible creatures. That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by the “Gamera” trilogy that arrived for my consideration this week. The difference is so telling, we might as well be talking about two different super-turtles. Launched in 1995, the films represent a quantum leap in Japanese special-effects work and story-telling. Instead, of looking like a poor relation to “Godzilla,” the adventures of the greatly misunderstood reptile is given a pedestal of his own on which to stand. The robotics and CGI effects look far more realistic against the green screen and miniature sets, and the human characters appear to be reacting to a real threat, instead of cardboard cutouts. Moreover, the trilogy really sparkles terrific in Blu-ray.

After about a 15-year absence, the Heisei Gamera trilogy relaunched with “Guardian of the Universe.” It was followed in short order by “Attack of Legion” and “Revenge of Iris.” The threats to Japan in this series include huge man-eating birds; meteor-borne insects; and a blood-sucking squid-like creature. Gamera comes to Japan’s rescue, but the military continues to doubt its intentions. Fans will want to check out the bonus features, which include making-of featurettes; extended scenes; camera tests; remixes; interviews; and trailers. – Gary Dretzka

Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On: Blu-ray
The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure: Blu-ray
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Blu-ray

It takes a very special entertainer to fill the 4,100-seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace night after night for months at a time. In their prime, Sinatra, Elvis, Liberace and Michael Jackson probably could have done it. Streisand could, but won’t. Celine Dion and Elton John will continue to alternate months-long stints there, at least through 2012. After a somewhat shaky start, in 2008, Bette Midler kept the turnstiles turning with her trashy-flashy revue, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” for two years. The Colosseum is unique among Vegas venues in that the extremely wide and deep stage tends to gobble up lesser entertainers and make them disappear, at least from the top-level seats. Midler’s been a larger-than-life performer, ever since the early 1970s, when she began performing at New York’s Continental Baths, accompanied by Barry Manilow. A year later, during her tour in “Tommy,” she would make the first of many appearances on “The Tonight Show.” At Caesars, she was joined on stage by a 13-piece band; her backup singers, the Harlettes; and 16 dancers, the Caesar Salad Girls. Her costume changes, alone, were worth at least a portion of the steep ticket price. Unlike most such Vegas extravaganzas, Midler’s flight of fancy is available now on Blu-ray. The brisk 70-minute show includes such songs “The Rose,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “From a Distance,” “Hello in There,” “Friends” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Pee-wee Herman’s stage presence may not be quite as dynamic as Midler’s, but he’s every bit as unique a performer. The evidence can be seen in this recording of his Broadway show, which first aired in a 90-minute HBO special. Ever since Pee-wee’s alter ego, Paul Reubens was busted in a Florida movie theater for lewd behavior, he’s has been struggling to convince promoters and studio executives that he’s not a dangerous sex fiend and millions of fans still love him. Over-cautious casting directors, however, choose instead to ignore the fact that Pee-wee appealed as much to adults as kids, and kept him in professional limbo for most of the last 20 years. After appearing in several out-of-character roles in high profile movies and TV shows, Reubens reinvented “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” for the stage. It was an immediate success. The show revolves loosely around Pee-wee’s longtime desire to fly. It boasts 11 actors, 20 puppets, original songs and the same kooky attitude that enchanted a generation of now-middle-age adults. The vibrant colors of the set furniture, costumes and wigs are a natural fit for the Blu-ray format. It also includes commentary.

In 1985, Reubens and aspiring filmmaker Tim Burton collaborated on the delightful feature-length “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” In it, Our Hero sets off on a wild cross-country journey, in search of his stolen bicycle. As strange as it is to watch an adult obsess over something only a kid could take that seriously, it’s just as weird to observe the pre-pubescent character pretending to be a grown-up when the occasional rose. Many of the signature touches that would come to characterize Burton’s work are already on display in “Big Adventure,” although it isn’t easy to tell exactly if they originated with Reubens or Burton. Some of the fun here comes in recognizing Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, James Brolin, Tony Bill, Dee Snider, Milton Berle and Elizabeth Daly. The Blu-ray bonus package includes commentary by Reubens and Burton, additional scenes, sketches and storyboards, and a music-only track with Danny Elfman. Pee-wee’s character has been so consistent and recognizable – going on 30 years, now – that it isn’t hard to believe he would have fit well alongside such silent greats as Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd and Fatty Arbuckle, whose popularity demanded they never stray very far from the character that paid the bills.

Twenty years later, Burton and Elfman would re-team on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The darkish fantasy was adapted, if quite differently from the same Roald Dahl novel as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Reportedly, Dahl was so unhappy with that production that he refused to listen to overtures for a sequel and put strict limits on who could remake it. That Burton would choose Johnny Depp to portray the chocolate magnate came as no surprise to anyone familiar with their collaborative history. Depp’s interpretation, however, drew unfavorable comparisons to Michael Jackson, who was at the height of his legal troubles at the time. It might have cut into revenues a bit, but the darker adaptation found an appreciative audience here and in international markets. The wildly imaginative and brilliantly colorful chocolate factory stands in sharp contrast to the Dickensian look of Charlie Bucket’s neighborhood, and demands a second screening just to absorb all of its cavity-inducing pleasures. Among the many visual effects is the digital multiplication of actor Deep Roy into dozens of Oompa-Loompas. The Blu-ray captures all of it marvelously, adding a dozen bonus features, including “Attack of the Squirrels,” “The Fantastic Mr. Dahl,” pre-visualizations, commentary and a separate music track. – Gary Dretzka

Up From Slavery
Slavery in the American South represented one of the greatest disconnects in the history of mankind. Even as our young democracy held itself up as an example for all nations to follow, millions of forcibly transplanted Africans were required to work in the fields of plantation owners who probably had the family bible on display in their libraries. The myth held that farmers couldn’t sustain themselves if it weren’t for unpaid laborers, and, by extension, the agricultural South would fall behind the industrial North as commercial force. The same excuses that weren’t true in the 1800s, however, are being used today when manufacturers close factories in the U.S. and move their operations to countries that condone near-slave-labor conditions. Even the greatest political, religious and military leaders of the nascent United States – South and North — couldn’t bring themselves to equate the tyranny of British monarchs to the inherent evil of slavery. As the country matured, the case for the abolition of slavery was adopted by many powerful voices in the North and, of course, the impasse led to a devastating Civil War. Among other concerns, working people feared that a Confederate victory could mean slavery would be adopted by northern industrialists. Today, 150 years after the first gun was fired, it’s difficult to understand how God-fearing men and women could defend slavery, even in the face of temporary economic doldrums.

The seven-part “Up From Slavery” chronicles the history of slavery in America, from the arrival of African slaves at Jamestown in 1619, to the Civil War and ratification of the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote to all citizens. It would be replaced by Jim Crow racism, the Klan and poll taxes, of course, but it represented a fresh start. The mini-series is informed by historical re-enactments, archival photographs and documents, interviews with scholars and historians, and the reading of first-hand accounts. – Gary Dretzka

The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season: Special Edition
George: A Zombie Intervention

This being the Golden Age of zombie movies and all, I think it’s fair to wonder if undead audiences rent horror movies when they’re at home or watch “Seinfeld” re-runs, like everyone else. I can’t recall a week in which a new zombie-vampire screener hasn’t arrived in the mail. Most are tedious, while the rest are divided between surprisingly good and downright unwatchable. Only occasionally does something that elevates the horror genre make its presence known. This week’s special something is the deluxe first-season Blu-ray edition of “The Walking Dead.” Produced by Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) and Gale Anne Hurd (“Aliens”) and based on the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, the limited-run series successfully filled a gaping hole on the AMC schedule left by smash successes “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” and weak sisters – ratings-wise, anyway — “The Prisoner” and “Rubicon.” Zombies? Who knew?

Like several other post-apocalyptic dramas released lately, “Walking Dead” follows a sheriff’s deputy, who wakes from a coma to find his wife and son missing and the world in a state of collapse. After tracing his family to Atlanta, he joins a band of Atlanta-based survivors, willing to help him find his wife and son. What separates the wheat from the chaff here is the producers’ ability to spread the violence, gore and mayhem over six episodes, instead of two hours, thus allowing room for the drama and suspense to evolve naturally. The writing is excellent and performances inspired. A first-season DVD and Blu-ray were released last spring, but this special edition is targeted specifically to serious fans and horror geeks. In addition to all six episodes and making-of featurettes, the three-disc, collector’s-tin package adds a black-and-white (a.k.a., noir) version of the pilot; audio commentaries on all six episodes; and new featurettes, “We Are the Walking Dead,”; “Bring Out the Dead: KNB and the Art of Making Zombies,” “Digital Decay: The VFX of ‘The Walking Dead,’” “No More Room in Hell: ‘The Walking Dead’ Phenomenon,” “Adapting ‘The Dead’” and “Killer Conversations: Frank Darabont & Greg Nicotero.” Previously released special features are included, as well.

On the other end of spectrum resides “George: A Zombie Intervention” (a.k.a., “George’s Intervention”), a micro-budget genre flick that is sporadically funny, but finally defeated by its lack of resources. George is a zombie whose appetite for flesh has increased to the point of addiction. In an effort to keep George from going off the deep end, his friends arrange an intervention. His recovery is derailed, however, when various guests are killed and put on George’s menu du jour. When he runs out of interventionists to eat, George sates his between-meal urges by noshing on Mormon missionaries and a pair of strippers, who arrive at his door unexpectedly. The funniest moments, by far, come early. The film opens with a government PSA designed to educate children about the origin and nature of zombies. Like the vampires in “True Blood,” they function like most other human beings, unless they become addicted to flesh. In his first feature, writer/director J.T. Seaton demonstrates an ability to do a lot with a little and wring laughs from marginal material. The DVD arrives with commentary, deleted and alternate scenes, and featurette not included in the screener I received. – Gary Dretzka

The Honeymooners : Lost Episodes 1951-1957: The Complete Restored Series
Bored to Death: The Complete Second Season
The League: Season 2
Lie to Me: Season 3

It can be argued that all television sitcoms are rooted in earth tilled in the 1950s by Jackie Gleason and “The Honeymooners.” Despite the fact that it began as a series of sketches on the DuMont Network’s “Cavalcade of Stars” and was shot on set that looked as if it were cobbled together with Salvation Army discards, “The Honeymooners” would become – and remain – one of the funniest shows in the history of television. The characters never rose above their working-class station in life, nor would Ralph Kramden realize any of his pipedreams. The couples fought like real people did everyday in apartment buildings everywhere – loud enough to be heard on the street – but demonstrated on a weekly basis how love is stronger than anger. The so-called “lost episodes” of CBS’ “The Jackie Gleason Show” – actually, sketches within the immensely popular hourlong variety program – were believed to be lost, as they were shot live and never rebroadcast. Decades later, Kinescopes of the episodes were recovered from Gleason’s personal archives. Sixty years later, MPI Home Video and Jackie Gleason Enterprises have combined efforts on this collection, giving the episodes a thorough makeover and adding other vintage material. For those who weren’t even a gleam in the eyes of their grandparents when the shows first aired, Gleason played a Brooklyn bus driver and his best friend, Ed Norton (Art Carney), was a sewer worker … and proud of it. Their wives, Alice (Audrey Meadows) and Trixie (Joyce Randolph), have been universally described as long-suffering women, who stretched limited resources to make ends meet. They were, however, the equal of their spouses in most every way allowed them on the fledgling medium, and stood up to their husband’s rants and antics in ways sitcom wives wouldn’t do for the next 30 or more years. Watching “The Honeymooners” in 2011 shouldn’t be dismissed as a mere exercise in nostalgia. Like “I Love Lucy,” “Burns and Allen,” “The Jack Benny Program” and “The Phil Silvers Show,” “The Honeymooners” remains funnier than 95 percent of the sitcoms that have been produced in the ensuing 60 years of prime-time television. The 15-disc DVD set contains all 107 live episodes; 8 musical episodes; 9 episodes from “Cavalcade of Stars”; 2 radio episodes; interviews with the stars; original introductions, curtain calls and cast commercials; color home movies on the set; a booklet with historical text and photos; original scripts for three missing episodes; and digital restorations.

The HBO sitcom “Bored to Death” chronicles the misadventures and missed opportunities of unlicensed P.I. and failed novelist Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) as he plies his trades in the streets, college classrooms and penthouses of New York. During the show’s second season, the storylines of characters played by Jake Galifianakis (an ill-tempered comic-book author) and Ted Danson (a millionaire publisher) are allowed more time to develop, while Ames’ assignments grow increasingly stranger. “Bored to Death” is targeted at hipsters willing to abide with Schwartzman’s deadpan acting and plots that take their own sweet time to develop. This season, Danson’s character is required to deal with cost-cutting initiatives and drug tests at work, as well as a cancer scare; Galifianakis’ Ray fails a yoga test, hits paydirt with a new comic and gets within one-degree of separation of Kevin Bacon; and Ames’ investigations lead him to a S&M dungeon, Asian health spa, Brooklyn ComicCon and an unlucky-in-love limousine driver. The Blu-ray set adds deleted scenes and outtakes, making-of pieces and commentary.

FX’s “The League” is a dudes-will-be-dudes comedy set against the backdrop of an annual Fantasy Football competition. The characters, who have known each other since high school, are so obsessed with the childish demands of Fantasy Football that they refuse to let anything – spouses, girlfriends and work included – get between them and a possible league championship. Things get complicated when one of the wives begins to think that filling a vacancy in her husband’s league could be an opportunity to bond. It isn’t. If the sitcom’s core conceit sounds as if it might be driven by testosterone, potential women viewers should know that the male characters are typical yuppie doofuses, who couldn’t tie their shoes without a woman telling them how to do it. (At a Vegas strip club, the guys ignore a nearly naked dancer until she tells them about the bad habits of some of the players. Instead of throwing dollar bills at her, they pay her $200 for a trip to the Champagne Room, where the forgo lap dances and simply compare notes on the upcoming fantasy draft.) Guest appearances are made by NFL stars Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Suggs and Josh Cribbs. The DVD set adds several deleted and extended scenes, as well as other uncensored material.

At a time when so many police investigators are blessed – or cursed – with a sixth sense that allows them to read minds, solve crimes using ESP and time-shift, the ability to translate body language wouldn’t seem to be much of a superpower. It was, however, good enough reason for fans and Fox to stay with Fox’s “Lie to Me” for four seasons. The show shut down production last season, despite the estimable presence of Brit actor Tim Roth in the lead role and a supporting cast that includes Kelli Williams, Brendan Hines, Monica Raymund and Hayley McFarland. The DVD set includes all 13 final-season episodes, deleted scenes and an “In Character” with Roth. – Gary Dretzka

Ken Burns: Prohibition; Blu-ray
Jacques Pepin: The Essential Pepin
American Experience: Houdini
Nova: Ancient Marvels: Explorer Collection
Best of Antiques Roadshow
In markets underserved by PBS, including Los Angeles, it will come as good news that Ken Burns’ latest documentary project, “Prohibition,” already is available in DVD and Blu-ray. The mini-series, currently airing on many public-broadcasting outlets, exhaustively recalls one of the great failures of American democracy. Burns’ team examines the role played by demon rum and beer throughout the history of the U.S. – even before baseball became a pastime, alcohol was as American as mom, hot dogs and apple pie – and the disparate forces that convinced politicians that banning it was a good idea. As has been made clear in HBO’s complementary “Boardwalk Empire,” the most telling results of Prohibition were the growth of organized crime and widespread flaunting of the Volstead Act by otherwise law-abiding citizens. As is typical of any Burns project, “Prohibition” is as much a cultural portrait of the times as it is a study of a single divisive issue or pastime. The Blu-ray package contains more than two hours of interviews, scenes and studio material not included in the PBS presentation.

Along with former collaborator Julia Child, Jacques Pepin was encouraging Americans to cook with and enjoy “good” food, decades before the launch of the Food Network and green-is-groovy craze. His new PBS cooking series, “Essential Pépin,” demystifies the creation of classic gourmet dishes, without ignoring traditional meals that might have come out of grandma’s kitchen. The new DVD is comprised of 26 half-hour episodes, all of which are preceded with an introduction and add step-by-step recipes. Pepin often shares his oven with family members and guest chefs.

Few performers in the history of show business enjoyed the popularity and cult-like following of Harry Houdini, a magician whose escape tricks brought him closer to death than he would ever admit. “American Experience: Houdini” documents his rise from circus performer, sideshow attraction and vaudeville, to the grand theater circuit and public challenges before thousands of people. A master contortionist, he invented tricks, escapes and machinery still being performed today. He also dabbled in aviation and film production, and performed a public service by debunking spiritualists. The hourlong program includes commentary with David Copperfield, the Amazing Randi and E.L. Doctorow, who made Houdini a key character in “Ragtime.” It also is informed by much archival film footage and photographs.

Also from PBS, “Ancient Marvels” carries viewers to the far ends of the Earth to experience some of man’s greatest architectural achievements. Even today, answers to questions relating to the construction of these wonders remain elusive. The five-disc set DVD set is comprised of “Nova” productions, “Ghosts of Machu Picchu,” “Riddles of the Sphinx,” “Secrets of Stonehenge,” “Secrets of the Parthenon” and “Secrets of Lost Empires II: Easter Island,” with the bonus episode, “China Bridge.”

A red, white and blue edition of “Best of Antiques Roadshow” contains episodes “Simply the Best,” “Trash to Treasure” and “Politically Collect.” It’s interesting that the show, which began on the BBC in the ’70s, now has been transplanted in a half-dozen different countries, including the U.S. That may not be comparable to the syndication numbers put up by “Wheel of Fortune,” but it’s not bad for a PBS reality show. – Gary Dretzka

Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People
Nickelodeon Favorites: Merry Christmas

I don’t know how to break this to parents who use the Cartoon Network as a video baby-sitter, but if “Adventure Time” had been around in the ’60s, it might have been designated the official TV show of the Haight-Ashbury. Its brilliant color palette, which changes with the drop of a hat, recalls the trippy paintings of Peter Max, while the stories and dialogue are similarly unconventional. The episodes collected in the “My Two Favorite People” DVD follow 12-year-old Finn, as he embarks on ever-more-bizarre adventures in the land of Ooo with his best friend, Jake, a 28-year old dog with magical powers. The names of other featured characters include Princess Bubblegum, Ice King, Peppermint Butler, Lumpy Space Princess, Lady Rainicorn and Marceline the Vampire. What happens to them in each psychotropic episode is the stuff dreams and nightmares are made of. Kids don’t have to be aspiring acid heads to enjoy “Adventure Time,” though, because the stories are wonderfully fanciful, imaginatively drawn and open to myriad interpretations. Parents and grandparents of a certain age, however, may consider saving the disc for later consumption, when the lighting of a joint might enhance the experience.

Nickelodeon’s “Merry Christmas” takes this year’s prize for first holiday DVD to be released almost a month before Halloween. Early-bird buyers should know that the 148-minute set is comprised of previously shown Christmas-themed episodes of “Dora the Explorer,” Go, Diego, Go!,” “The Wonder Pets!,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Team Umizoomi” and “Ni Hao, Kai-lan.” – Gary Dretzka

Pulp Fiction: Blu-ray
Jackie Brown: Blu-ray

So much has been written about “Pulp Fiction,” it hardly seems necessary to remind anyone of the plot, which, in any case, defies description. Quentin Tarantino weaves several seemingly unrelated storylines throughout the movie’s 154 minutes, merging them at various points in the narrative and separating them, again, almost arbitrarily. Each story string is thematically compelling, extremely well acted and precisely written. Tarantino took risks, even in the casting, few directors would have attempted. Within two years, dozens of other filmmakers attempted to follow in his footsteps, making him one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. The better ones found ways to take advantage of the freedom accorded by the commercial and critical success of “Pulp Fiction,” while carving new paths of their own. The lesser ones will go to the graves with the label, “Tarantino wanna-be.”

So, what’s new here, besides the audio/video upgrade? The Blu-ray edition adds fresh interviews with the cast and a critics’ roundtable to several previous featurettes. In total, the bonus content adds up to six hours.

Compared to “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown” feels downright mainstream, which isn’t to say that it isn’t full of surprises of its own. Tarantino could just as easily have taken the source material, Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch,” and kept it in Miami, using the same characters and criminal acts. Instead, he transferred the setting to Los Angeles, made several of the key characters black, and changed the sexes of Ordell’s henchmen. In doing so, Tarantino was able to bring the film’s geographical and cultural references closer to his L.A. home; add a soundtrack heavy on classic R&B; and trim some weight from Robert Forster’s jaded bail-bondsman, Max Cherry. His greatest coup, besides reminding us of how talented Forster still is, was deciding early-on to hand the title role to blaxploitation icon Pam Grier and letting her run with it. As far as I can tell, the only new bonus feature in the Blu-ray edition is an extension of the same critics’ roundtable found in “Pulp Fiction.” The pre-packaged material adds another 2½ hours to supplemental material. – Gary Dretzka

The Anaheim Angels: 2002 World Series Collector’s Edition
Angels Memories: The Greatest Moments in Angels Baseball History

Now that the baseball playoffs have begun, millions of fans are being forced to grin and bear their favorite team’s absence, while watching more fortunate teams perform. One way to lessen the pain somewhat is to check out the Major League Baseball website to see if it’s gotten around to recording their team’s glory years, as is the case here with the Angels. The latest installment of the franchise DVD collection includes highlights from the 50-year history of the Anaheim Angels (a.k.a., California Angels and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). Gene Autry founded and owned the team, which originally played its games at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field and, then, the new Dodger Stadium, before moving to its current digs in Anaheim. The 2002 World Series edition follows the exciting post-season saga of the Angels, which became the first American League wild-card team to win the World Series championship. The seven-DVD collection contains every pitch, hit, clutch home run and sterling defensive play in the seven-game series against the San Francisco Giants, as well as guest appearances by Rally Monkey. A special feature allows fans to watch the World Series television broadcast and listen to the play-by-play coverage of Angels Radio Network announcers.

Angels Memories” celebrates all 50 years of the team’s history, with special attention paid to such star players as pitchers Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Mike Witt, Don Sutton, John Lackey and Jered Weaver; hitters Rod Carew, Tim Salmon, Don Baylor, Reggie Jackson, Garret Anderson and Fred Lynn; and managers Bill Rigney, Gene Mauch, Jim Fregosi and current skipper Mike Scioscia. Many other milestones are represented along the way. – Gary Dretzka

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4 Responses to “The Lion King, African Cats, Submarine, Fast Five, Buck, Nostalgia, Dust, Gamera, Bette Midler, Pee-wee Herman …”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon