MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: West Side Story, Perfect Age of Rock, The Tree, Beginners, Rio Sex Comedy, Bellflower, Money Matters, It Takes a Thief …

West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition Box Set: Blu-ray
When “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957, audiences and critics understood immediately they were watching something new and possibly revolutionary in musical theater. The book was as topical as tabloid, with a message that was as old and familiar as “Romeo & Juliet.” The songs soon would find their way to the nation’s jukeboxes and the dancers looked as if they might have been choreographed by someone who’d watched “American Bandstand” once or twice. Parents could recognize their children on stage, while teenager saw themselves. Juvenile delinquency and gang violence still may have been uncommon diversions for young people living in the boonies, but radios carried the message that something good was coming. “West Side Story” reflected a new American reality, which spoke less to conventional values and courtly romance than to alienation, rebellion and a constitutionally guaranteed right to pursue happiness in any ways unimaginable before World War II. Although “West Side Story” performed extremely well on Broadway and in London’s West End, critically and commercially, it wasn’t wholly embraced by Tony voters. Consequently, when it came time for Hollywood to afford a lavish roadshow production, it’s likely the musical’s originators – composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, choreographer Jerome Robbins, director Hal Prince, writer Arthur Laurents — saw it has an opportunity to even the score with the Broadway establishment. If that indeed was a motivating factor for the filmmakers, co-directors, Robbins and Robert Wise met the challenge and exceeded all expectations. That isn’t to say that the migration from stage to screen was a walk in Central Park, because egos were bruised along the way and concessions to the Hollywood conventions didn’t always sit easily with the Broadway brain trust.

If certain prominent casting changes caused an uproar in New York and Los Angeles, the people who lived in between showed their approval by voting with their wallets. “West Side Story” blew the doors off the nation’s box offices, before and after running away with Oscars in 10 of the 11 categories in which it was nominated, including Best Picture. It is a milestone for movie musicals that still stands. The soundtrack album made from the score of the movie broke records, as well, even outselling the Broadway-cast recording. It also carries the distinction of being one of the only Broadway-originated musicals that could honesty be considered a date flick, as entertaining and romantic for teenage boys and young adult males as their dates. As a side benefit, the widespread popularity of “West Side Story” gave teachers a leg up when it came to introducing Shakespeare to high school knuckleheads. The phenomenon was repeated in 1996, when Baz Luhrmanns’ adaptation rocked Hollywood by becoming a huge hit with the same kids who made MTV a sensation.

MGM/Fox’s 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition not only looks and sounds great, but it also serves as a reminder of how much a stage musical can benefit from being shot on location – in key parts, anyway – in the same streets and playgrounds that inspired the production’s creative team. It’s amusing to see how much less fearsome the gang members look today than they seemed a half-century. The same could be said for the background hooligans in “Blackboard Jungle,” though. The most controversial casting decisions were the result of a desire on the filmmakers’ part to hire actors who actually could pass for teenagers in real life. In fact, most were younger at the time of the production than the actors who auditioned for roles in the “Glee” production of “West Side Story.” Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer both were 22 when it was being shot and they haven’t aged a minute in our collective imagination since then. Even if their voices weren’t actually used on the soundtrack, their rendition of “Somewhere” is still capable of breaking our hearts. The fight scenes, too, will have newcomers to the movie on the edge of their seats. Tech purists have noticed a few problems with the hi-def transfer, but none large enough to undermine the experience for most viewers. The color scheme and lighting are absolutely brilliant. For the most part, this “West Side Story” is a close as we’re likely to get to the original, which was shot in Super Panavision 70. It will give anyone’s home theater setup a run for its money. The Blu-ray has been re-mastered in1080p with 7.1 DTS-HD sound. The new featurettes include “Pow! The Dances of West Side Story,” which can be accessed as in-movie supplements or stand-alones; song-specific commentary by Stephen Sondheim; a Music Machine video jukebox; “A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy,” in celebrities and former cast members discuss the musical’s impact on popular culture; the previously released, hour-long “West Side Memories”; storyboard comparisons; a tribute album; reproductions of international posters on postcards; a book of photos; and DVD copy. A Blu-ray/DVD package also is available without all the bling. – Gary Dretzka

Perfect Age of Rock ’N’ Roll
Scott D. Rosenbaum’s debut feature is equal parts memory play, road movie and conjecture based on the notion that 27 is a cursed age for popular musicians. The theory is based on the coincidental deaths of Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (Grateful Dead), Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (Canned Heat), Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and a couple dozen other musicians whose names would qualify for inclusion in a game of Trivial Pursuit. It’s at 27 that songwriter Eric (Jason Ritter), one of the lead characters in “Perfect Age of Rock N Roll,” passes into the Great Beyond, leaving behind a 20-year-old mystery for a contemporary journalist to solve. As the movie opens, the writer is preparing to approach Eric’s former partner, Spyder (Kevin Zegers), a goth-rock legend who now resembles Howard Hughes on his deathbed. After considerable prodding, Spyder relates the circumstances of the final cross-country trip he made with Eric, in 1991. They hadn’t spent any time together since Spyder had turned Eric’s purloined songs into a hit album for himself. Lacking even the vaguest clue at how to write a good song, the burnout asks his former friend to forgive his trespasses and join him in the recording studio in L.A., but only if brings along some new tunes. Based on looks alone, it doesn’t seem possible that Eric’s material would suit Spyder’s dark and twisted stage persona, but he finally agrees to join him on a road trip with other the backup band. Joining them at the wheel will be Peter Fonda’s August West, as a onetime rock promoter who believes his passengers would benefit from a crash course in classic-rock musicology. Not surprisingly, perhaps, August turns out to be the most compelling person in the movie. As passengers, Spyder is a psycho and Eric is a grump. Complicating things even further, both men sleep with Spyder’s pretty, if superfluous manager, Rose Atropos (Taryn Manning), whose mostly good intentions are compromised by a lust for cocaine. Just as tensions begin to boil over, Eric and Spyder get drunk and share the only genuine moment in the whole movie. The bar into which they stumble so happens to be a funky blues joint, where Spyder invites himself on stage with old-timers Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin. Eric is invited to join them on “Train Keeps A’Rolling” and it’s wonderful. Once the bus reaches L.A., things once again descend into chaos, Eric disappears and the movie ends. The DVD arrives with a behind-the-scenes featurette; “Turn Me On” music video; outtake performances; and deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka

The Tree
Julie Bertuccelli’s strange family drama, “The Tree,” harkens to period in the Australian cinema when the answers to life’s most persistent mysteries were found in the natural elements and the people who lived in harmony with them. Charlotte Gainsbourg is terrific as Dawn, the newly widowed mother of four young children living a hard-scrabble life in rural Queensland. Practically comatose for months after her husband’s untimely death, Dawn is resuscitated by the thought – advanced by her precocious 8-year-old daughter, Simone (Morgana Davies) – that his spirit inhabits the giant tree growing like crazy just off the family’s front porch. Its roots are spreading along the yard’s surface at an alarming speed, endangering the foundation of their house and a neighbor’s garden. To prevent Dawn’s extremely helpful and handsome new boyfriend from extinguishing the torch her mother still carries for her late husband, Simone takes up residence in the tree and refuses to come down. Her resistance, at first humorous, rapidly becomes frightening as it becomes obvious that the tree presents a danger to the family’s well-being and must be removed. Simone’s behavior and Dawn’s reluctance to discipline her eventually impact negatively on her relationship with the only man in town who doesn’t think she’s nuts. It takes a calamity for Simone to return to Earth.

“The Tree” requires a great deal of patience to enjoy on Bertuccelli’s terms. She demands that we become intimately familiar with the family before anything particularly dramatic or unusual happens to them. The children each have unique personalities and Dawn undergoes a metamorphosis that takes her from bleak to ecstatic as she grows to love another man. If “The Tree” were an American or British production, instead of French and Australian, I think we’d already be hearing Gainsbourg’s name in the same breath as other early Oscar favorites. She’s simply one of the world’s best actresses and has been for a long time. Bertuccelli’s previous film, “Since Otar Left,” is the more compelling of her two features, I think, but “The Tree” demands more intellectually of the audience. Different viewers will take far different things from the story, which was adapted from Judy Pascoe’s “Our Father Who Art in a Tree.” Anyone who has admired such Aussie entertainments as “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “The Last Wave” and “Walkabout” really should give “The Tree” a shot. It comes with a pretty good making-of featurette and deleted scenes that answered a few of the questions I had about the story. – Gary Dretzka

Beginners
Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
Bite Marks
Lost Everything

If any proof were needed that someone in this country is capable of making a romantic dramedy that is intelligent, moving, funny and authentic, and doesn’t rely on pratfalls, cheap sentiment and star power to hold its audience, it can be found in “Beginners.” Mike Mills’ often very moving story isn’t for everyone, certainly. Viewers who still are uncomfortable watching gay men openly demonstrate their love for other in public settings – in distinctly non-pornographic ways — may lack the patience required to allow the movie to win them over, as it will less squeamish people. Neither is it fun to watch an extremely likable character cope with the inevitability of a painful death to cancer (not AIDS-related). Ewan McGregor plays a graphic artist, Oliver, whose father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), happily exited the closet after the death of his longtime wife. In doing so, Hal finally acknowledged something he knew to be true ever since he was 13. Growing up, Oliver had suspected an invisible force was coming between his parents, but he wasn’t sure what it was. The revelation of his father’s sexuality doesn’t appear to have wounded the son in any concrete way, however. If anything, the loss of the woman in both of their lives served to bring them closer. Learning that his father would die, just he was experiencing an emotional rebirth as a gay man, had a far harsher impact on Oliver. “Beginners” unfolds as a memory play, with much time shifting and space for reflection. It begins in the present, as Oliver is about to be rescued from his terrible loneliness by a quirky French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent), who is pretty, funny and wise, but fearful of commitment. Again, unlike most Hollywood romances, “Beginners” never attempts to assure its viewers the kind of traditional, feel-good ending in which everyone lives happily ever after. Somehow, too, Mills (“Thumbsucker”) managed to add a Jack Russell terrier to most scenes and keep it from detracting from what’s happening around him. Oliver inherited the emotionally needy dog from Hal and eventually it becomes a loyal companion to him. The terrier does possess one remarkable talent, which, if taken out of context, would sound too preposterous for any director to execute. How Oliver responds to it speaks volumes about his depressed state of mind and Mills’ faith in indie audiences to go along with the conceit. Also doing a nice job here are Goran Visnjic, as Hal’s lover, and Mary Page Keller as his flakey wife.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” is a charming bio-doc about what we’re told is “the world’s only yodeling, country-singing-and-comedy lesbian-sibling duo.” Individually, none of those qualities would make Jools and Lynda Topp worthy of an 84-minute film. When combined with the fact they were born on a New Zealand dairy farm and appeal as much to rodeo crowds as left-wing activists, Topp Twins suddenly become something larger than the sum of their individual parts and interesting to non-Kiwis. On stage, the impossibly energetic duo combines beautifully tight harmonies and politically charged songs, with sight gags, sing-alongs and novelty routines that wouldn’t be out of place on “Hee-Haw.” The characters they’ve invented are as much a part of New Zealand’s cultural identity as Peter Jackson and exported lamb chops. Watching the Topps perform before crowds that range from farmers to soon-to-be-arrested protesters tells us as much about the country as it does about the women. New Zealand is a country small enough to embrace such unconventional performers as neighbors and friends, yet large enough to send voter-sanctioned messages to world powers on nuclear proliferation, racism, sexism, homophobia and respect for the rights of its aboriginal people, although none came without some kind of fight. LeAnne Pooley’s camera follows Jools and Lynda to their rural homes, which they share with their lovers and various farm and domesticated animals, as well as on tour and at rallies. We meet their parents, watch home movies and follow their show-biz progression from mullet-wearing buskers to creators of a hit television show. The emotional centerpiece of “Untouchable Girls” comes when Jools is diagnosed with breast cancer and Lynda attaches herself to the rungs of her hospital, providing solace and support. Pooley uses Jools’ treatment and convalescence as an example of how close these women are to each other, although that question is never really in doubt. Not having heard of the Topps until two weeks ago, I sometimes felt as if I were intruding on a very private moment in their lives. The movie broke several box-office records for documentaries in New Zealand and very well could find a niche here, as well.

Bite Marks” is a fairly standard vampire movie, with an entertaining gay twist. Played more for laughs than terror, freshman writer/director Mark Bessenger had no trouble finding horror conventions to parody, while also opening up the script to include some flirtatious fun. While backpacking their way across country, Cary and Vogel decide to accept a lift from a trucker hauling coffins. The driver is filling in for his brother, who was killed early in the movie by one of the coffin’s inhabitants, and has the bad luck to be assigned a trailer full of ghouls. If that weren’t enough bother, recent problems in the sack with women have made him susceptible to the approaches of the hitch-hikers. Just as the trucker is about to succumb to their advances, he’s pulled out of the cab and forced to deal with monsters who are more interested in sucking his blood than sucking … well, you know. The final showdown occurs in an abandoned junkyard, where the truck was led by vampire GPS. None of the action is realistic and the vampires aren’t at all scary. Still, the dialogue is often funny and loaded with double entendre. The DVD comes with commentary, interviews and a gag reel.

Lost Everything” is quasi-thriller that feels as if it were made in the 1980s not 2011. That’s because of the lengths the closeted celebrity, Brian Brecht, is willing to go to maintain the ruse that he’s straight and a real lady’s man. While in Miami on a publicity tour, it takes him all of five minutes to hit on the handsome bartender he’ll use and abuse in the next few days. His manager hires a dreamy female hooker as a companion, just in case the tabloids are stalking Brian … which, of course, they are. Meanwhile, across town, the son of a prominent preacher rejects his father’s invitation to be deprogrammed at a Christian camp in Colorado. After he refuses, the old hypocrite hires a “fixer” to eliminate his son’s boyfriend. Another storyline involves an assassin who falls in love with a woman he rescues from her brute ex-husband. He knows better than to get involved with a civilian, but does anyway, putting his own life in jeopardy. That’s a lot of plot to hang on an undernourished screenplay. The interconnectedness of the story is wasted, but the boys and girls are cute. – Gary Dretzka

Life in a Day
When Strangers Click

Remember that large-format book of photographs, “A Day in the Life of America,” that could be found on everyone’s coffeetables in the late 1980s? It collected the work of 200 of the world’s finest photographers, all of whom were assigned by the book’s editors to be different places in the U.S. on May 2, 1986, and shoot something that moved them. “Life in a Day” is the Digital Age equivalent of that ambitious project. Instead of still photographs, the movie is comprised of footage captured and uploaded by YouTube users on July 24, 2010. It was edited down from 4,500 hours of material representing 80,000 entries and 192 nations. As anyone who spends much time on the social network probably already can guess, the 95-minute movie is more interesting and entertaining, than revelatory or provocative. It begins and ends in the dead of night and follows the sun from one corner of the Earth to all the rest of them, in no particular order other than time of day. No segment lasts more than about 30 seconds and some go by in the blink of an eye. I suppose that “Life in a Day” qualifies as a social experiment, but, ultimately, it came down to the judgment of director Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”) and seven co-directors; exec-producers Ridley and Tony Scott (“Alien”); music supervisor John Boughtwood; editor Joe Walker; and their teams to stitch together the final product. Social networks can only do so much.

So many horror stories have been told about Internet dating and the lies shared on social-network sites that it’s somehow comforting to learn not all such experiences have been unpleasant or creepy. That is what happens in “When Strangers Click,” a HBO documentary about people who’ve found success in the Internet dating pool or, if not success, exactly, something that didn’t end badly. It hardly qualifies as news that the people we meet probably had failed miserably in more conventional approaches to dating and romance. Lots of normal folks have perfectly acceptable reasons for trolling the Internet, not the least of which being too little opportunity to meet interesting people and chronic shyness. It’s what happens when the people we meet here finally do connect that makes “When Strangers Click” interesting. One reasonably attractive woman starts out looking for potential partners within a close radius to her New York home, but finds love in Hungary with a Siberian man who can barely speak English. Two other widely separated people introduce themselves to each other – then date and arrange to meet – through their greatly exaggerated “avatar” personae. A young gay man finds the support he needs to exit the closet on the web, but then is hustled by the mayor of the city to which he’s moved. Robert Kenner (“Food, Inc.”) has hopes of spinning a TV series off “When Strangers Click.” I wonder how easy it will be to find stories as compelling as the first five. – Gary Dretzka

Flypaper: Blu-ray
If Mack Sennett and Hal Roach were still around, making movies, they might have attempted to produce one like “Flypaper.” It has a slapsticky plot, perfectly suited for the zaniest and misshapen of silent-era comedians, and the dialogue is largely extraneous to anything that’s happening on the screen. In it, two teams of robbers arrive at a bank at the same time, hoping to relieve its safe of the money it contains. One uses high-tech tools, while the other just plans to wing it, as would befit a pair of bumpkins named Peter Butter and Jelly (roles well-suited to Pruitt Taylor Vince and Tim Blake Nelson). Neither team is able to prevent the bank from locking itself down, as usual, so they’re forced to hold their hostages overnight and wait for the systems to return to normal. Meanwhile, with nothing to do but scheme, the hostages find ways to amuse themselves and annoy the robbers, who continue to attempt to break into the safe and ATMs. The comedy turns inky black when characters start dying in a way Agatha Christie might have envisioned. Then there’s Patrick Dempsey, who finds himself in the middle of the heist with his eyes on a pretty teller (Ashley Judd) and a scheme of his own device. The movie’s biggest crime, though, is wasting the considerable talents of the rarely seen auto-racing fan, Judd, who could have phoned in her assignment here. – Gary Dretzka

What Women Want
The Warring States

Somewhere, Chairman Mao and Madam Mao are spinning in their graves. As the architects of China’s bloody Cultural Revolution, how could they have anticipated the exploitation of the masses by a new breed of gluttonous, western-style capitalists; that clothing made of green khaki material would be replaced by Armani and Brooks Brothers; and that one of the world’s great cinemas would be reduced to adapting decadent Hollywood rom-coms? It’s stunning to see how easily the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt vehicle, “What Women Want,” fits within the context of contemporary Beijing yuppie-dom. The capital isn’t routinely used as a backdrop for contemporary films and, absent any references to the Forbidden City, Tiananman Square or billions of people commuting by bicycle, it looks pretty much like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taipei, if not the movie’s original setting, Chicago. Corporate offices, high-rise apartments and discos look pretty much the same everywhere. Otherwise, the story remains the same. Advertising executive Zigang Sun (pop star Andy Lau) is a chauvinistic playboy, whose work and dating don’t leave much time for the needs of his daughter and father. After a bizarre accident, he gains the ability to read the minds of women around him. The timing is convenient as the agency has just hired the attractive and professionally formidable Yilong Li (Gong Li, still ravishing at 45), to accept the promotion he assumed was his for the taking. She won the job because the agency was desperately in need of a creative executive who understands what fashionable women want to were at work, on dates and at play. Zigang uses his newly acquired talent to eavesdrop on the deepest thoughts of the women around him and steal the ideas of his new manager. By the time Yilong figures out what’s happening, Zigang has created campaigns that have impressed the big boss and convinced her that he might not be such a jerk, after all. She doesn’t feel the same way after she’s laid off and her nemesis cops to his hidden talent.

Anyone who’s seen Nancy Meyers and Josh Goldsmith’s original, or watch any Hollywood rom-com in the last 30 years, already knows what happens next. It’s entirely possible that the finale came as a surprise to Chinese audiences conditioned to political tracts, martial-arts action and historical epics, but I doubt it. Writer/director/co-star Chen Daming lived and worked in in America before moving back to Beijing, so nailing genre conventions probably didn’t present many problems for him. Li and Lau also look as if they were born for their parts. Chinese censors are even tougher on sex than the prudes at the MPAA, so “What Women Want” could easily pass for “PG” here. I have no way of knowing how critics and audiences greeted the movie overseas, so I will resist the temptation to critique it for Chinese-speaking audiences. I definitely could have done without the schmaltzy love songs, most rendered in English, though. The DVD arrives in Mandarin, with English and Chinese subtitles

Like “What Women Want,” Jin Chen’s far more familiar feudal-wars epic “The Warring States” is from China Lion Film Distribution. It is a story not only of powerful man and women willing to go to extreme lengths to maintain wealth and status, but also the military strategists they retain – or, here, kidnap – to keep the wolves from their doors. Sun Bin (Sun Hong-Lei), a descendant of “The Art of War” author Sun Tzu, is an especially brilliant strategist in China’s Warring States Period (5th to 3rd centuries, BC). His most formidable rival is his brother, Pang Juan (Francis Ng), a general who imprisoned and tortured Sun Bin, in order to convince opponents he was insane and of no use to them. Pang’s sister Fei (Kim Hee-seon), the princess of Wei, is both beautiful and a fearsome warrior. In the war for control of the states, there’s a separate blueprint for peace and compromise. Nothing comes easy, though. American viewers probably won’t be impressed by the CGI tricks, but there’s no denying the skill that went into the costumes, hair and other production values. It, too, is in Mandarin with English subtitles.—Gary Dretzka

Rio Sex Comedy
Welcome to L.A.

The characters in Jonathan Nossiter’s beyond-offbeat ensemble rom-com live in Rio de Janeiro, but the movie’s many conceits were mined from territory Robert Altman and Alan Rudolph once explored and Henry Jaglom continues to chart. I say this because to appreciate “Rio Sex Comedy” on its own terms, viewers must be willing to forgo content for character, and accept that some of the people we meet aren’t at all likeable. Nossiter provides only sketchy backgrounds for them, believing, I think, that we’ll judge them primarily by how they look in and out of clothing.  To some degree, he’s probably right. The fascinating settings can’t help but overwhelm some of the dialogue, at least, while the narrative only asks of viewers that they stick around to find out which of the characters ends up in bed with whom. What’s more interesting is the interaction between the actors and non-professionals who appear to have been plucked from the streets, beach, kitchens and favelas of Rio and invited Nossiter’s crew into their homes. It gives “Rio Sex Comedy” a texture that mimics documentaries and travelogues. The favelas are governed and policed by well-armed thugs, who are more representative of the residents than police and politicians would want us to believe. It’s amazing that Nossiter was given permission to shoot scenes in the same slums that are currently being raided by police in advance of the World Cup and Olympics.

Fischer Stevens plays a guide who escorts tourists through the favelas and surrounding forest, and arranges for them to witness an exotic mating ritual performed by Indians who could have stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Bill Pullman’s U.S. ambassador stages his own kidnapping, so he can get closer to poor residents and devise cock-eyed schemes to make their lives less miserable … in his eyes, anyway. French star Irene Jacob (“Red,” “The Double Life of Veronique”) is researching the working conditions of maids, who clean the apartments of wealthy Brazilians, raise their kids, put up with their employers’ groping and dodge bullets on their way home to the favelas. Charlotte Rampling (“Swimming Pool”) plays a prominent British plastic surgeon, who after ditching her longtime husband, moves to Rio. She spends more time urging potential patients to reconsider their decision to have work done than performing operations. (She convinces a young and beautiful woman that all she needs to look younger is a radical new hairdo.) Other attractive characters come and go, adding pretty faces here and there, as if to showcase the class disparity in the city. The same viewers who had trouble with Altman’s early ensemble pieces and continue to avoid Jaglom’s talky hybrids might find “Rio Sex Comedy” to be a similarly excruciating exercise in cinematic navel-gazing. Those who have enjoyed Nossiter’s previous work – “Sunday,” “Signs & Wonders” and the documentary “Mondovino” – should welcome the challenge. As usual, the seductive charms of Rio de Janeiro are on full display and work miracles with the cultural tourists. The DVD adds many deleted and alternative scenes.

MGM/Fox has just released Alan Rudolph’s “Welcome to L.A.,” which “Rio Sex Comedy” resembles architecturally. A longtime associate of Robert Altman, Rudolph frequently worked with ensemble casts of high-profile, if not always A-list actors and musicians, playing characters whose issues and moods mirror those of the cities in which they lived. The music also reflects the settings. The pecking order of the characters often is obscured by the constant intersection of events during which they meet, mate and share the prevailing gestalt, for lack of a better word. In “Welcome to L.A.,” the characters exist on the periphery of the music industry and, as such, most are pretentious, when they’re not outright phony; wealthy, if completely devoid of worthwhile qualities themselves; and lonely, even while surrounded by several million other residents. Being Christmastime, the highs are heightened and the lows deepened. This vision of L.A. may be less Disneyland, than Forest Lawn, but it is recognizable. The sterling cast includes Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman, Geraldine Chaplin, Harvey Keitel, Lauren Hutton, Viveca Lindfors, Denver Pyle and John Considine. The most telling image is supplied by Sissy Spacek, playing a flower-child maid who vacuums topless. “Welcome to L.A.” is available on a manufactured-on-demand basis, through Amazon and other outlets.  – Gary Dretzka

Pound of Flesh: Blu-ray
Of all the fine movies in which Malcolm McDowell has appeared, none probably will be as insignificant as “Pound of Flesh.” It practically doesn’t exist. There are no reviews of it on Amazon – by publicists, relatives or friends – and only one critic’s notice, in Dutch, at IMDB. Someone at Odyssey Moving Images thought enough of “Pound of Flesh,” however, to accord it a modest marketing push and release it in Blu-ray, as well as DVD, which has to count for something.  Tamar Simon Hoffs’ erotic thriller opens with the shooting death of a naked woman who just scrambled out of the bed of her lover. After a brief stop at the local police station, we’re taken to a small private college where fall semester is about to begin. Naturally, several young women are tanning in their bikinis, discussing the relative merits of big cocks. McDowell’s voiceover informs us of his delight that school’s opening, although we won’t find out why exactly until he morphs into Humbert Humbert. His Shakespeare class is populated with way too many gorgeous young women, some of whom aren’t even enrolled in the course. They all defer to him in ways that don’t necessarily suggest he’s either trading grades for sex or that he’s even that inspirational a teacher. He’s definitely a smooth talker, though, and far better liked by male faculty members than women.

One thing that is made clear, however, is how incredibly inept are the local police, whose idea of a thorough investigation is attending a class and wondering how MacDowell gets away with whatever it is he’s trying to get away with. In any case, we figure it out before they do and don’t believe it, either. If you miss it at the local video store, I’m sure it will show up on Cinemax around midnight sometime soon. – Gary Dretzka

Money Matters
If it weren’t for festivals devoted to niche audiences — gay and lesbian, children, documentary, urban and other ethnic groups – hundreds of movies simply would be ignored and left to sit on a shelf somewhere. Each week, dozens of new DVD titles are released without the benefit of a theatrical run. Some are good, most aren’t. All represent the collaborative work of dozens of dedicated people and deserve some recognition outside the immediate families of the cast, crew and caterers. Ryan Richmond’s heartbreaking urban drama, “Money Matters,” is better than most movies that go directly from the festival circuit to the crowded straight-to-DVD marketplace. Although the characters are living in a different hell than the one inhabited by Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique in “Precious,” they would recognize each other immediately. Monique “Money” Matters (newcomer Terri Abney) is teetering on the brink of adolescence, trapped between two worlds. She lives with her mother, Pamela Matters (Aunjanue Ellis), in a crummy apartment nearly in the shadow of the Washington Monument and Capitol Building. The identity of her father is held from her as if it were a state secret. Money’s three-bus commute to the Catholic school she attends would be considered an ordeal, even if it didn’t take her from one world in which she feels uncomfortable to another, just as foreign. In class, she occasionally drifts off into space, writing poetry and sketching pictures. Tired of Money’s lack of focus, a teacher confiscates her notebook. Instead of embarrassing the teenager in front of her peers, however, the teacher discovers a talent for writing even Money didn’t consider valuable outside her own head. Certainly, her mother hasn’t encouraged her to pursue it.

As if an identity crisis weren’t sufficiently distracting, Money also is experiencing all the usual problems associated with coming of age sexually. Having observed Pamela’s catastrophic relationships at close range, Money doesn’t know if a couple of minutes of pleasure are worth the days of abuse that inevitably follow. Her mother would prefer for Money to find pleasure in the bible and avoid the same sort of neighborhood boys who grew up to be pimps, dealers and convicted felons in her day.  Any movie that treats the bible with something other than derision or condescension tends now to be lumped together in a category reserved for so-called faith-based entertainments. “Money Matters,” though, wouldn’t be welcome in most bible-study classes in that it contains raw language, partial nudity and real-world problems that can’t necessarily be cured solely by prayer. And when the girl discovers who her father is, it isn’t clear if Richmond is exploiting actual events or offering a meaningful solution for two women in a world of hurt. By the time this happens, though, we’ve bought into Money’s story and hope she’ll be smart enough to use every means at her disposal to grow into womanhood unscarred by childhood. — Gary Dretzka

Bellflower
In Evan Glodell’s nihilistic portrayal of American slacker culture, it’s amazing the characters have the energy and desire to get out of bed each day. They certainly lack the enthusiasm it would take to apply for the one or two jobs available to young people today or to join the armed forces, where they can kill people and blow stuff up without fear of getting arrested for having a good time. We’ve met such characters before, in “Alpha Dog” and “River’s Edge,” and pray that people like them never move into a house next to us. In “Bellflower,” two young men dream of living in a “Mad Max” world, where people will judge them solely for their cool cars, cool guns and flamethrowers, and cool willingness to beat the crap out of anyone who doesn’t think they’re cool. In this teenage wasteland, girlfriends exist primarily to make their men feel cooler than they are and pretend to crave sex as much as boys do. If a gal breaks up with a guy before he breaks up with her, the slight could result in a lingering state of depression and/or a desire to commit murder.

In the making-of featurette, we’re told that “Bellflower” is a movie about how some people deal with broken hearts. It helps explain why the guys here invest their true feelings in cars, guns and tools. The object of bro-mance in this case is a souped-up 1960s muscle car with flame-throwing exhaust pipes and a constant need for TLC. When the apocalypse happens, the Medusa will lead its owners (Glodell, Tyler Dawson) to some remote encampment where other surviving gearheads have gathered to hunt for fuel depots and tell each other how cool their cars are. Someone, they have convinced themselves that this variation on Charles Manson’s Helter-Skelter dream is a real possibility. If so, I suspect they’ll find the characters from “Two-Lane Blacktop” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” there racing for pink slips, as well. Lest my comments make it sound as if “Bellflower” is a loud waste of time, it isn’t. Made on a budget estimated to be less than the cost of building the Medusa – a car that does in real life what is shown on film — it is fully engrossing and entertaining in a down-and-dirty, do-it-yourself, indie grindhouse sort of way. The Impressionistic camerawork approximates what it must be like to go through life in a constant, beer-induced haze and the acting is as good as it has to be … especially that of Jessie Wiseman, the blond girlfriend who takes most of the abuse in “Bellflower.” The making-of featurettes are essential viewing for anyone who enjoys the movie. Considering how personal a project “Bellflower” was for everyone involved, I’m anxious to see what Glodell & Co. will do next. – Gary Dretzka

An Injury to One
Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie

Between dodging tear-gas canisters and keeping their tents habitable, I don’t know how the Occupy activists spend their idle hours. We’re told by the media that some of their time is spent smoking pot, making music and finding unoccupied bathrooms and Porta-Potties. It sounds like what happens outside the Chinese Theater whenever there’s a new episode of “Star Wars” and “Twilight.” In the last two months, alone, I’ve watched enough good documentaries to think an Occupy Film Festival could be organized and – thanks to the portability of DVDs and digital projection hardware – be passed from laptop to laptop, tent to tent and city to city, within hours. Although any such activity would qualify as preaching to the choir, it’s important for true believers to remain motivated, inspired and educated. That was the mission of the filmmakers who contributed to the “Why We Fight” series, during World War II. Apart from some government-dictated propaganda and ethnic stereotypes, the films made a convincing case against isolationism and for sending our soldiers to places most people didn’t know existed. Made in 2002, “An Injury to One” would remind protesters of a time when industrialists were free to hire thugs to break up strikes and eliminate union activists with deadly force. One telegram to a governor or senator could result in the deployment of soldiers to keep strikers at bay and get pro-industry legislation passed. The protesters’ rhetoric may have been heard in big cities, far away, but closer to home their arguments were stifled by editors employed by the mine and factory owners who also owned the local newspapers. Compared to what happened in Butte, Montana, less than 100 years ago, the recent skirmishes in the streets of Oakland, Portland, Denver and Manhattan were rehearsals for “Dancing With the Stars.” Travis Wilkerson’s Impressionistic documentary describes how mine owners conspired, first, to neutralize and dismantle the Industrial Workers of the World and, later, completely reverse gains made decades earlier in wages and benefits. The film also describes the brutal measures employed by mine owners and private security firms to permanently silence Frank Little, a half-white, half-Cherokee organizer for the IWW. Cast in the same mold as the late, lamented Joe Hill, Little stood up to Anaconda Mining, which literally was getting away with murder in its mines. One night, though, he was dragged out of bed and lynched. A note attached to his body bore the numbers 3, 7, 77 (the feet-and-inches dimensions of a Montana grave). No one was prosecuted, even after Pinkerton operative Dashiell Hammett – his novel, “Red Harvest,” recalled his time in Butte — admitted he was offered a small fortune to murder Little.

Former Butte resident Wilkerson makes his points in interesting ways. Instead of banging viewers over the head with dramatizations or emotionally charged narration, he lays words over landscapes and amplifies them with atmospheric music. He then divides interviews with voiceover narration and archival newspaper clippings, photographs and graphics. Moving on from 1917, which was the height of mining activity, to the 1950s, the documentary skips forward to the 1950s, when pit mining began. Wilkerson recounts how Anaconda continued to ignore evidence of pollution and other environmental damage so severe and obvious that Butte was designated a Superfund site. ARCO purchased Anaconda in 1977, but the drop in price for metals caused it to close the pits.  The mile-long, half-mile-wide and 1,780-feet-deep Berkeley Pit was abandoned in 1982 and, ever since, has been filling up with water contaminated by poisonous metals and chemicals. The lake’s toxicity made headlines when, in 1995, flocks of migrating geese became confused by a storm and landed in it. .Very soon thereafter, the carcasses of 342 geese were discovered. ARCO attempted to divert the blame, but necropsies showed the deadly presence of copper, arsenic and cadmium in their systems. Clearly, then, the battle against corporate greed and malfeasance didn’t begin last month with the occupation of a park on Wall Street and it won’t end with an uptick in the economy. A poisonous lake in Montana is proof of that.

There are many moments in “Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie” that will have flower children of a certain age wincing with recognition and it’s not just because of the tie-dye fashions, peace fingers and chanting. Some will mourn their lost youth and missed opportunities, while others will wonder how they possibly could have voted for George Bush … twice. Born Hugh Romney, Wavy Gravy was then and still is the clown prince of the counterculture, anti-war and pro-love movements. For more than a half-century, the poet/activist/clown has been supporting progressive causes, feeding hungry people, performing good deeds and making people smile, sometimes simultaneously. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Hog Farm residents had gassed up their psychedelic bus and driven to the nearest Occupy site in support of the protesters, just as they had at Woodstock and countless anti-war rallies. For his troubles, Wavy has been beaten by police so severely it required being put in a body cast. There’s nothing a cop hates as much as a non-violent clown. Today, he still dons colorful costumes to entertain kids at his circus and performing-arts camp in Laytonville, California, and benefit the international health foundation, Seva, which he founded with Dr. Larry Brilliant and Ram Dass. “Saint Misbehaving” is a mostly glowing chronicle of Wavy’s life and times, from his days spent reading poetry in Greenwich Village cafes and hanging out with such luminaries as Lenny Bruce and Bob Dylan, through daily life at the Hog Farm with friends and wife, Jahanara.  At 75, he’s still spry and not at all embarrassed to be interviewed with a red bulb on his nose. The DVD adds lots more interview material deleted from the documentary. – Gary Dretzka


History: WWII in HD: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray

It’s odd to recall just how much the success of cable television is owed to the people who documented our 20th Century wars. At a time when programming executives literally counted every penny at their disposal, footage held in the public domain and taxpayer-supported museums, libraries and archives was continually repurposed to suit the needs of dozens of documentaries. Some nights the shows on History and A&E – each dubbed at various times as the Hitler Channel — were the most compelling options available to viewers looking for relief from the mediocre shows available to them on the broadcast networks. The ratings weren’t huge, but they didn’t have to be. How, after more than 60 years, is it then possible that unseen war footage is still being discovered? Good question. The latest great cache of films to be discovered included original color footage taken on the battlefields, beachheads, encampments and skies above German- and Japanese-held territories. For Americans who came of ticket-buying age in the 1940-50s, color added a dimension of reality missing in earlier pictures. Documentary and newsreel producers waited until it became affordable to make the switch. Indeed, much of the color footage revealed in History’s “WWII in Color” series rivaled that of the gung-ho movies being churned out by Hollywood in the post-war era. It would take another 50-plus years for most viewers and war buffs, however, to see it. The material, we’re told, was discovered in a far-flung search that took two years to complete. Its historical significance was further enhanced by the decision made by cable-television and DVD programmers to include extremely graphic and previously censored combat images in their presentations. It included haunting footage of dead and dying soldiers, taken on both sides of the front lines; desperate attempts to mend the wounded in field hospitals; Japanese soldiers committing suicide on Saipan, rather than surrender; emaciated children, left abandoned or orphaned by their parents; leprous survivors of Japanese occupation in Okinawa, and refugees mistakenly attacked there by American troops; and the complete and utter destruction of once-thriving cities. Such films demand to be seen by the citizens of any nation willing to send men and women to war, especially for dubious political, religious and economic reasons. Instead, government and broadcast censors continue to filter images from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – flagged coffins, even – for tender American eyes.

High-definition adds an “immersive” sheen to the material already shown in color, but not always to the degree casual viewers might notice it. What is clear, however, is that the images are cleaner and less affected by visual artifacts. “WWII in HD” is further enhanced by the first-hand testimony of a dozen veterans – soldiers, nurses and combat reporters, alike – who wrote eloquently about their experiences in letters written home, books and other accounts. In some cases, the combat footage, recollections and narrated text dovetail each other, adding an even more dramatic edge to the films. The four-disc, 605-minute presentation includes the feature-length “WWII in HD” specials, “The Battle for Iwo Jima” and “The Air War”; profiles of the men and women interviewed; and behind-the-scenes featurettes, “Finding the Footage” and “Preserving the Footage.” If such documentary material were made available to Americans concerned about our involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places where our soldiers are committed, the wars might have ended wars ago. – Gary Dretzka

It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series
Farscape: The Complete Series: Blu-ray
Being Human: The Complete First Season
History: American Restoration: Volume 1
Half Pint Brawlers: Season 1
Nature: Jungle Eagle: Blu-ray

By the time “It Takes a Thief” debuted on ABC, in 1968, TV audiences had tired of watching make-believe spies and other James Bond clones. It explains why the show’s writers kept reminding viewers that Robert Wagner’s suave Alexander Munday was a thief, not a spy, even though he reported to a secret American intelligence agency known as SIA. Munday’s was rescued from prison by SIA honcho Noah Bain (Malachi Throne), the man who had captured the masterful cat burglar and understood how such skills could be used to benefit the country. The ruse included putting Munday under house arrest in an estate guarded by several beautiful women who knew jiu-jitsu and whose rooms were monitored by video cameras. The women agents were no match for the thief’s charm, however, and the cameras could have been neutralized by a naughty child. No matter, Bain kept Munday’s get-out-of-jail-free card in his pocket and convinced his new agent that he was just nasty enough to revoke it, if necessary. There was no mistaking Munday’s roots, though, Like Sean Connery and Cary Grant, Wagner looked as formidable in a tuxedo as he did in the uniform of a cat burglar. Like the agents on “Mission:Impossible,” Munday had more disguises at his disposal than Macy’s at Halloween. The only real drawbacks to the series were the cheeseball sets and lame fight scenes required by tight television budgets.

The 18-disc boxed set opens with “Magnificent Thief,” written by the show’s creator, Roland Kibbee, and directed by Leslie Stevens. It is the feature-length version of the pilot episode, “A Thief Is a Thief Is a Thief,” which was re-made for distribution overseas. In the next 2½ years, the show would lose much of the sharp edge built into it during Season One. Munday would be allowed to freelance his talents more often and not live under the cloud of a parole revocation. The biggest change came in 1969, when Fred Astaire joined the cast as Munday’s even more criminally skillful father. Although the two men sparked occasionally over unsettled personal issues, they made a formidable team. “It Takes a Thief” represented Wagner’s first foray into series television and most of his characters since then have shared Munday’s same easy-going charm and classy wardrobe. The DVD set also includes digitally re-mastered versions of all 66 episodes; “The King of Thieves: Interview with Robert Wagner” and “A Matter of Larceny: Interview with Glen A. Larson”; a limited-edition Senitype (reproduced 35mm film frame); a themed four-piece coaster set; and a collectible booklet with retrospective essay.

Anyone wondering what Jim Henson Productions was doing over the last decade, while its ownership was being tossed around like a hot potato, might want to check out “Farscape: The Complete Series.” (Rights to the Muppets now are owned by Walt Disney Co., which is releasing the new feature-length “The Muppets.”) The science-fiction series, which combined live-action with puppetry, prosthetic effects and CGI, was shot in Australia and could be seen on the BBC and the Sci-Fi Channel between 1999 and 2003. Its abrupt cancellation resulted in the three-hour mini-series “Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars,” a year later. At the time, the cable and broadcast networks were overflowing with sci-fi and fantasy programming, and the cult following for “Farscape” wasn’t sufficiently powerful to pay the bills for all the special effects. The series resembles “Dr. Who” and various “Star Trek” wannabes in that its lead character, John Crichton (Ben Browder), is an astronaut, who, after being sucked through a wormhole, becomes an intergalactic refugee abroad the spaceship Moya. The passengers remained on the run from the militaristic Peacekeepers for the whole time. All along, Crichton seemed as strange to his fellow aliens as they did to him. The Blu-ray presentation probably could look better, but fans won’t be disappointed by the impressive collection of bonus features. They include all 88 episodes of the series; more than a half-dozen making-of featurettes; 31 audio commentaries; deleted scenes, director’s-cut scenes and an alternate version of the Season 2 premiere; video profiles and behind-the-scenes interviews with the characters, cast and creative team; and original marketing material. “The Peacekeepers Wars” has yet to be given the hi-def makeover.

Last year, Syfy adapted the imaginative British series “Being Human” for American audiences that may or may not have caught the original on BBC America.  Generally, speaking I’m not a big fan of such transplants, but it fits pretty well on Syfy, whose shows aren’t blessed with the same budgets and marketing strength of the BBC.  The premise remains the same, however. Three young and attractive roommates share something besides doing dishes and vacuuming the floors. Theoretically, none of them exists. Aidan (Sam Witwer) is a vampire; Sally is a ghost (Meaghan Rath); and Josh (Sam Huntington) is a werewolf. Such pairings couldn’t work, even in the spiritual realm, of course. On TV, such rules don’t apply. If Dexter Morgan can be a cop and a serial killer simultaneously, and talk to his dead father and brother, what’s to prevent a ghost, werewolf and vampire from cohabitating? Together and individually, the trio not only is required to deal with naturally fearful humans, but also enemies from their own species. Bonus features include “The Making of Being Human,”  “What Would You Choose?” interview with cast members and material from San Diego Comic-Con. The show’s new season begins in January and the BBC’s third season package already in available in DVD and Blu-ray.

In History’s “American Restoration,” viewers follow Rick Dale and his crew of fixer-uppers – the less-classy word for “restoration artists” – as they scour the west for potentially valuable junk and antiques in need of a makeover. It’s not the most original concept for a reality show, but there’s always something fascinating in watching alchemists at work. The show began as a spinoff from “Pawn Stars,” also set in Las Vegas. The pawn shop’s owners frequently turn to Rick’s Restorations to see if a particular item is salvageable and therefore valuable beyond the cost of an expired pawn ticket. In turn, Rick’s gang endeavors to find original parts or blueprints to construct new ones. In Season One, they cleaned the rust off a ’40s-vintage gas pump and Hopalong Cassidy bicycle and golf cart from the 1950s. Being Las Vegas, plenty of slot machines have come through their doors, as well. “American Restoration,” like so many other such shows, accentuates the family-business theme.

How much one enjoys “Half Pint Brawlers,” which aired on Spike, depends mightily on how far across the grain of politically correct America one is willing to cut. The title and company of the same name, of course, refers to the time-honored non-sport of “midget wrestling.” Activists from Little People of America have routinely protested the frequent use of the word, “midget,” at Brawlers activities and, naturally, the bottom-feeders at TMZ have exploited the “controversy” for whatever ratings value it might have. The Brawlers will accept all the free media attention they can muster, thank you very much. The natural appeal of watching smallish people throwing each other around a ring is enhanced by adding the same degree of difficulty associated with “Jackass” movies. As such, the potential for real harm is heightened exponentially. It’s more fun to watch the wrestlers misbehave at venues and in hotel rooms. The troupe’s owner, Puppet “The Psycho Dwarf,” is required to keep the billable damage to a minimum and deflect the flack shot at them by do-gooders, some of whom have been able to get their fights banned and canceled.

Venezuela’s Orinoco River basin not only is one of the most remote and spectacularly beautiful regions on Earth, but it also is home to many rarely seen animal species. In “Jungle Eagle,” the cameras of PBS’ “Nature” tag along with wildlife filmmaker Fergus Beeley as he leads a team of cameramen to the high-canopy forest to learn everything they can about harpy eagles. Beeley considers the harpy eagle to be the most powerful bird of prey in the world, and one of the least observed. Imagine a bird that captures monkeys and sloths on the wing and returns with them to the nest for the nourishment and amusement of the chicks. As we can see, too, the eagles aren’t at all reluctant to attack humans climbing trees to camera positions aloft. It’s a fascinating documentary. If you’re repulsed by the thought of a bird dining on monkey meat, consider that the capuchin would happily return the favor if given an opportunity to devour a chick. Among other threats are vultures, army ants and lethal flies. – Gary Dretzka

The Littlest Angel
Dora the Explorer: Dora Celebrates Three-Pack
Spongebob Squarepants: Holidays With Spongebob

My pile of animated holiday-themed DVDs is topped by “The Littlest Angel,” which is adapted from the immensely popular children’s book, published in 1946, by Charles Tazewell. It is the story of a wee lad, born in Old Testament times, who dies too early in life and arrives at the pearly gates without anything to keep his mind and hands occupied. Even then, the median age in the kingdom is much higher than 5, so there aren’t many kid angels around with whom he can hang out. Lonely and more than a little bit antsy – this is paradise? – our little angel convinces a sympathetic elder to let him return home briefly to recover some of his treasured possessions. When he learns that Baby Jesus is about to be born, he humbly asks God if he can give his box to him as a present, which the deity magically transforms into the Star of Bethlehem. I’m not sure the theology is 100 percent correct, but it’s a story younger children have enjoyed hearing read to read them for more than 50 years. I find it interesting that “Sons of Anarchy” star Ron Perelman was chosen to be the voice of God. It is 83-minutes long, but the CGI animation makes it seem shorter.

Two new collections from Nickelodeon take advantage of the season with hours of babysitting-safe entertainment in gift-ready boxes. “Celebrate With Dora” includes “Dora’s Christmas,” “Dora’s Halloween” and “Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure,” which measure 295 minutes in total.

Holidays With SpongeBob” weighs in at the same length. It is comprised of the 2011 edition of “SpongeBob SquarePants Halloween,” the 2008 “SpongeBob SquarePants Halloween” and the Valentine’s Day compilation, “To Love a Patty.” As is the case with any Nickelodeon is worth checking out ahead of time if your child already has the episodes contained therein. – Gary Dretzka

Superheroes
Assassin’s Creed: Lineage: Blu-ray
Mortal Kombat: Legacy: Blu-ray
Red vs. Blue: Season 9

OK, now I get it. I’ve seen several movies lately in which everyday people who don’t simply impersonate superheroes – “Kick-Ass,” “Defendor,” “Super,” “Special” – they actually believe they can prevent crimes and vanquish villains. Why now, I wondered? Turns out there really are people out there who believe they are caped crusaders and masked marvels. Michael Barnett’s documentary, “Superheroes,” introduces us to several such wannabes, who routinely swap personae, crossing the line from mild-mannered civilians to amateur crimefighters in home-stitched costumes and with names like Mr. Xtreme, Dark Guardian, Vigilante-Spider and the four-person New York Initiative. Apparently, there are 300 such posers in the United States and they’re deadly serious about what they do. The DVD includes deleted scenes.

Here’s another new one on me. The 2009 film “Assassin’s Creed: Lineage,” newly released in Blu-ray, is the prequel to a series of three video games set in 15th Century Italy. The movie apparently was made to promote the games, which expand on a conspiracy that leads to the death of the Duke of Milan and spreads through the country’s ruling families and the Vatican. Assassin Giovanni Auditore is hired to investigate the crime, but soon finds himself in the position of being stalked. Not having attempted the video game, I’m unclear as to where the intrigue in the dark and mysterious prequel leads. The Blu-ray adds more than 90 minutes of bonus material, including “Assassin’s Creed: Ascendance” and developer diaries.

Mortal Kombat: Legacy” is the Blu-ray byproduct of a dream that became reality for Kevin Tancharoen, whose love for the video-game franchise spawned this collection of nine Internet shorts. They expand on characters and storylines familiar to diehard fans, while also providing plenty of ferocious action. They also could contribute to the effort to create a “Mortal Kombat” feature film. The Blu-ray also comes with five featurettes that delve deeper into the MK mythology: “Fight,” “Fan Made,” “Expanding the Netherrealm,” “Mysticism” and “Gear.”

Red vs. Blue” is another spinoff of a video game, this one Xbox’s “Halo.” The ninth season existed as a sequel to “Revelation” and precursor to “The Blood Gulch Chronicles,” a fact fans will understand, but continues to baffle me. Here, we’re alerted to the creation of Project Freelancer, an experimental military program designed to to create a new breed of warrior. Bonus features include director’s commentary; special videos and PSAs; outtakes and deleted scenes; cast interviews; and behind-the-scenes videos. – Gary Dretzka

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2 Responses to “The DVD Wrapup: West Side Story, Perfect Age of Rock, The Tree, Beginners, Rio Sex Comedy, Bellflower, Money Matters, It Takes a Thief …”

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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