MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Underworld, Dark Tide, Kreutzer Sonata, 42nd Street Forever…More

Underworld: Awakening 3D/2D
Shock Labyrinth 3D/2D
The first time I can remember seeing Kate Beckinsale on screen was her appearance in John Schlesinger’s charming period barnyard comedy, “Cold Comfort Farm.” In addition to her delightfully spunky approach to the material, it was her delicate features – most noticeably, a long, swanlike neck — that made her character’s presence on a disheveled Sussex farm seem so incongruous. It was impossible to think, then, that Beckinsale would someday become a bankable action star. And, yet, in “Van Helsing,” the “Underworld” franchise and upcoming “Total Recall” remake, she’s done just that. In “Underworld: Awakening,” the fourth installment in the fantasy/horror series, her super-sexy vampire-warrior Selene is required not only to deal with the dreaded Lycans, but also the threat posed by humans who hitherto have been blissfully unaware of their presence. Beyond that, the story’s plot is far too difficult for casual fans to grasp with any certainty … not that it matters all that much.  (Blessedly, previous installments are in summarized in two-minute preface.) Early on, Selena is knocked unconscious by a rocket grenade, leaving her comatose in cryogenic sleep for at least the next dozen years. In the meantime, as the war aboveground has exacted a huge toll on both the vampires and werewolves, the mad scientist Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea) has been performing experiments on her. Upon awakening, Selene discovers that she’s the mother of a laboratory-raised daughter, Eve (India Easley), whose powers have begun to attract the attention of the Lycans. It becomes the duty of Selene and the vampire, Thomas (Charles Dance), to protect her from mom’s various enemies … or, something like that. All an action junkie needs to know is that “Underworld: Awakening” is 1 percent exposition and 99 percent action of the screen-popping variety. Swedes Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (“Shelter”) were enlisted to direct this exceedingly dark battle for survival, with an eye toward maximizing the effects of the 3D presentation. I don’t own a 3D-capable Blu-ray system, but can see how every hurled object, drawn weapon and bloody gush of gore might look terrific in it. It helps greatly that the darkly clad human, undead and CGI characters are allowed to get lost in the murky interiors and exteriors — foreground, mid-ground and background — thanks to the employment of Red Epic 3D cameras. The dramatic audio and video presentation doesn’t lose much in 2D Blu-ray, either. As hot as Beckinsale remains in her black Spandex outfits, it’s pretty clear that “Underworld” producers have set the stage for next-generation appeal with the introduction of Eisley, Michael Ealy and Theo James. Even if they’re interchangeable with dozens of other up-and-coming ingénues, they’ll fit the bill until the next Beckinsale comes along. The Blu-ray package adds commentary by producers Richard Wright and Gary Lucchesi, directors Mårlind and Stein, and visual-effects supervisor James McQuaide; hi-def making-of featurettes “Selena Rises,” “Casting the Future of ‘Underworld,’” “Resuming the Action,” “Building a Better Lycan” and “Awakening a Franchise, Building a Better World”; several pre-visualization sequences; a blooper reel; the music video, “Heavy Prey,” by Lacey Sturm; and a UV digital copy.

Shock Labyrinth” is set largely inside the world’s largest horror maze, the Haunted Hospital, at Fuji-Q Highland Park, which sits in the shadow of Japan’s Mount Fuji. Directed by J-Horror icon Takashi Shimizu (“Ju-on”/“The Grudge”), it is reputed to be the genre’s first live-action 3D feature. No one is willing to say if its genesis owes anything to the success of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” also based on a theme-park attraction, or the haunted houses that pop up around Halloween at amusement parks. Either way, it’s a logical hook for a supernatural thriller. “Shock Labyrinth,” available in 3D and 2D Blu-ray, involves a group of childhood friends, now teens, who feel a bond with a girl who disappeared a decade ago after sneaking into the Haunted Hospital. Even though she’s long been declared dead, someone or something resembling Yuki suddenly reappears to them, inspiring another trip to the attraction. Shimizu plays with everyone’s heads in the return visit, using 3D effects to give audiences the best bang for their bucks. Apart from a neat time-travel angle and the usual array of ghosts and goblins, it’s the genuinely Surrealistic imagery that sets “Shock Labyrinth” apart from the pack. While creepy, the effects are also quite artistic. Again, I’m not sure how “Shock Labyrinth” comes off in 3D Blu-ray, but anyone who’s seen more than a few stereoscopic movies on the big screen will know intuitively where the effects might have been employed to their best effect. Despite Shimizu’s excellent track record, I’d be surprised if anyone outside the “Hello Kitty” crowd was jolted out of their seats by anything here. The set adds interviews with the familiar cast members, Misako Renbutsu, Yuya Yagira, Ryo Katsuji, Ai Maeda and Erina Mizuno, and making-of material. – Gary Dretzka

Dark Tide: Blu-ray
PBS: Inside Nature’s Giants: Great White Sharks/Big Cats
Halle Berry must have been in desperate need of a vacation when she agreed to lend her estimable name – along with the registered brand of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – to such an un-thrilling thriller as “Dark Tide.” Cape Town and its environs are lovely most times of the year and any invitation to frolic with the native colony of sharks and sharks isn’t to be taken lightly. If only the script were up to the standards set by the tourist bureau. Shark completists and nature buffs may not be terribly disappointed in “Dark Tide,” but there’s nothing in it they haven’t seen before, including that insanely dramatic footage of a Great White leaping completely out of the water with a seal in its mouth. Contrary what’s implied by the cover art, Berry dons a bikini only in the film’s early scenes. Otherwise, her remarkably fine body is fully encased in a wet suit. She plays Kate Mathieson, an accomplished diver and fearless oceanologist whose skills have earned her the designation, “the shark whisperer.” Kate was communing with Great Whites outside the protection of a safety cage – accommodating the makers of yet another nature documentary – when a shark acted out its frustrations by devouring a friend and fellow diver. It’s taken several years for her to shake off the memory and agree to return to Shark Alley. In the meantime, her reluctance to once again test the patience of resident sharks has caused her business to tank, as it were. Relief arrives in the form of an obnoxiously rich and cocky outdoorsman who wants to swim with the sharks and force his wisely cautious son to do likewise. The jackass simply isn’t content to stay in the cage, thereby endangering everyone involved. This can’t possibly end well, can it? Turns out, the client was recruited by Kate’s smug and impossibly handsome estranged husband, played by Olivier Martinez. Sadly, he’s no more likeable than the European adventurer, leaving Kate to be the only character of substance with whom to empathize. There’s a few potentially exciting moments near the end of the film, when the European’s hubris is tested both by an unexpected storm and the shark’s bad humor, but it too clearly was staged in a tank at England’s Pinewood Studios. The scene pales by comparison to most IMAX nature docs.

More compelling are this week’s editions of “Inside Nature’s Giants: Great White Sharks” and “Inside Nature’s Giants: Big Cats,” which take viewers where most other wildlife documentaries fear to tread: inside the carcasses of dead predators. Whenever the word, “autopsy,” is attached to nature programming, it generally is limited to the examining of the contents of an extracted stomach. More often than not, the scientists in the PBS series “Inside Nature’s Giants” don’t get to the stomachs of their corpses until just before the final credits roll. They start on the surface of an animal’s body and slice their way through layers of skin, bone, cartilage, fat, muscle and sinew to find answers to questions that have perplexed scientists for centuries. Take that seal in the mouth of the Great White, for example. If, as assumed, a shark’s jaws were locked in place inside its mouth, they may not be sufficiently forward-placed to grab and hold an animal as nimble as a seal. In fact, a Great White’s jaws are detached from bone and a long, slender and strong muscle controls its ability to thrust forward and nab its victim, without the interference of its snout. Without the benefit of an autopsy and observations in the field – the same feeding grounds filmed in “Dark Tide” – it would be difficult for laymen to discern what really happens in such attacks. And, of course, it’s as fascinating as the scientists’ enthusiasm and excitement are palpable. Beyond such discoveries, the autopsies can be extremely grisly. (Viewers can thank their lucky stars that DVDs aren’t enhanced with Smell-O-Vision.) The results are worth the effort of enduring the procedures, though.

In the “Big Cat” episode researchers locate a dead lion’s hidden, razor-sharp claw, genetically engineered to snag prey when large and puffy paws can’t do the trick. A close examination of a lion and tiger’s mouth reveals how the alignment of their teeth could cause the molars to be destroyed with one violent snap of the jaws. Instead, the musculature prevents such dental disasters from happening. There’s more, of course, including the revelation of stomach contents. (The digestive tracks of animals too sick or damaged to eat, however, rarely contain anything worth noting.)  Here, too, the resident company of veterinarians, biologists and anatomists travel to Africa and India to study live predators in action. – Gary Dretzka

Madison County
Mother’s Day: Blu-ray
Ever since “Deliverance” was released in 1972 and, a decade later, “Southern Comfort,” the geniuses who do such things for reference websites have classified them as adventure/drama/thrillers. Ditto, “The Grey,” another killers-in-the-woods flick that arrives next week on video. All are horror movies. “Deliverance” has been elevated from genre status by its studio-sized budget, brilliant cast and literary roots, while “Southern Comfort” still is seen as a metaphor for Vietnam. Among other things, “The Grey” is distinguished by the presence of Liam Neeson. The line separating action/adventure/drama/thrillers from horror is that thin. Of course, any thriller that goes straight to video after testing the festival circuit is automatically accorded genre status. In Eric England’s debut feature, a group of college students travels to a small, mountain town in Arkansas to interview an author of book about grisly crimes that occur in the boonies. Naturally, upon their arrival in Madison County, they are un-welcomed by several barely literate rednecks, a creepy grandma and a lunatic in a pig costume. (This is, after all, Arkansas Razorback country.) While the author is nowhere to be found, the students quickly find themselves surrounded by people trying to kill them. So far, so typical. What makes “Madison County” worth the effort of trying to track down is the intensity of the pursuits and palpable sense of terror and mystery maintained throughout by England. Who are these yahoos and what are they hiding? The action sequences are so accomplished, in fact, that the writer/director allowed himself the luxury of withholding large chunks of information that would have shed light on the motivations of the townies, including a completely twisted grannie; the missing author; and the Pigman.  Any time a filmmaker can bank material for a possible sequel or prequel – the likelihood of which I wouldn’t bet against – it’s a bonus.

There are two very good reasons for genre enthusiasts to get excited about “Mother’s Day,” a titular follow-up to the campy 1980 Troma horror classic from Charles Kaufman. First, it was directed by “Splat Pack” member Darren Lynn Bousman, whose credits include “Saw II,” “III” and “IV”; second, the infrequently seen Rebecca de Mornay stars as the chillingly malevolent “Mother.” After a bank robbery gone wrong, three brothers seek shelter in the only home they’ve known, outside of prison. What these pinheads don’t know, however, is that their mother has been foreclosed upon and the house is now owned by a young couple, who has invited a few friends over for a party. The proximity of several pretty women tests the brothers’ ability to maintain discipline, at least until the arrival of the stern Mother and their sister. When she arrives at the house, she chastises the boys for their misbehavior, but has reasons of her own to torture the residents. A good deal of her money has gone missing and she believes it is being hidden in the house. Foolishly, the owners decide to play dumb. The subsequent bloodletting is substantial. – Gary Dretzka

The Genesis Code
At 140 minutes, “The Genesis Code” practically defines what it means to be a faith-based epic, unless one considers “The 10 Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” to be representative of the largely contemporary genre. In addition to tackling issues common to such films – the power of prayer, applying New Testament tenets to modern life, the merits of abstention and chastity – the predominantly likeable characters here are challenged to find common ground between faith and science. In particular, the students of an idyllic Christian college debate the ages-old question of what God truly meant when he handed Genesis over to the first publishers of the Good Book.  Their findings are to be judged by a panel of classmates, instructors and clergy, who, considering the rancorous debate that usually accompanies such discussions, are unusually open-minded. The cast is unusually rich in acting talent. While no longer on the A-lists, Ernest Borgnine, Louise Fletcher, Fred Dalton Thompson, Lance Henriksen, Rance Howard (Ron and Clint’s dad), Catherine Hicks, Susan Blakely and Ben Murphy really need very little introduction. Left to carry most of the story’s weight, however, are unheralded youngsters Kelsey Sanders, Logan Bartholomew, Andrea Lui, C.R. Lewis, Danny Mooney and Adam Chambers. Sanders plays Kerry Wells, a reporter for the college newspaper who’s been assigned a piece on the new campus sports hero, Blake Truman (Bartholomew). They hit it off immediately, but have different spiritual ideas. Kerry takes the word of the bible to be true as written, while Blake looks for answers in science. He’s tested by the inability of doctors to keep his deathly ill mother’s condition from deteriorating, while her core beliefs are being tested in the classroom. The common ground is provided by a pair of students who hope to convince fellow students, teachers and local clergy that science allows for such things as God’s creation of the Earth and universe in a week’s time. Scientists, atheists and the majority of religious-mind people willingly subscribe to the theory of evolution, while fundamentalists insist the process took no more than 168 hours of the Creator’s valuable time. Those who prefer not to waste time exploring such unfathomable concepts as infinity and the force behind the forces that led to the Big Bang are content knowing that neither Darwinian scholars nor fundamentalists of all religious stripe haven’t the vaguest clue as to what constitutes biblical time. The students’ multimedia presentation uses physics, astronomy and other life sciences to support the likelihood that a day – biblical or otherwise — could last much longer than 24 hours and, theoretically, an eon or age could last a minute or a millennium. The details of their thesis would confound most lay observers, but it makes sense in a cinematic sort of way. Only the most ardent of creationists, televangelists and hidebound academics, whose livelihood depends on rubes buying into their interpretation of Genesis, would find anything but admiration for the hard work and enthusiasm of the students. No one’s saying that it’s the last word on the subject. Meanwhile, when Blake’s mother takes what appears to be a final turn for the worst, he dispenses with science altogether by asking team members to join him in prayer for her recovery. By the end of “Genesis Code,” everybody seems happy. If only such tolerance for other people’s beliefs were the norm, instead of a cinematic pipedream, we’d all find ourselves in a better world. – Gary Dretzka

Bobcat Goldthwait: You Don’t Look the Same Either
In his heyday, Bobcat Goldthwait was one of the most purposefully annoying standup comics on the circuit. His hyperactive stage presence, peculiar sense of humor and a voice that was alternately gravelly and screechy set him apart from every comedian other than Gilbert Gottfried, with whom he’s still mistaken. (His bit about friends commiserating with him over the loss of Gottfried’s Aflac-duck gig is very funny.) Even so, Goldwaith has always enjoyed steady employment as a voice actor and wacky guest star on TV sitcoms and talk shows. There was period in the early 1990s, though, when his destructive and outright rude outbursts on late-night talk shows probably did cost him some work. Since then, he’s spent a lot of time behind the camera as a director of TV shows (“Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “Chappelle’s Show”) and a couple of the most offbeat indie films in memory. “Sleeping Dogs Lie” examines in a darkly hilarious fashion what can happen when a man or woman makes the mistake of being completely honest about their sexual experiences with a fiancé. In this case, a pretty young woman is coaxed into revealing she experimented in bestiality, while in college. Big mistake. He also directed frequent collaborator Robin Williams in his even darker “Shakes the Clown” and only slightly lighter, “World’s Greatest Dad.” Goldthwait addresses the passage of time between his standup appearances in the title of his special, “You Don’t Look the Same Either.” It has, after all, been 27 years since he immortalized the Cadet Zed character in the “Police Academy” series. The separation also allows the comedian three decades’ worth of autobiographical material from which to draw. Loyal fans will enjoy the experience immensely, I think, while younger viewers will find only a few things in common. – Gary Dretzka

The Kreutzer Sonata
Leo Tolstoy’s widely banned novella “The Kreutzer Sonata,” which, itself, was inspired by Beethoven’s emotionally charged Violin Sonata No. 9, has stirred the imagination of dozens of playwrights, filmmakers, artists and dancers since its aborted publication in 1889. The story describes how carnal urges and sexual passion in a marriage leads invariably to disappointment, estrangement, adultery and fits of dangerously jealous rage. Tolstoy was an advocate of abstinence and chastity in the service of God and he felt as if certain works of art were capable of enflaming lustful behavior. If Tolstoy’s theories on temperance haven’t stood the test of time, unbridled rage and blind jealousy continue to upend relationships between men and women, men and men, women and women. In director Bernard Rose and co-writer Lisa Enos’ latest retelling of the story, Danny Huston plays Edgar to Elizabeth Rohm’s Abigail. He’s a wealthy Beverly Hills philanthropist who falls in lust with a married pianist he meets at a dinner party. He tries mightily to blind her with his wit and cynicism, but she seems perfectly willing to be used by him sexually. At first, their relationship benefits from an excess of raw passion. After her divorce and the birth of their first child, however, Abigail begins to feel overwhelmed by the demands both of motherhood and her husband’s desires. (Philanthropy may be many things, but it isn’t physically taxing.) Edgar understands her growing depression and provides Abigail with help around the house and, a few years after a second child arrives, an opportunity to return to her piano. To this end, he encourages Abigail to perform the Kreutzer Sonata with a handsome and dynamic young violinist (Matthew Yang King). Instead of basking in their reflected glory, Edgar begins to fear that the emotions invested in their performance already have translated into a sexual affair. Once he’s convinced himself of that threat to his marriage and ego, anything becomes possible. “Kreutzer Sonata” is a smart adult entertainment in which recognizable characters respond to perceived slights much in the same way as any spouse might when consumed with jealousy and rage. If the ending is particularly ugly, it also is true to Tolstoy’s vision. It’s worth noting, as well, that the sex scenes are extremely hot, without also being gynecologically correct. It took me a while to recognize the woman writhing on the floor with her breasts on full display as the all-business ADA Serena Southerlyn in “Law & Order.” If “Kreutzer Sonata” had received anything beyond a courtesy release in the U.S., Rohm might have been accorded the nomination as Best Actress she deserved. – Gary Dretzka

The Front Line: Blu-ray
What most Americans know about South Korea’s contributions to the war effort against North Korea and China would fit onto the head of a pin. While we respect and admire the efforts and sacrifices of the U.S. soldiers who held the line against communist aggression in horrid conditions, too many of us hold South Korean fighting men in only slightly higher regard than South Vietnam’s much disparaged ARVN and the Italian army under Mussolini. By focusing on South Korea’s elite Alligator Company and the final battles for the Aerok Hills, on the eastern front, “The Front Line” paints a much more precise and sympathetic portrait of the Korean soldiers, hundreds of thousands of whom fought and died, even after the ceasefire was announced and armistice was hours from becoming a reality. It’s a familiar story, really. Soldiers who have grown tired of maintaining what essentially is a stalemated situation are ordered to fight and die, if necessary, to capture a position more important for its symbolic value than strategic importance. The hills have changed hands so often that soldiers on both sides leave gifts and messages in pre-arranged spots and share the love of a song sung on both sides of the front lines. Jang Hun’s drama overflows both with scenes of great ferocity and the interaction of humans who are nothing more than pawns in a game being played in Washington, Beijing and Moscow. Finally, it’s heartbreaking and life-affirming in the way all good war movies should be. It stars several of Korea’s most popular stars. – Gary Dretzka

42nd Street Forever: Blu-ray
Schoolgirl Report, Volume 8: What Parents Must Never Know
It’s often said that trailers not only give away too much of a movie’s plot, but they also run the risk of being more entertaining as the titles they’re supporting. Even so, the thought of investing almost four hours of valuable time absorbing the not-at-all-subliminal messages contained in grindhouse trailers is beyond daunting. Fortunately, the previews collected in Synapse Films’ Blu-ray edition of its popular “42nd Street Forever” series frequently are better than the classics, bombs and novelties they advance. That’s primarily because they’re far shorter, edited with an eye to accentuating gratuitous skin and explosive action, and hilariously narrated. In effect, Synapse’s six “42nd Street Forever” installments are to the grindhouse genre what Reader’s Digest is to magazine articles, readers’ jokes, self-help texts and cookbooks. They’re appetizers in lieu of a main course.

There’s only so much Blu-ray technology can do with a piece of film that’s passed through a projector’s gate tens of thousands of times and have been spliced together dozens of times. With the help of some digital TLC, they look as good here as they ever will. The trailers represent the many subgenres of exploitation pictures, including sexploitation, blaxploitation, action, horror, science-fiction, women-in-prison hybrids and “mondo” schlockfests. Some of the previews in the “mondo” section even were too sleazy and graphic for guest commentators Edwin Samuelson, of; Michael Gingold, of Fangoria magazine; and Temple of Schlock’s Chris Poggiali. That’s saying a lot. It’s especially interesting to see how successful the creators of some of these trailers were in trampling on the borders of political correctness. It wasn’t at all uncommon to see and hear the word, “nigger,” in the titles of blaxploitation flicks and names of the protagonists. If the predominantly urban audiences minded, they still bought tickets.

In the early 1970s, the censorship boards of some countries required purveyors of sexploitation films to include material that offered some intrinsic educational value. For a long time, the only sexually graphic material found in American movies was that contained in such “socially significant” and “educational” movies as “Mom and Dad” (1945), which, while only as explicit as most sex-ed courses in the 1970s, were deemed too explosive to be screened before mixed-gender and mixed-race audiences. Even so, “Mom and Dad” was a huge commercial success for years after its original release. One of West Germany’s socially conscious responses to the controversy surrounding the legalization of hard- and soft-core pornography was the pseudo-documentary series “Schoolgirl Report,” which purported to serve as a warning to parents that their teen daughters have something else on their minds, besides pop stars and homework. The eighth entry in the promiscuous-coed franchise is “What Parents Must Never Know.” Here, the girls wile away their time on a bus trip to a rural hostel by telling stories about their first sexual experiences. Almost nothing is revealed in these naughty little comedies, except breasts, buttocks and nostalgic clumps of unruly pubic hair. The anecdotes aren’t nearly as titillating as they must have seemed 40 years ago — or remotely educational, for that matter — but the characters’ genuinely good-natured approach to youthful sexuality feels downright refreshing when compared to today’s gonzo productions. There are lessons to be learned here, but mostly of the physiological variety. – Gary Dretzka

This strangely old-fashioned coming-out movie was adapted from “Nights in the Gardens of Spain,” by Witi Ihimaera, the same man who wrote the book upon which “Whale Rider” was based. That should tell prospective viewers to expect “Kawa” to be a multi-generational portrait of contemporary Maori life, with a protagonist who challenges hidebound tradition and exploits the beauty of New Zealand to its full extent. The title character, Kawa, is the next in line to succeed his father as tribal leader and head of a successful Auckland business. Knowing that his coming-out as a gay man would almost certainly upset the apple cart at work and home, he attempts to remain on the down-low with everyone around him. By abruptly moving out of the home he shares with his unsuspecting wife, teenage son and young daughter, Kawa allows his parents, friends, children and business associates to believe falsely that his marriage is in trouble for reasons not associated with his sexual preference. It isn’t fair to his wife or his lover, but that’s the way it plays out sometimes. The ploy gives Kawa enough wiggle-room to fall back into her arms when things get hairy with his lover and he fears losing custody of their children, who, of course, blame mom for dad’s unhappiness. When, finally, Kawa admits to himself and those close to him that he’s gay, his father cuts him out of the line of succession with the tribe and his daughter takes their loud argument as a cue to run away, toward the beach, where crocodiles lurk in the darkness. The ending is truly affecting, even if it holds no real surprises. Director Katie Wolfe manages to dodge most of the clichés associated with such coming-out dramas and finds a way to make everyone except Grandma happy. The largely Kiwi cast does a nice job elevating the material and denying us an excuse for laying blame on any single character, except Kawa, for the bruised feelings and misdirected anger. Among the actors are Calvin Tuteao and George Henare (“Once Were Warriors”), Nathalie Bolt (“District 9”), Vicki Haughton (“Whale Rider”) and Dean O’Gorman (“McLeod’s Daughters”). – Gary Dretzka

The Big C: The Complete Second Season
Fantasy Island: The Complete Second Season
Chuck: The Complete Fifth Season: Blu-ray
Showtime’s “The Big C” is one of several series that puts viewers through a wringer each and every episode. All of the characters have been accorded storylines that require us to invest emotional equity in them, while simultaneously riding alongside Laura Linney on her roller-coaster ride in the shadow of imminent death. Why the “The Complete Second Season” DVD package is being released during Week 5 of the third season is a mystery to me. The decision would seem to discourage potential viewers from subscribing to Showtime and, instead, stick with watching this fine dramedy on DVD, months after the weekly water-cooler synopses have ended. Among the second-season highlights are Cathy Jamison’s experimental clinical trial under the supervision of Dr. Atticus Sherman, her close relationship with another cancer patient (Hugh Dancy), Paul’s own dance with death and the exceedingly bizarre relationship between Sean and Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon). It’s quite a reversal from Season 1, when Cathy was determined to hide her illnesses from friends and family, and her decision stopped making sense after the third or fourth episode.

In the 1970s, ABC employed more C-, D- and no-list guest stars than all of the other networks combined, mostly in the service of such lowbrow anthology shows as “Love, American Style,” “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island.” The weekly visitors also included some familiar movie stars, who once were on the A-list but not in anything anyone under 40 would remember buying tickets to see. Even if they may not have relished being considered over-the-hill, they probably felt fortunate to earn a week’s pay on shows that required relatively little actual acting and were widely seen. The hardest part of their day was sitting still while the makeup was ladled onto their faces. The characters most closely associated with “Fantasy Island” were Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) and his pint-sized sidekick, Tattoo (Herve Villechaize). In it, new guests would arrive on weekly basis on “de plane,” having paid a substantial fee to make their wishes come true in one way or another. If they couldn’t afford the freight, the mysterious Mr. Rourke often would devise ways to bring them to the island, where, generally, they figured into someone else’s fantasy. The bulk of Tattoo’s responsibilities involved providing comic relief – driving tiny cars, speaking with a high-pitched French accent – and prodding guests to make decisions that advanced the strategies of “de boss.” Looking back from a distance of 40 years, it’s not only difficult to believe how little acting was required of the guest stars, but also how frequently the small army of hula-hula girls were deployed.  It looked as if they had survived a jailbreak at the Playboy Mansion and they were hired to fulfill the fantasies of the producers, casting director and other behind-the-camera personnel. Sexual innuendo and implied consensual liaisons were staples of the anthology shows, where a well-filled bikini was worth a thousand words of dialogue. In today’s more liberated times, beach bunnies in bikinis have been replaced by women executives, lawyers and doctors in tight blouses, short skirts and fuck-me shoes. Male stars still seemingly wear whatever they want. Each episode of “Fantasy Island” included at least two life-affirming lessons and a firm balance of comedy and faux-drama. Among the second-season guests are Sonny Bono, Rory Calhoun, Dan Rowan, Lynda Day George (who appeared a half-dozen times in different roles), Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, Celeste Holm, Maurice Evans, Shelley Fabares, Desi Arnaz Jr., Ray Milland, Red Buttons and Barbi Benton. As lame as the series might seem today, its nostalgia value for viewers of a certain age is undeniable.

Through all of its five years on NBC, “Chuck” was a series that required more than the usual amount of attention. Its many characters and plot twists didn’t allow for reading a newspaper or playing solitaire on the computer between commercials. Each new season, as if to hold the geeks’ attention, the stories got even more convoluted and the guest list grew nearly as long as that for “Fantasy Island.” In its abbreviated final stanza, CIA agent Chuck Bartkowski (Zachary Levy) and his new bride and former partner Sara Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) joined forces with John Casey (Adam Baldwin) and Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) to launch their own spy shop, using money from last year’s villain, Alexei Volkov. Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix) has a recurring role as the leader of a rival firm. Responsibilities change and a threat to the team’s freedom emerges, as well. “Chuck: The Complete Fifth Season” has the last 13 episodes of the show, as well as a blooper reel, deleted scenes and a few farewell features. – Gary Dretzka

American Experience: Grand Coulee Dam
Frontline: Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown
StoryCorps’ Animated Shorts
Depending on whom one listens to here on the subject of Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam, it either was the greatest thing to happen to the Pacific Northwest or a massive boondoggle that wasn’t worth the expense of creating new jobs in the Depression or the long struggle to bring water to the state’s parched southeast. While there’s no questioning the magnitude and majesty of the project, it’s also undeniable that the dam adversely impacted Native American culture in large sections of the region, nearly wiped out the salmon population and devastated the ecology of the Columbia River. Very few public-works projects of similar size and impact escape criticism of one sort or another, but its venerable age and importance in winning World War II have put such questions on the back burner. “American Experience: Grand Coulee Dam” takes an exhaustive look at the political fight that preceded construction of the dam and continued with each new setback, as well as  its place in the history of the American west and the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The documentary also devotes a section to the role played by Woody Guthrie in keeping the project on track and extolling the worth of the American labor force when almost no one in power cared to help them. “Grand Coulee Dam” demands that viewers consider the continuing debate that pits engineers and financiers against environmentalists and preservationists with every new call for that most elusive of qualities, progress.

It’s the same argument that’s perplexed proponents of nuclear energy ever since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Advocates promote the idea that nuclear sites are safer than they’ve ever been and work in the favor of clean air and against global warming. Detractors need only point to the facts presented in “Frontline: Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown” as evidence that there’s no such thing as a disaster-proof facility and the threat of a meltdown is exponentially more serious than anyone in the industry wants to admit. The “Frontline” crew traveled to Japan’s

Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, which was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and endured several aftershocks. Although company officials forbade employees from cooperating with the investigation, enough of them found ways to tell their stories to form a complete picture of what happened in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. It’s as fascinating as it is frightening. Only hard work and sheer luck prevented an even greater disaster. The most jarring piece of information, perhaps, comes in the knowledge that the company was committed to sending “suicide squads” of workers into the plant to do what couldn’t be accomplished from a distance.

PBS’ “StoryCorps’ Animated Shorts” is the visual companion to NPR’s “StoryCorps,” a project that has given voice to the stories and memories of tens of thousands of average Americans. Begun by former documentary filmmaker Dave Isay in 2003, it began with a “recording booth” set up in New York’s Grand Central Station, where people would interview each other for 40 minutes in the company of a facilitator. “StoryCorps” then extended its reach through a mobile unit, its first stop being at Studs Turkel’s front door. In 2010, Isay teamed up with the Rauch Brothers to create three-minute animated shorts based on the stories. They would air on PBS’ “P.O.V.,” from which this DVD set arrives. It includes interviews with the creative team. – Gary Dretzka

Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden/Dragonfire /The Happiness Patrol
The latest package of “Doctor Who” releases from the BBC fantasy factory contained a DVD from the Tom Baker era, 1974-81, and a pair from the Sylvester McCoy years, 1987-89.  In “Nightmare of Eden,” two spacecraft fuse in a hyperspace collision, leaving the Doctor, Time Lady Romana (Lalla Ward) and the robotic K-9 to cope with a large clawed creature that’s stalking the corridors and killing the odd voyager. After picking the brain of zoologist Professor Tryst – creator of the CET protection machine – they uncover the planet Eden, where the ferocious Mandrels dwell.

Skip ahead a few years and things get really crazy. It’s at the Iceworld Space Trading Colony on Svartos, that the Doctor and Mel (Bonnie Langford) unexpectedly encounter the penniless and desperate trickster, Sabalom Glitz. Along with Ace (Sophie Aldred), a teenage waitress with a penchant for blowing things up, the group ventures off to uncover the lost “Dragonfire” treasure. First, however, they must outsmart the planet’s evil overlord, Kane. The chase takes them into ice caverns, home to the monstrous dragon. “The Happiness Patrol” is set on the happy and colorful planet of Terra Alpha. In fact, unhappiness is punishable by death at the hands of colony leader Helen A’s stooges. After escaping from prison, the Doctor and Ace hunt down the bittersweet torturer, Kandy Man, who’s in charge of the Kandy Kitchen, where all the happy people are made to disappear. There’s also an itinerant musician who stirs trouble by wailing the blues on his harmonica. All of the sets contain bonus features designed to bring smiles to the faces of “Doctor Who” fans. – Gary Dretzka

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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