By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: Campaign, Americano, This Waltz, Ruby Sparks, Upstairs Downstairs … More
The Campaign: Extended Cut: Blu-ray
Fans of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis don’t attend their movies to savor the subtle or ironic moments that come between the broadsides hurled by and at their buffoonish characters. They want to be doubled over in laughter by material some people would consider to be inappropriate, if not downright rude, and surprised by how far they’ll be allowed to take the gags. Because upbeat endings are required of the most movies made today, the closer they inch toward their final scenes, the less anarchic they become. Such is the case with “The Campaign,” a comedy that could have left viewers in a funk about the electoral process, but, instead, is content to provide comic relief for voters already beaten down by lies, distortions and the reality that nothing is likely to change, no matter who wins. Jay Roach has delivered the laughs in the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” franchises, while also finding the hearts of gold buried inside his frequently unpleasant antagonists. In “The Campaign,” the dialogue is provided by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, who previously collaborated on the nasty HBO mini-series, “Eastbound & Down.”
Here, Will Ferrell delivers a dead-on impression of good-ol’-boy congressman Cam Brady, a slick North Carolina politician who’s never met a lobbyist he hasn’t exploited or a cause he’s championed on its merits. Farrell invests in the incumbent some of the vacuous charm, at least, that made his hilarious take on George W. Bush so memorable. By comparison to Brady, however, Bush was Abraham Lincoln. For some inexplicable reason, a disreputable pair of billionaire brothers — not unlike the real-life Koch siblings, who finance right-wing PACs – has come to believe that the unopposed Brady isn’t doing enough for them in Congress and want to put up their own candidate. Incredibly, they settle on Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), an effeminate family man, whose father is a local wheeler-dealer and crypto-fascist. When it becomes obvious that Huggins is too soft to compete with Brady on his own, the brothers hire a political strategist with Dylan McDermott’s good looks and Karl Rove’s Satanic cunning. Once that happens, “The Camapaign” more closely resembles a “Road Runner” cartoon than a sendup of the American political process, which has reached a nadir where it’s beyond parody. For every dirty trick that Brady plays, Huggins is able to come up with one of his own. He even manages to lure the congressman into a situation where, by nimbly ducking a punch, he causes Brady to slug a baby. In retaliation, Brady seduces Huggins’ wife and tapes it for use in a commercial. Huh? Don’t ask. “The Campaign” is full of such illogical, if funny moments.
Despite the slapstick, it’s easy to enjoy the give-and-take between Farrell and Galifianakis as they skewer the pitiful state of politics today and the voters’ willingness to believe anything they’re told by pre-packaged candidates. When Brady senses that his campaign is losing steam, he merely picks a larger American flag from his jewelry box and pins it to his lapel. As we’ve seen, the absence of a flag trinket can spell disaster for a candidate among voters conditioned to despise liberals by talk-radio hosts. It’s only natural, then, for Brady to assume that a larger-than-average flag could tip the election in his favor. That’s about as subtle as things get in “The Campaign,” though. The lead actors get ample support from Jason Sudeikis and McDermott, as the political strategists; John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd as the Motch brothers, whose scam is too preposterous to explain; Brian Cox, as Huggins’ loathsome father; and Katherine LaNasa and Sarah Baker, as the candidates’ wives. The Blu-ray adds several entertaining deleted scenes; a funny gag reel; an improv montage; and 11 minutes of material not included in the theatrical release. – Gary Dretzka
The Lovers’ Guide: The Essential Set
Infidelity: Sex Stories 2
Question: What’s the difference between a remote control and a woman’s clitoris? Answer: A guy will keep looking for the remote control until he finds it. If a woman repeats that joke to her partner, what she’s really doing is delivering a message that defines what it means to “kid on the square.” Even if the gag elicits laughter, there’s nothing remotely funny about a heterosexual relationship in which the man is the sole beneficiary of an orgasm. Explained in the most basic terms possible and dramatized by the participation of live actors, “The Lover’s Guide: The Essential Set” provides viewers with all the tools necessary not only to experience heightened sexuality and orgasmic bliss, but also tighter and more meaningful relationships. While explicit, “The Lover’s Guide” is neither pornographic not clinical. The couples who demonstrate the techniques were chosen because they represent a demographic cross-section of adults, not the cast of a late-night movie on Cinemax (where orgasms occur with amazing regularity and the clitoris is never seen). The producers don’t assume anything about their audience, preferring to start at the beginning, with kissing, and slowly advance to sexual positions and acrobatics, some of which aren’t even mentioned in the Kama Sutra. Couples are encouraged to watch the instructional films in bed, where they can use their remote controls for their intended purpose … skipping ahead to the good parts.
After surviving a long legal struggle with censors, the first edition of “The Lovers’ Guide” was cleared for launch in England in 1991. Presented by sexologist Dr. Andrew Stanway, it became the only non-fiction film to top the UK video charts, by selling 1.3 million copies. It would go on to be released into 13 languages and 22 countries around the world. The empire has grown to include 10 subsequent DVDs, including one in 3D; a book, an encyclopedia, two CD-ROMs; and cassettes and CDs of the soundtracks. Only the North American market has been underserved by the publishers. New York-based True Mind is betting that we are in need of help as anyone else on the planet and is introducing “The Lovers’ Guide” here in three editions, on all digital platforms: “The Original Collection,” a 306-minute, 5-disc box set; “The Essential Collection,” a 351-minute, 5-disc box, with advanced coaching; and “Sexual Positions,” a 52-minute single DVD from the “Essential Collection.” That set is also comprised of “Secrets of Sensational Sex,” “What Women Really Want,” “Sex Play” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” At the chapters do tend to overlap, even using identical narration, but that’s why God added fast-forward buttons to remote controls.
Graduates of “The Lovers’ Guide” lessons seeking to spice up their love-making with some pornography playing in the background would do well to check out the “Sex Stories” series by the French adult-movie star, Ovidie. Nowhere near as graphic and unrelentingly gonzo as American hard-core movies, the two “Sex Stories” volumes are targeted at couples who need something more explicit than the make-believe intercourse and oral sex on cable TV. Men who simply want to cut to the chase aren’t likely to appreciate the conversations that precede the action, but women, I think, will welcome the chatty respites from the wall-to-wall sex as much as the absence of grotesquely sculpted blond bimbos. The characters all seem to be experiencing problems that are causing them anxiety and threatening their relationships. By sharing advice and techniques with each other, the characters provide logical solutions to solvable problems. The most obvious difference between the characters in “Sex Stories” and 90 percent of all other hard-core titles – including those in the phony MILF and “mature” genres – is that the characters range in age from the mid-20s to 50-something. The men are handsome in a conventional sort of way, while the women are naturally attractive. Neither does Ovidie require her women to wear platform shoes and other stripper regalia to bed. – Gary Dretzka
Although too many of the interviews included in the bonus packages of DVDs are self-congratulatory and largely irrelevant to the movies to which they’re attached, occasionally something really interesting rises to the surface. Sometimes, even, a revelation will inspire a second look. “Americano” benefits from such candid discussions. The feature debut for Mathieu Demy as actor/writer/director follows a Parisian businessman, Martin, on his trip to Los Angeles to settle the affairs of his late mother, from whom he’s been forcibly estranged since he was a little boy. Martin claims not to remember much of his childhood after his father returned with him to France and his mother stayed on in Venice Beach to paint and lead an entirely different sort of life. Almost immediately it’s made clear to us that Martin has been suppressing memories that begin to return when he’s surrounded by his mother’s things. Among them are her longtime best friend (Geraldine Chaplin), who guilt-trips Martin into acknowledging her sacrifices in her dying days, and a neighbor who’s working on the same book he was when Martin was a boy. A photograph reminds Martin of Lola (Salma Hayek), a playmate with whom his mother maintained a relationship after he was shipped back to Paris.
As the memories come flooding back, Martin becomes perplexed by his lack of knowledge about his mother’s life and dreams. Although Lola’s been deported to Tijuana, Martin is determined to find her and pick her brain. If he so choses, he’ll also inform her of his mother’s generous bequest to her. In Tijuana, Martin learns that she’s been working in a seedy strip joint and she’s not at all excited to reconnect with him. His obsession with Lola borders on the pathetic, especially after the club owner (Carlos Bardem) beats the crap out of him and she refuses to indulge his fantasies. The ending ties most of the loose ends together, but, perhaps, not in a way that will satisfy impatient viewers.
What we learn in the interview is that “Americano” is far more personal a movie than is evident on first viewing. Demy is the son of the celebrated French filmmakers Agnes Varda and the late Jacques Demy, and the footage used in the flashback scenes are borrowed from his mother’s 1981 semi-autobiographical film, “Documenteur.” It is about a French woman — separated from her lover, as was Varda from Demy — attempting to find a home in L.A. for her and her son, who’s played by the 8-year-old Mathieu Demy. The name, Lola, was appropriated from his father’s first feature film, “Lola,” which was made in 1961 and starred Anouk Aimee as a cabaret dancer. Aimee also played a Los Angeles pin-up model in Demy’s first American-made picture, “Model Shop.” Demy points out, as well, that he cast Chaplin, for her connection to L.A and Europe, and Chiara Mastroianni, in part, because she’s the daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni, two of his father’s favorite actors. He liked Hayek for the role of Lola because she is of Mexican descent and married to a French man. (She bears a passing resemblance to Aimee, too). Bardem is Javier’s older brother. It’s easy, then, to think of Demy’s Martin in “Americano” as the grown-up reiteration of Mathieu in “Documenteur.” (He’s played four Martins in his career.) That doesn’t make his character’s flaws any more palatable, but it helps explain why he appears to be carrying the weight of someone else’s world on his shoulders through most of the movie. – Gary Dretzka
Ruby Sparks: Blu-ray
Trust me on this: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ modern-day fairy tale, “Ruby Sparks,” is the best movie almost no one has bothered to see in 2012 … so far, at least. Fixing blame, however, would require too lengthy a post-mortem than there’s space for here. The characters could hardly be any more appealing and the directors were able to prove that their first feature, “Little Miss Sunshine” wasn’t a fluke. Writer-star Zoe Kazan’s screenplay is smart, funny and frequently irresistible. That’s why it’s so difficult for me to see how young-adult viewers, especially those who embraced “(500) Days of Summer” and other similarly quirky rom-coms, missed “Ruby Sparks” in its limited release. Paul Dano plays a socially inept novelist, Calvin, who’s been blocked since his late teens, when he penned a best-seller. He’s encouraged by his brother (Chris Messina) and psychiatrist (Elliot Gould) to write about something he knows, which, in his case, isn’t easy because he’s withdrawn into a world in which his only friend is his brother. When this doesn’t work, his shrink suggests he adopt a dog, take it on long walks and simply write about what happens. Unfortunately, the scruffy terrier mix, Scottie – after F. Scott Fitzgerald – is as hapless as Calvin. At about the same time as Scottie arrives on the scene, however, Calvin begins to experience dreams in which a spectral figure gradually assumes the shape of a gorgeous young woman. She appears to take an instant liking to both man and dog. The dreams inspire Calvin to invent a fictional character, Ruby Sparks (Kazan), who one day appears fully blown in his living room, acting very much like his girlfriend.
Naturally, Calvin doesn’t believe his good luck. He waits to commit until her presence is confirmed by people who couldn’t possibly be in on such an elaborate practical joke. His brother can clearly see Ruby, but it takes a bit more to convince him that she’s a flesh-and-blood manifestation of Calvin’s imagination. As proof, he changes Ruby’s nationality in his manuscript to French, a language she suddenly begins speaking as if it were her native tongue. Once Calvin realizes the power of his pen and accepts it as real, he decides not to exploit it in nefarious ways. Ruby already digs him, so why mess with a good thing? When Calvin isn’t writing, however, Ruby isn’t evolving as an adult. This causes a dilemma for the novelist, who knows full well that he holds his lover’s fate in his hands and interesting books rarely are inspired by happy relationships. Kazan’s screenplay doesn’t rely on gimmicks or illogical behavior to maintain our interest in Ruby and Calvin’s dilemma. If, at first, her self-drawn character seems altogether too perfect, we know that it can’t last forever. Dano and Kazan, who are together in real life, display a natural chemistry on screen. There are times, however, when Ruby’s bright and upbeat personality makes Zooey Deschanel look like Oscar the Grouch. Also good are Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s hippy-dippy mother and step-father. The Blu-ray adds several interviews and making-of featurettes, including one on how the filmmakers were able to avoid the clichés of shooting in Los Angeles. – Gary Dretzka
Take This Waltz: Blu-ray
It’s difficult to imagine any relationship drama in which Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman could co-exist without it seeming as if they stepped out of the wrong screenplay. Throw in the annoyingly handsome Luke Kirby and a title borrowed from an achingly romantic song that Leonard Cohen adapted from a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, and you have a movie that’s easy to market but difficult to explain. Once primarily known for her ability to steal the spotlight from better known actors in such indie flicks as “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Last Night,” “Guinevere,” “eXistenZ” and “The Weight of Water,” Sarah Polley has since proven herself as a formidable writer/director in “Away From Her,” which was as good a movie as was released in 2006. “Take This Waltz” is a story about a woman, Margot, in her 30s, who seemingly has outgrown her marriage to a genuinely nice, if single-minded cookbook author, Lou (Rogan), when fate steps in to deliver the man of her recent dreams, nearly to her Toronto doorstep. Margot had coincidentally encountered Daniel (Kirby) – personable, but almost the polar opposite of Lou — on a writing assignment in Nova Scotia and, again, on the plane ride home. It isn’t until they agree to share a cab home that they realize they live across the street from each other. If the gods aren’t in cahoots, she thinks, what else could possibly be going on here? Williams tries to make Margot as unglamorous as possible, but she can’t contain the appeal that’s buried just below the surface of her makeup.
Despite the fact that Lou and Margot seem perfectly suited to each other – borderline nerds, but happy – he can’t match Daniel in the wish-fulfillment category. That Lou’s become obsessed with chicken dinners reflects how boring he must seem in Margot’s eyes. For his part, Daniel could hardly care less if Lou’s heart is broken. Ostensibly an artist, he makes a modest living steering a rickshaw, of all things, through the streets of Toronto and this allows him opportunities to interrupt Lou and Margot on their dates. Lou digs the rickshaw and is blissfully unaware of his wife’s discomfort when the three of them are in such close proximity. Margot may be embarrassed by her feelings for Daniel, but she clearly doesn’t want to share him with Lou. Playing in heavy rotation somewhere in the back of Margot’s head is the song, “Take This Waltz,” which demands that listeners throw caution to the wind and accept love for the miracle it is. Polley stages a pair of steamy pas de deux – one in an empty ballroom and the other as an underwater ballet – to convince us of Daniel’s magnetism and her need to once again be overwhelmed by love. Rubbing spices onto the skin of a broiler is no match for Daniel’s ability to waltz. Lou discovers her affair at approximately the same time as his cookbook becomes a best-seller. Still, Margot wants it all.
Her sister-in-law and confidante, Geraldine (Silverman), is a recovering alcoholic who can recognize an addict when she sees one and Margot has willing succumbed to the intoxicating fragrance of romance. If viewers maintain a slim hope that things will work out without anyone getting hurt, Geraldine knows that de-toxing from love is as difficult as kicking heroin or whiskey. It’s nice to see Silverman play a serious character in a drama for once, instead of being assigned the role of the snarky friend. As with Rogan, though, it takes a while to separate the actor from the role. Despite the incongruities, Polley walks the tightrope with ease, following a recipe of her own making that provides for a nourishing blend of drama and comedy, heartbreak and arousal. We care about all of the characters and what will happen to them by the end of the movie and beyond. If “Take This Waltz” isn’t nearly as accomplished as “Away From Her,” it’s still easy to recommend in DVD. Sadly, the movie’s release pattern bordered on incomprehensible. A shower scene, in which Williams and Silverman’s bodies are on full display, was leaked to adult sites within days of the movie’s debut at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. By the time it resurfaced at the Tribeca and Seattle events, and soon thereafter on VOD platforms, it had already played in festivals around the globe. It would have been easy for American audiences to assume that “Take This Waltz” had already come and gone, with its DVD run imminent. Instead, at the end of June, it aired on another premium-cable channel, before a limited run in New York. The most screens “Take This Waltz” has played on simultaneously since then were 69, in mid-July. I get the whole multi-platform strategy, but there has to be a more logical way to promote indie movies than this. The Blu-ray arrives with a pair of making-of featurettes. – Gary Dretzka
If there is one great fantasy that has survived the passage of time, it’s the one in which American students believe it’s still possible to live like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald on foreign soil for more than a summer after graduation and partake in the movable feast spread before their eyes. If it’s always been more of a pipedream than a realistic alternative to the sameness of American life, well, even in the 1920s, home has never been more than a phone call away. In “Stealing Summers,” the feature debut of director David Martin Porras and writer Matt Lester, three American ex-patriots living in Buenos Aires plot a no-brainer heist that, of course, proves disastrous in execution. They do this is instead of writing novels, painting, hosting literary salons or exploring the provinces. Trevor and Sam roomed together at Duke, where they probably majored in attending basketball games in silly costumes and wearing war paint. The beautiful Alexandra attended Brown, alongside the spoiled children of rock stars and other celebrities. She has an Argentine boyfriend, who keeps hundreds of thousands of dollars in an unlocked drawer of his home office – cash is king in South America, we’re told — and guns to protect it. For recreation, Alexandra toots lines of her boyfriend’s cocaine off coffeetables and dances her way around town in the company of friends spending their junior years abroad. Trevor and Sam drink … a lot. We aren’t made privy to how these three co-conspirators fell into each other’s arms, but it’s enough to know that they did and that she’s managed to seduce both of them. Not particularly beholding to her boyfriend for anything besides drugs and a place to hang her Victoria’s Secret lingerie, Alexandra matter-of-factly alerts her new friends to the hidden treasure.
And, yes, the heist should have gone off without a hitch, but nothing like this ever does in Buenos Aires. This is especially true on the weekend of the “Superclasico” soccer match between the city’s greatest rivals, when the air is filled with unharnessed team spirit and the possibility of sectarian violence. If “Stealing Summers” feels more like a short story or character study, I’m not sure it would have gained anything by being made longer and more complex. Clocking in at a brisk 75 minutes, it’s as complete as it ought to be. For my money, the best thing about “Stealing Summers” is its depiction of streets teeming with sports fanatics, political opportunists, tourists and restaurant barkers. Even at night, the city looks beautiful. Alexandra and her boyfriend live in a high-rise apartment that provides a view of Buenos Aires money actually can buy. Despite their Duke education, the young men share a crummy apartment whose only view is provided by the mirror in the bathroom, and it isn’t pretty. All four of the primary characters seem credible as types you might encounter in a bistro or café in one foreign destination or another. They are played by smoking-hot Sophie Auster, Wilson Bethel (son of writer Joyce Maynard and artist Steve Bethel), James Jagger (son of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall) and telenovela star Mariano Martinez. I can think of a lot worse ways to kill 75 minutes. – Gary Dretzka
Elvis & Madonna
After making the circuit of several dozen gay-and-lesbian film festivals – and a few mainstream events, as well – Breaking Glass Pictures has given this kooky 2010 Brazilian export an opportunity to find an audience of its own on DVD. “Elvis & Madonna” shares certain things with “La Cage Aux Folles” and “The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert,” but is a far more modest enterprise. Set in Rio’s Copacabana district, Marcello Laffitte and Jose Carvalho’s rom-com describes a love affair between a transvestite hairdresser, Madonna, who moonlights as a showgirl, and a lesbian photographer, Elvis, who delivers pizzas on her motorbike, but aspires to being recognized as a photojournalist. They meet after Madonna’s brutish boyfriend – a Brazilian cross between Wes Studi, Oddjob and Danny Trejo – steals the money she’s been saving to open a nightclub and bounces her head off a table for good measure. Madonna had already ordered a pizza and, after Elvis arrives, she comforts the well-known and well-liked starlet-to-be. She also volunteers to take better photographs of her new friend than the ones she sees hanging on her walls. It takes almost no time for this unlikely pair to fall in love and consummate their relationship. In the course of photographing Madonna, Elvis takes a picture of her former boyfriend, Tripod Joe, selling drugs from his car. When it ends up on the front page of a local newspaper, Joe is arrested and temporarily rinsed from Madonna’s hair. Elvis’ subsequent pregnancy only complicates things a little more than they already are. Laffitte treats his many diverse characters and E&M’s romance with the same respect others reserve for straight characters in a more mainstream movie. While he leaves plenty of room for humor, the only person who could complain about getting a bum rap is Tripod Joe. – Gary Dretzka
Love & Valor: The Intimate Civil War Letters
One of the ways Ken Burns draws us into his documentaries is by humanizing the stories with photographs and letters found in family albums and boxes of memorabilia. There’s nothing more hauntingly personal than hearing the words of a husband and wife, separated by war, read by from a distance of 150 years. The release into DVD of “Love & Valor: The Intimate Civil War Letters” follows the publication of Charles F. Larimer’s book of the same title, in 2000, by specialty label Sigourney Press. Through the letters exchanged by his great-great-grandparents, Jacob and Emeline Ritner, Larimer has fashioned a chapter in the history of the Civil War that had eluded most researchers. Although it took a great deal of patience and not a small amount of luck, Larimer was able to collect the letters of Jacob and Emeline from separate sources, find some of the descendants and graves of people mentioned in them and add context to what we’ve already learned about various Civil War battles and campaigns. Before enlisting in 1st Iowa Infantry and re-enlisting in the 25th Iowa Infantry, which saw heavy action from Vicksburg to Charleston, Jacob was a teacher, farmer and father of four children in Mount Pleasant. From abolitionist stock, Jacob and Emeline believed strongly in the Union cause, freedom for slaves and President Lincoln. From what we learn in his letters, he had little patience with officers who, themselves, were racist and smoked, drank heavily, cussed and played cards around the campfires. (Out of religious principles, I believe.) From Emeline’s writings, we are able to understand how it felt to be left behind to fend for herself and their family, and how people in the community coped with their own struggles and tragedies.
“Love & Valor” appears to have been a labor of love and something of a one-man show. Although it isn’t likely that Larimer made much money off of the book, he staged re-enactments, traveled to locations mentioned in the letters and even was able to convince Brian Dennehy to share narration duties. In addition to the soldiers with whom Jacob served, we’re introduced to a young runaway slave who led Union soldiers two miles into a swamp, where a plantation owner had chained his slaves to trees in anticipation of the departure of the soldiers from his land after the siege of Vicksburg, and a Savannah merchant known as the Ice Merchant of Savannah, who hosted Jacob and other enemy troops for Christmas dinner in 1864. (During his research, Larimer would meet the great-great-grandson of the same man mentioned in the letters.) In the bonus features, he also describes things he’s learned about his ancestors – including Jacob’s aunt, who provided shelter to John Brown in her rooming house – in the years since the publication of the book and completion of the documentary. – Gary Dretzka
Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview
In the rush to beatify Steve Jobs, the media focused on the empire he helped build and products introduced in the last 10 years. His hyper-aggressive management style was duly noted, but, generally speaking, the term most frequently attributed to him was “visionary.” Obituary writers were too polite to dwell on the many despotic decisions he made after he corrected the course of Apple in his second tenure at the company. They included restricting how consumers used the popular mini-computers and hand-held entertainment devices they bought and arbitrarily censoring some of the content that they could download or stream. Neither was the extent of Apple’s reliance on poorly paid and virtually captive laborers at Chinese sub-contractors. Hey, no one wants to speak ill of the dead, but the deference shown Jobs bordered on the shameful. A more human, if geeky side of Jobs is revealed in the lengthy 1995 interview recently discovered gathering dust on a shelf in a Silicon Valley cupboard. The interview was conducted by Robert Cringely for his 1996 documentary, “Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires,” which chronicled the creation and evolution of personal computers. Jobs had been fired from Apple 10 years earlier, but would be re-hired a year later. In the meantime, he was focusing on his NeXT Computer startup and Pixar, which, in 1995, was putting the finishing touches on “Toy Story.”
The entrepreneur we meet in “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” is friendly, relaxed, talkative, generous with his praise of former “teammates” and dismissive of the suits who ousted him and nearly ran Apple into the ground. It helped, of course, that Cringely was a techie with a working knowledge of the development of the company and Jobs’ role in it. If anything, Jobs seems humbled by the experience of being fired and working hard to re-gain the respect of movers and shakers in the computing community. Upon his return to Apple, one of Jobs’ greatest tasks would be to relieve the stranglehold Microsoft was able to impose on the industry through its association with IBM-based PCs. While acknowledging Windows’ commercial and technological success, he dissed the company and Bill Gates, personally, for lacking any sense of “taste.” There’s no hint of such innovative products as iPhone, iPad, iTunes and the iTunes Store, all of which would be introduced much later. The DVD also includes commentary and an interview with the filmmaker and an enlightening extended interview with Andy Hertzfeld, the original Macintosh programmer at Apple. I don’t know when it was conducted but it seems to pre-date the widespread acceptance of handheld computers and hand-held devices, as well. – Gary Dretzka
BBCA: Copper: Season One
PBS: Upstairs Downstairs: Season Two
Adult Swim: Metalocalypse: Season 4
PBS: Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodies: Season 2
Apparently, the programming executives at BBC America aren’t content with providing Yank audiences with top-notch series from England – maybe because that once-fertile stream has been polluted with too many cooking shows and retread movies – because the network has begun creating original programming of its own and setting it in the U.S. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the first mini-series arrives in the form of a period drama involving immigrants from the British Isles. Exec-produced by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson (“Oz,” “Borgia,” “Life on the Street”), among several other producers, “Copper” is a 10-part dramatic mini-series, which centers on Kevin Corcoran, an Irish-American cop whose beat includes New York’s Five Points neighborhood. It is the same god-forsaken place and time surveyed by Martin Scorsese in his hyper-violent “Gangs of New York,” which ended with the fierce Draft Riots 1863. In Tom Weston-Jones (“MI-5”), the hard-boiled cop has more on his mind than keeping the melting pot of malignant malcontents from self-destructing. He also is obsessed with the disappearance of his wife and the death of their daughter. To both ends, Corcoran welcomes the assistance of wartime compatriots, the son of a wealthy Fifth Avenue industrialist and an African-American physician from the emerging community of former slaves in rural northern Manhattan. The Blu-ray adds a making-of documentary, character profiles, deleted scenes and commentary.
Compared to what happened in Season One of the second edition of the posh British soap opera, “Upstairs Downstairs,” Season Two might as well be set in Peyton Place, U.S.A., instead of 165 Eaton Place, London, England. Indeed, it seems as if most of the first season was prelude to the steamy and hot-button material introduced almost immediately in the opening episode. Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam Holland (Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard) no longer can claim newlywed status and Hallam’s nosy mum, Maud, is history, as will be her pet monkey in due time. In her chair sits Aunt Blanche (Alex Kingston), whose secrets will soon be revealed, as well. Among the staff’s new duties are tending to a new baby Holland and trying to make sense of Agnes’ increasingly strange whims, which include forcing her charges to join her health and beauty regimen, adopting fashion trends and flirting with guests. Meanwhile, essential housekeeper Mrs. Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) is killing time in a rest home in the country and the Nazis have pulled the wool over Lord Chamberlain’s eyes. (Sir Hallam is far more skeptical of Hitler’s intentions and orders the staff to prepare for war.) Re-enter fascist groupie Lady Persphone (Claire Foy) and “Upstairs Downstairs” becomes a real hum-dinger of a domestic drama. The DVD set is comprised of six hourlong episodes and interviews with cast and crew.
When it comes to ideas for new mini-series to be shown on lower tier cable channels than HBO and Showtime, there are a few different ways to go: pay the freight necessary to purchase such quality entertainment as “Rescue Me,” “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead”; tap into the Roger Corman horror pipeline for such hybrid creatures as “Dinoshark,” “Piranhaconda” and “Sharktopus”; or re-adapting movies produced, written or directed by such brand-name talents as Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Robert Wise or Stephen King. Before retrofitting “Coma” for A&E, brothers Ridley and the late Tony Scott did the same for Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain,” which was turned into a 175-minute mini-series with a more ethnically diverse cast and familiar, if not A-list actors. In the case of “Coma,” Crichton adapted the screenplay from Cook’s best-seller and directed it. Although it wasn’t a blockbuster, the 1978 medical thriller is remembered best for being Michael Douglas’ first major credit after leaving “The Streets of San Francisco.” Once again, a young doctor becomes suspicious of the large number of healthy patients who fall into a coma after routine procedures. Lauren Ambrose replaces Genevieve Bujold as Susan Wheeler, the medical student who discovers that the patients are being warehoused in a facility away from the hospital and are hanging suspended in anticipation of some kind scientific breakthrough. Meanwhile, people in Wheeler’s orbit are being murdered or set up for crimes. How she manages to survive into Episode Two, during which the contents of the warehouse are revealed, remains a greater mystery than who’s behind the conspiracy. “Coma” picks up steam from there. In addition to Ambrose, the cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Geena Davis, Ellen Burstyn, James Woods, Joe Morton and Steven Pasquale (“Rescue Me”).
One of the things that make heavy-metal musicians different than all others is that it’s almost impossible to discern when they’re playing a trick on their audiences and when they’re being deadly series. The same can be said of the animated Adult Swim series, “Metalocalypse.” It follows the exploits of Dethklok, which is said to be so commercially successful that it represents the seventh largest economy in the world. The band members are none too bright, even by rock-music standards, but they wreak havoc wherever they go and some detractors believe they could be harbingers of the Apocalypse. Among the guest stars in Season Four are Amber Tamblyn, Werner Herzog, Dweezil Zappa, John Hamm, Chris Elliot, Patton Oswalt and members of Corpsegrinder, 3 Inches Of Blood, Soundgarden and ZZ Top. The Blu-ray includes a Facebones DethGame, FanArt tribute, BlackKlok montage sequence, Nathan reads “A Comedy of Errors, band member stare-downs, “MurderThoughts,” a “Pickles Flyby” and featurette on the Tribunal.
Having been shoved out of the print marketplace by the Internet and dozens of niche dining and cooking shows, Gourmet magazine’s brand was used by Conde Nast to spearhead its efforts to exploit the Internet, books and television. Although it lasted only three seasons, “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” was a classy addition to the genre. It benefitted both from the Gourmet braintrust and distribution through the PBS network of stations. Typically, the episodes were divided among regional cuisines, the insight of celebrity chefs, specific tastes and ingredients, various foodie crusades and trends. Watching a recipe being tested in Gourmet’s test kitchen also was a popular segment. Among the places visited in Season Two were New Zealand, Southern India, North Carolina, Baja and Vietnam. Other topics included bread, aromas, drinks, the art of culinary deception, blogs and sweets. – Gary Dretzka
Hallmark: Love’s Christmas Journey
The latest in a series of made-for-Hallmark movies based on the books of Janette Oke, “Love’s Christmas Journey” opens with recently widowed Ellie King (Natalie Hall) visiting her brother, Aaron (Greg Vaughan), and his children for Christmas. Even with the loss of her husband and daughter in a tornado, she tries her best to enjoy the holidays in a western town anticipating the possible arrival of the railroad. Even without a formal announcement, the town’s residents, greedy business interests and con artists are positioning themselves to profit from it. Bad luck appears to have followed Ellie when Aaron, the town’s sheriff, goes missing on a trip to check out some contested land. The Dove-approved “Love” series carries a family-friendly Christian message and has been compared to “Little House on the Prairie.” Among the guest stars are JoBeth Williams, Sean Astin and Ernest Borgnine. The DVD includes a souvenir greeting card. – Gary Dretzka