MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Dark Shadows, Cinderella, Iron Sky, Flying Swords … More

Dark Shadows: Blu-ray
Everything about Tim Burton’s feature-length remake of the ancient TV soap opera, “Dark Shadows,” must have seemed perfect on paper, at least. Frequent collaborator Johnny Depp was on board to play the aristocratic vampire Barnabas Collins, alongside such fine talents as Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee. Their characters are well known to the original’s silver-haired fans — if not their children and grandchildren — and Burton acknowledged them by including Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker and David Selby on the guest list to the movie’s ball. Having re-watched several episodes from the soap opera recently, I think it’s only realistic to point out that “Dark Shadows” is hardly the stuff of which sacred texts are made. It toyed with soap-opera conventions by exploiting the sexual subtext of all vampire stories, but didn’t stray very far off the beaten path from there. It didn’t have to, really. Still, if there were few solid reasons to remake it, there weren’t any good ones prohibiting it, either, at least from the audience’s point of view. It was only logical that the wildly creative Burton would get the assignment. To re-create stately Collinwood Mansion, he probably was allotted more money than it cost to produce the entire television series.

As the movie opens, we’re reminded of the circumstances that led to Barnabas being turned into a vampire and locked in a coffin for the next 200 years. It’s tragically romantic, but the mood quickly changes to terror when he slaughters the construction workers who rescue him from eternal sleep. It lightens considerably when Barnabas discovers the changes that have taken place in Collinsport in the meantime. Depp reacts wonderfully to each new revelation of cultural upheaval, even if his mannerisms and reactions are familiar from other Burton productions. Some of the other characters look as if they might have been borrowed from a rejected script for “The Addams Family,” however. Green’s wickedly beautiful witch is supposed to be as formidable a force in the narrative as Depp, but, alas, she doesn’t possess the comic chops he does. She’s voluptuous and not much else. Far more seasoned, Pfeiffer does a better job as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the eldest child in the Collins family … in non-vampire terms, anyway. Considering the talent involved and marketing assault, “Dark Shadows” greatly underperformed at the domestic box office. Of the reported $234 million in worldwide revenues, only a third was contributed by U.S. audiences. It ought to do just fine in DVD and Blu-ray, though. The moody cinematography is captured nicely in hi-def, while the rock-oriented soundtrack livens the pace when the narrative lags. (Alice Cooper, who Barnabas mistakes for a woman, performs at the ball.) DVD and Blu-ray owners with older hardware won’t be able to take advantage of the PiP embellishments in Maximum Movie Mode and Focus Points. They’ll have to settle for six minutes of deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka

Cinderella: Diamond Edition: Blu-ray
It’s difficult to imagine how one 74-minute cartoon could inspire as many romantic dreams and joyous memories as Disney’s 62-year-old “Cinderella.” It’s a story that demands of us that we buy into the studio mythos that evil is no match for virtue, nothing is impossible for those whose hearts are true and, in times of desperation, every planet in the animated universe will line up to ensure a gloriously happy ending. In “Cinderella,” not even a cat named Lucifer could prevent the household’s mice, horses, dog and songbirds from helping a lowly scullery maid from finding her charming prince. If anyone in the audience had a reason to feel left out in the cold, it’s the many generous stepmothers and outgoing stepsisters who were tarred with the same brush as Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Drizella. Fairy godmothers, easily duped monarchs and handsome princes always fared better in Disney features than domineering female characters. Obsessives will continue to debate where “Cinderella” fits in the studio’s canon, but there’s no mistaking the place it holds in the hearts of women around the world, even those whose fantasies never quite come true. That the commercial success of “Cinderella” also would ensure that Walt Disney’s dreams came true is a less known chapter in the story.

In addition to being the first feature-length film the studio – then, $4 million in debt — produced and released after wartime cutbacks, “Cinderella” would introduce the concept of vertical integration to Hollywood. The movie made a bundle at the box office, of course, but, for the first time, additional profits flowed in from record sales, music publishing, publications and other merchandise. Even today, it remains a cash cow that’s never gone dry. It provided Walt Disney with the money he needed to finance a slate of productions, establish his own distribution company, enter television production and begin building Disneyland. In 1957, and in regular intervals thereafter, “Cinderella” would be re-released for a new generation of children and parents to savor. Down the road, the same strategy would allow Disney engineers to take advantage of every new technology and keep the product looking fresh.

This time around, it’s Blu-ray’s turn to shine. First and foremost, the “Diamond Edition” boasts an impressive restoration and video transfer; two fine DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (a 7.1 remix and a lossless presentation of the original audio); and a full slate of bonus features, many of which are borrowed from the 2005 “Special Edition” DVD. The new ones include an introduction by Diane Disney Miller and an alternate opening sequence; a 30-minute addition to the previous “Backstage Disney” tour; the animated short, “Tangled Ever After,” which allows a comparison between Rapunzel and Cinderella; the personalized digital storybook, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-You,” in the interactive Disney Second Screen format; DisneyView, which adds artwork to the normally black borders of the traditional visual format; and featurettes, “Behind the Magic: A New Disney Princess Fantasyland,” “The Magic of a Glass Slipper: A Cinderella Story” and “The Real Fairy Godmother.” – Gary Dretzka

Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Event: Digitally Restored
The anxiously awaited Blu-ray edition of “Lawrence of Arabia” arrives on November 13, but Sony is offering buffs and scholars an opportunity to watch it the way David Lean intended, on the really big screen. The digitally restored version will be shown on Thursday, October 4, at 7:00 p.m. local time, with special matinees in select theaters. It was restored by Sony Pictures Entertainment in 4K at Sony Pictures’ Colorworks, from the original 65mm negative. This special event features an introduction from Omar Sharif, newsreel coverage of the gala New York premiere and footage of King Hussein visiting the film set in Aqaba, where he met David Lean, Sam Spiegel and Peter O’Toole. Director Martin Scorsese will also discuss the overarching themes of “Lawrence of Arabia” and its influence on other iconic films.

Tickets are available at participating theater box offices and online at www.FathomEvents.com. The two-disc Blu-ray will add even more supplementary material.

The Lady: Blu-ray
The timing of the release of “The Lady” could hardly be better. Longtime Burmese democracy advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is wrapping up her tour of the United States, during which she was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. Moreover, though, it appears that a stable form of self-determination may finally be taking hold in Myanmar – Burma, before the military government changed the country’s name – after almost 50 years of draconian rule. During this period, the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation became an international eyesore, with a disintegrating economy and health-care system and a human-right record only the North Korean government might applaud. Meanwhile, the military officers in charge of the nation became fabulously wealthy men. Rather than assassinate Suu Kyi and risk a backlash in Myanmar and beyond, the generals decided, instead, to put her under house arrest and strictly limit access to her. For most of the next 20 years, that was Suu Kyi’s fate.

Of all the directors who might have been asked to stage a biopic of this very brave and inspirational woman, you’d hardly think action-specialist Luc Besson would be high on the list of candidates. Working from a script by Rebecca Frayn, Besson uses the recent history of the country as a frame for a depiction of the romance between Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeow) and her British husband, Dr. Michael Aris (David Thewlis). As compelling as that story might be, it presented a challenge for audiences. After all, between 1989, when his wife was first placed under house arrest, and his death to cancer in 1999, Aris had seen Suu Kyi only five times. The government forced them to live in two extremely different worlds. No matter the temptation, both were cognizant of the fact that Suu Kyi would never be allowed to return to Myanmar if she went to England to visit Aris and their two sons. Besson gets around this dilemma by inserting far too many cumbersome phone calls, mysterious disconnections and attempts to monitor world affairs via forbidden radios. Things were happening in the streets of Rangoon (a.k.a., Yangun), but, like Suu Yi, we feel trapped behind the gates of her lakeside estate.

Most of the rest of the tumultuous story is told in postscript form (riots organized by monks and students) or overlooked (the devastating effects of a hurricane). In fact, in October, 2010, while they were shooting in Thailand, the cast and crew were pleasantly surprised to learn that Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest. Less than two years later, as the movie was opening around the world, MP-elect Suu Kyi was preparing to take her place in Parliament. Because of conditions imposed on the dissidents by the military hierarchy, it wasn’t until they actually took oath that anyone close to situation stopped holding their collective breath. The making-of feature describes how difficult it was to make “The Lady,” given Besson’s desire to stick to English and Burmese dialogue and shoot footage surreptitiously inside Myanmar, itself. Many of the crowd scenes were shot in Thailand, where there’s a large community of Burmese exiles. – Gary Dretzka

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding: Blu-ray
In Bruce Beresford’s multigenerational rom-com, “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding,” the estimable Jane Fonda plays a hippy-dippy GILF – you figure it out – whose daughter and grandchildren are as square as she is groovy. Catherine Keener portrays her daughter, Diane, a soon-to-be-divorced Manhattan lawyer with a stick up her ass, and her overly sheltered kids are played by Elizabeth Olson and Nate Wolff. To get as far away from her husband as possible, Diane grabs the teenagers and heads back to the family farm for the first time in 20 years. There, she finds Granny Grace still fighting the good fight: protesting the war in the town square during the morning; attending a music festival in the afternoon; and, later, hosting a gathering of women to celebrate the full moon. In any other context, the proselytizing and morally questionable lifestyle of the pot-growing, chicken-liberating, still sexually adventurous Grace might be seen as something less than charming. After hearing several years’ worth of horror stories told by their mother about Grace, however, Zoe and Jake quickly bridge the generation gap separating the two stubborn women and find common ground between them. Clearly, it’s more fun to be a hippy on an idyllic Adirondacks farm than afterthoughts in a divorce battle in steamy summertime Manhattan.

As unconventional as “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” feels, at times, it really doesn’t stray very far from the tropes of the rom-com genre. Once again, perfectly matched men and women aren’t allowed to fall in love unless they first clear all of the hurdles placed in their way by the director and screenwriters. Even then, the characters are required to overcome feelings of guilt for betraying their normal tendencies toward avoiding intimacy. To suggest that real human beings don’t act and say things the way that the characters do in “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” is only to state the obvious. When was the last time you saw a rom-com in which they did, however.

What “PL&M” does have going for it is an acknowledgement that love isn’t limited to teenagers and the kind of bright and peppy yuppies who populate Michelob Light commercials. Contrary to what normally happens in Hollywood movies, middle-age men and women and senior citizens are perfectly capable of enjoying sex and finding fulfillment in relationships, too. In Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski’s story the geezers are given as much time as the kids – Olson, Wolff, Chace Crawford and Marissa O’Donnell – to find love, lose it and re-capture it. It may sound like a small point to audiences under 30, but the older one gets, the more we need to be reminded that romance can be re-kindled after the kids leave home. Other familiar cast members are Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan, Rosanna Arquette and Katharine McPhee. Shot in and around Woodstock, New York, the scenery looks pretty nice in Blu-ray, as well. It adds a standard-issue making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

Iron Sky: Blu-ray
For almost 70 years, Nazi hunters have been searching the globe for war criminals who’ve escaped justice for their unconscionable actions in WWII. As we learn in the sci-fi parody, “Iron Sky,” they’ve been looking in the wrong place. Apparently, in 1945, participants in a secret Nazi space program fled to the dark side of the moon, where they’ve been plotting revenge on the Allies who put an end to the Third Reich. Using available lunar resources, Nazi fugitives and their offspring constructed a gargantuan fortress and aeronautics facility invisible even to the many satellites and space capsules that once surveyed the orb. Skip ahead to 2018, when a Nazi armada is on the brink of attacking Earth. All that’s missing is a trigger mechanism for the central computer and it’s inadvertently provided by an African-American astronaut who stumbles upon the factory during a normal lunar mission. During his interrogation, the head scientist discovers the astronaut’s iPhone, which is capable of performing more calculations in a minute than the Germans have in 70 years. Alas, the iPhone’s batteries are nearly depleted and an advance team of astronauts is sent to Earth to pick some up.

That’s a fairly straightforward description of what happens in Timo Vuorensola’s “Iron Sky,” which appears to have found theatrical distribution everywhere on the planet except here. It was made by the same team of Finns responsible for the “Star Wrecks” series of sci-fi parodies, which have grown far more elaborate since the first animated entry in 1992. The latest, “Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning” was downloaded more 700,000 times in its first week on the Internet. “Iron Sky” is an extension of that clever series.

Among the many gags that bring the story to life are the appearances of Udo Kier as the Fuhrer in exile; Sarah Palin look-alike Stephanie Paul as the President of the United States (there’s a stuffed polar bear, wolf and moose head in the Oval Office); members of an advance team of Gestapo officers, who are mistaken for fashion models; and a pretty blond Nazi (Julia Dietz), who sees a gang of Skinheads spray-painting swastikas on a wall and assumes they’re kindred spirits. “Iron Sky” probably could have benefitted from a rewrite by Mel Brooks or the “Kentucky Fried Movie” team, because too much of the material arrives only half-baked. What’s sensational about “Iron Sky,” though, is its overall look, which benefits from some 1,000 visual effects. With a price tag of about $9 million – much of it donated by fans of the filmmakers’ previous work – it could easily be confused with an American genre flick brought in at three times the budget. The Blu-ray supplements include a pair of making-of featurettes. – Gary Dretzka

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate: Blu-ray 3D/2D
Imagine a movie set primarily at an inn located in the middle of the desert, where old grudges are settled, outlaws clash with government troops and fabulous treasures are rumored to be hidden. Then try to imagine what the film might look like if it were directed by Sam Peckinpah and starred Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Jim Brown. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Substitute the Gobi for the Sonoran Desert, Tsui Hark for Peckinpah, and Jet Li, Xun Zhou and Kun Chen for the American actors, and you have “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.” Prepare to be dazzled. Instead of being armed with six-guns and Winchesters, the Ming Dynasty characters fight with their hands, feet, spears, whips, arrows and other exotic wuxia weaponry. Special effects, wire work and swordplay add a level of excitement not available to American filmmakers, whose myth-making normally doesn’t include kung-fu acrobatics and shape-shifting. The common denominators are horses and a high body count.

“Flying Swords” is the second re-working of Hu King’s 1967 martial-arts adventure, “Dragon Inn.” It is set three years after the destruction of the outpost in Hark and Raymond Lee’s 1992 reworking of that hit zatoichi film. Here, the inn has been rebuilt and it has become a mecca for warriors, fugitives and assassins. If a sheriff can’t find a criminal at Dragon Inn, he’s off-duty and not looking for trouble. The primary combatants, though, are troops loyal to General Chow Wai-On (Li) and the dangerous royal eunuch Yu Hua-Tian (Chen), who’s intent on killing the emperor’s pregnant maid and her formidable bodyguard, Lin Yan-Qiu (Zhou). Everyone else at the inn is focused on the gold believed hidden under the inn. “Flying Swords” may be a tad talky and thickly plotted for the tastes of action freaks, but what there is of it is amazing. The IMAX 3D version of the movie was a big hit in China, where the format has yet to reach critical mass. The Blu-ray includes making-of and behind-the-scenes material, as well as interviews. – Gary Dretzka

Chained: Blu-ray
It’s difficult to say how being the daughter of filmmaker/artist David Lynch has impacted the career of Jennifer Lynch. While there’s no question the media was predisposed to embrace her first movie – the erotic horror tale, “Boxing Helena” – critics nullified the puff pieces by treating it as they would any of her father’s new films. Instead of merely voicing their unhappiness with the work of a 25-year-old rookie and moving on to the next assignment, they sharpened their knives and went out of their way to disembowel it. In hindsight, the story of extreme obsession fits alongside other modern horror movies, before and since, that have attempted to elevate the genre intellectually. Lynch was unable to convince her detractors of the necessity of putting themselves in the box alongside the quadruple-amputee Helena and accepting that the character was a stand-in for all women stuck in abusive relationships. The bombastic reception stung Lynch, who wouldn’t write and direct another film for 15 years. The dark thriller didn’t do much better with critics.

In “Chained,” Lynch returns to the serial-killer subgenre with a vengeance. Vincent D’Onofrio, who does crazy as well as any actor, plays a deranged cab driver, Bob, who frequently kidnaps his female fares and takes them to his rural home, where he rapes and kills them. Early in the movie, Bob does exactly this to Julia Ormond. The difference this time is that Bob forces her young son to listen to the screams, before he decides to hold the boy captive and mold him into a miniature copy of himself. He even beats the boy with the same crazed fervor as his father beat him. Flashing ahead a few years, it’s clear that “Rabbit” (Eamon Farren) has been brutalized and psychologically manipulated to the point where he’s an automaton. Even so, Bob demands that Rabbit take his home schooling seriously, especially the anatomical lessons that could prove useful when swiftly killing and dismembering his victims. The time eventually comes when Bob thinks Rabbit is ready to participate in the hunts and break through the final barrier, by killing a prostitute brought back to the house. Lynch keeps us guessing as to whether Rabbit has a smidgen of humanity left in him or he’s a lost cause. “Chained” is the kind of uncompromising film that horror buffs will embrace far more than casual fans and critics. Graphically violent and undeniably disturbing, it originally was rated NC-17, but cut to a “R,” ostensibly for DVD distribution. The Blu-ray includes commentary by Lynch and D’Onofrio, as well as a slightly longer version of one of the murders. – Gary Dretzka

We Are the Hartmans
A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed a low-budget indie comedy, “Gone Hollywood,” whose story could have come from the same Screenplays ‘R’ Us store as “We Are the Hartmans.” In both, a local watering hole catering to a rural town’s eccentrics and misfits is threatened with closure by an avaricious corporation bent on building yet another big-box store or something equally atrocious. At first, estranged relatives of the owners – one dead, the other laid low by a stroke – seem bent on taking the money and running home. When they become aware of how much the tavern means to the community, however, they have a change of heart. In “We Are the Hartmans,” Richard Chamberlain, looking a lot like Howard Hesseman at his most stoned, plays the owner of Hartman’s Rock Club. Although he isn’t at all happy about being stuck in the hospital after the stroke, the old hippie is thrilled to learn that he qualifies for medicinal pot and has been given some kick-ass pain-killers. Marijuana also figures in the transition of his up-tight, big-city daughter (Jennifer Restivo) from money-grubber to one of the gang of offbeat locals attempting to raise the money needed to buy the facility. “We Are the Hartmans” was made for an estimated $200,000 and it looks it. If too much of the comedy looks like a film-school project, it deserves credit for its upbeat spirit and unpretentious attitude. – Gary Dretzka

The Samaritan: Blu-ray
$hifty
Although Samuel L. Jackson tends to dominate every scene of every movie that he’s in, he isn’t often assigned lead roles. Casting directors could probably provide a dozen reasons why that’s the case, but, fact is, Hollywood doesn’t make all that many movies that call for black-male protagonists. Jackson exudes a different sort of charisma than Denzel Washington and Denzel is Hollywood’s go-to African-American for lead roles in high-budget action films. Still, I don’t suppose Jackson minded playing Nick Fury and Mace Windu in several of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Jackson also is in great demand as a voice actor in major animated features. In the noir-ish Canadian crime thriller, “The Samaritan,” he not only plays the lead character – a recent parolee determined to stay on the straight, if razor-thin path – but his presence also provides the only good reason to check it out.

No sooner is Jackson’s Foley released from prison than he’s confronted by the son of his former partner, who he murdered at the behest of a gangster who was pointing a gun at his head. The guy probably had it coming, but that’s not what the mid-level hoodlum, Ethan (Luke Kirby), wants to hear. He demands that Foley participate in a three-person grift known as “the Samaritan” or he will reveal a long-harbored piece of intelligence that would devastate the ex-con and the woman closest to him. The secret has been so deeply guarded, in fact, only one person besides Ethan knows it. It’s a doozy, though. Unfortunately, co-writer/director David Weaver couldn’t decide if wanted to make a movie about a tricky scam or a smart action picture. By attempting to have it both ways, Weaver met neither goal. Even so, Jackson is great fun to watch and the atmospherics are pretty good. He’s joined by Tom Wilkinson, Deborah Kara Unger (too briefly) and the exotic beauty Ruth Negga, who is equal parts Irish and Ethiopian.

The popular image of a drug dealer is a gang member working a corner for a more senior thug or a young white guy who dreams of hitting Vegas with supermodel on each arm. The truth is far more banal. Open any high school yearbook, close your eyes and point a finger at a random student. That person is more likely to be a purveyor of recreational drugs than the archetypal street dealer. The gritty British crime story, “$hifty,” introduces viewers to bottom-rung dealers who risk their freedom everyday by selling nickel and dime bags of powder, rocks or grass to customers who would be the mostly likely to rat them out if arrested. As long as supply and demand remains on even keel, however, business runs smoothly and risks are low. Freshman writer/director Eran Creevy follows one such dealer, Shifty (Riz Ahmed), as he goes about his duties over the course of one unusually eventful 24-hour period. The day begins when a friend from Manchester surprises Shifty by showing up at the door of his home on the outskirts of London after a four-year absence. Chris (Daniel Mays) abruptly split the scene for reasons that remain a mystery throughout most of the movie. Chris accompanies Shifty on his rounds, remaining mute but absorbing how much the business has changed in his absence. This also is the day that Shifty’s otherwise smooth operation hits potholes dug by his supplier, a desperate customer and his brother Paul, a devout Muslim who discovers his hidey-hole and flushes the stash down the toilet. By doing so he effectively puts a price on Shifty’s head. The quietly powerful “$hifty” owes far more to the British cinema’s “kitchen sink” era than anything made by Guy Ritchie and his imitators. Buffs may find that to be more of a compliment than a curse. – Gary Dretzka

Sound of My Voice: Blu-ray
I’ve never pitched a movie idea to anyone except, maybe, a friend sitting on the stool next to me in a tavern. In the psycho-thriller, “Sound of My Voice,” however, there’s a snippet of dialogue that would seem to be an ideal pitch: “Somewhere in the Valley, there is a woman living in a basement who claims to be from the future. She’s actually amassing followers. These people believe that she will lead them to salvation, or whatever. And, yes, she’s dangerous, but we have to see this thing through … all the way.” The only things missing are a description of the woman – drop-dead-gorgeous blond, Brit Marling – and the identities of the persons who “have to see this thing through.” They are a strikingly attractive journalist (Nicole Vicius) and her skeptical partner — and part-time teacher (Christopher Denham) — who go undercover to expose someone they believe to be a fraud. As full of promise as this premise is, I suspect that “Sound of My Voice” wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting made if the key female characters weren’t beautiful and there weren’t a couple of shower scenes, however chaste.

Freshman director Zal Batmanglij in his first of two collaborations with Marling, is basically asking us to question what leads some people to follow charismatic religious leaders – be they L. Ron Hubbard or Jesus H. Christ – after listening to appeals that sound preposterous on the face of them. Here, Marling plays a woman who claims to be a time-traveler from the future – 2054, to be exact – and a prophet of much trouble to come in the 21st Century. Maggie wears the customary white shawl and diaphanous gown, while sermonizing in a tone that resonates with self-confidence and integrity. The screenplay leaves lots of room for conjecture as to Maggie’s motivations and credibility, but that’s OK because we already know that such cults can grow and prosper or end up making headlines when they drink the Kool-Aid. Part of the mystery in “Sound of My Voice” derives from trying to figure out how Maggie and one of the teacher’s young students know things about each other that normally would seem impossible. Batmanglij’s deliberate pace and willingness to leave so many questions unanswered help sell “Sound of My Voice” as a quietly creepy feature. The DVD adds interviews and a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

Splinters
Whittle: The Jet Pioneer
Hungry for Change
As the legend is told in “Splinters,” Papua New Guinea became a surfing nation in the 1980s, after an Australian pilot left behind a board in the remote seaside village of Vanimo. The outlander had taught a local man the sport and he taught everyone else. Today, there are enough surfing clubs to support a national competition and dreams of competing in Tahiti, Australia and everywhere else waves break, curl and crash. Because of the lack of economic opportunity in the developing nation, surfing has also provided residents of the beach communities with a source of pride and purpose. Adam Pesce’s documentary doesn’t dwell on how much the surfing culture in Papua New Guinea resembles cargo-cult religions, but it’s difficult to ignore. Once mastered, the men and women we meet put surfing above nearly everything else in their lives, including marriage, paying alimony and finding work outside the village. Their passion isn’t unique, of course, or something that can absorbed from magazines. Surfing does that to people, especially if the homegrown waves are among the best in the world.

If Pesce’s intention was simply to record a curiosity in the wide world of sports, however, the facts of life in an impoverished nation caught up with the first-time, do-it-yourself filmmaker and forced him to widen the documentary’s scope. What “Splinters” reveals is a society in such a state of flux that the surfing competitions naturally rekindled ancient rivalries, family feuds and traditional prejudices. At stake, after all, besides bragging rights, was the opportunity for winners to visit countries that might has well have been designed for them by Walt Disney. There are several times in the movie when fights almost break out among the competitors and dirty tricks are played on the favorites. What’s also revealed are attitudes toward women that border on the prehistoric: one club leader refuses to comply with guidelines forbidding the exclusion of women surfers; donated boards are grabbed by the men, although they’re intended to be shared; it’s OK for men who’ve “purchased” wives to beat them whenever the mood strikes; and family members are free to beat sisters and daughters who bring shame to them. Things are changing, but too slowly to help the victims. That said, “Splinters” is mostly uplifting and positive. The smiles on the faces of the competitors and audience members during the contest speak volumes about how it feels to be part of a global community that demands nothing more than a love of surfing.

Aeronautics buffs certainly are aware of Air Commodore Frank Whittle, the British engineer credited with inventing the turbojet engine and advancing jet propulsion in the 20th Century. In Nicholas Jones’ fascinating, if dry as a Saltine cracker documentary, “Whittle: The Jet Pioneer,” we learn just how much more prominent his name would be if the British government hadn’t put the brakes on the development of the jet fighter that could have taken out Hitler’s Luftwaffe well before the battle of Britain. By extension, at least, it’s possible to assume that the Allies had in their possession a weapon that could have changed the course of history, but repeatedly dropped the ball. This happened, even though we were fully aware of Germany’s intentions to use propeller-less planes at its earliest convenience. Hell, no one even bothered to label the project “top secret.” News of Whittle’s invention was splashed on the front page of newspapers around America and Briton. How could such a debacle be allowed to happen? Unfortunately, the documentary merely points fingers at the likely culprits, without providing the hard evidence that would be needed for a blanket indictment. Whittle was so disturbed by the course of events that he spend much of the war and post-war period in the United States, where he would be compromised by nervous breakdowns. In due course, Whittle’s achievements would be recognized by the British government, if not the ramifications of past decisions. Also interviewed at length is Whittle’s Germany counterpart, Dr. Hans von Ohain.

The same chronically healthy folks who produced the 2008 documentary/infomercial, “Food Matters,” have returned to spread the vegan gospel in “Hungry for Change.” The gist of their argument is that by drinking vegetable juice and eating more produce that’s raw and full of anti-oxidants, you not only can lose weight and prevent certain illnesses, but it’s also possible to reverse cancer and other serious diseases. The other thing stressed here is that the diet industry doesn’t necessarily have the best interests of its customers in mind. The movie provides plenty of testimonials, as well, to back up the assertions of the experts, who coincidentally also are the filmmakers. – Gary Dretzka

Hypothermia
James Felix McKenney’s throwback creature-feature, “Hypothermia,” combines the cheesy special effects of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and sub-zero shivers of the original 1951 “The Thing From Another World.” The result, however, is a story that is more silly than scary. Ever-credible Michael Rooker plays Ray, the father in a family hoping to enjoy a pleasant weekend of ice fishing, somewhere in Minnesota, Wisconsin or the Adirondacks. Joining him are his outdoorsy wife, Helen (Blanche Baker), son David and his fiancé Gina (Benjamin Forster, Amy Chang). Ray’s an old-school angler, whose idea of comfort is an upturned fruit crate and makeshift plywood windbreak. While sampling the ice on their first night at the cabin, Ray manages to slip through a thin patch that we are led to believe is an entry point for the “Lake Man” monster. After spending enough time semi-submerged to believe he should have experienced hyperthermia, his family senses something is wrong and rescues him. Still, after a night spent defrosting and being blasted with some heebie-jeebies effects, the family is good to go in the morning.

After a few hours on the ice, they’re joined by a father-son team of yahoos whose fishing shack resembles the model kitchen in a late-night ad for a mobile-home dealership. They’re noisy, obnoxious and ready to party. Ray’s family reluctantly joins the newcomers after nearly being killed by a monstrous aquatic creature drawn to mechanical vibrations. After that, of course, “Hypothermia” turns into a tale of survival, in which the two families battle a creature so obviously phony it could have been created by a high school AV club with access to scuba gear and a VHS copy of “Creature From the Black Lagoon.” Not surprising, then, “Hypothermia” is just now making its delayed debut on DVD. The best part of the experience is the making-of material, which explains how one might go about making a horror movie in sub-zero conditions, as well as the motivations of filmmakers, who admit to being scared out of their minds by the horror films they saw on TV when they were kids. It’s also kind of painful to watch veteran actor Blanche Baker pretend she isn’t feeling absolutely miserable, staring into a small hole in the ice with the frigid wind blowing in her face. – Gary Dretzka

Funkytown
By all outward appearances, “Funkytown” would appear to be a Canadian clone of “54” and “The Last Days of Disco,” which, of course, the world needs about as much as a paisley hockey puck. Fact is, though, folks in the Great White North have a very good reason to crow about their disco heritage. In the mid-1970s, Montreal had a nightclub scene that was the equal of New York and Los Angeles, and celebrities routinely made pit stops there on the way to other destinations. The fictional Starlight nightclub in “Funkytown” is modeled after such hotspots as the Lime Light and 1234, and several of the characters were inspired by actual players in the scene. Hanging like a black cloud of doom over the proceedings, however, is the political dynamic that would result in a vote among Quebecois as to the question of secession from the rest of Canada. This led directly to the flight of major corporations from Montreal to Toronto, where businesses were free to hang signs in any language they desired, not just French. (Overnight, the Starlight was required to advertise itself as Le Starlight.) In a couple of more years, Montreal had lost its luster as one of the most culturally hip and fastest-growing cities in North America. “Funkytown” isn’t in the same league with Whit Stillman’s “The Last Days of Disco,” but the ensemble cast is game and characters have other things on their minds than partying and cocaine (although there is some of that, too). The most recognizable actor for U.S. audiences probably is Justin Chatwin, who’s played key roles recently in “Weeds,” “Shameless” and “War of the Worlds.” He plays a featured dancer with a struggling Italian restaurant and sexual-identity issues. – Gary Dretzka

Brian Wilson: Songwriter, 1969-1982
Tight
No rock band has experienced more tumult and caused more anxiety among its fan base than the Beach Boys. Unless you were there, between 1969 and 1982, it’s difficult to imagine that this most American of ensembles rode a roller-coaster that carried them from the highs of immense popular and critical acceptance to the lows caused by Brian Wilson’s breakdowns, public rejection of the band’s most artistically ambitious material and their label’s demand for Top 40 hits. It played out on the pages of Rolling Stone and via the rumor mill, which made Brian sound as if he was either completely out of his mind or was under the control of an evil puppet master. Brian had more than his fair share of mental problems, certainly, and his personal psychologist did as much harm as good. The fact that he didn’t finally join Jimi, Janis, Jim and a dozen other dead musicians in Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven suggests he might have carried an angel on his shoulder. After many years spent walking the razor’s edge, Wilson returned to his piano, the stage and recording studio. Alone among the Wilson brothers, he’s still alive to tell the tale.

Songwriter 1969-1982” extends Sexy Intellectual’s previous critical biography, “Songwriter 1962-1969,” which chronicled the band’s spectacular rise to the top of the charts and wildly innovative studio work that led to “Good Vibrations” and other psychedelic-surf music. “1969-1982” is a far more downbeat documentary. In addition to the headline-making turmoil, the Beach Boys were coming apart at the seams. Towards the end of the ’70s, Brian’s music was emanating from places the others couldn’t understand or appreciate, especially when a resurgence of interest in the early material promised a continuous stream of revenues from concerts and greatest-hits albums. Brian would be wheeled out on stage and treated as if he was a “trained bear.” As is typical in documentaries from Sexy Intellectual, the interviews with critics, historians, producers and collaborators are smart, interesting and based on intimate knowledge of the subject. If Brian’s life story reads like a novel, it’s nice to know that the final chapter has yet to be written. The DVD adds extended interviews and the insightful featurettes, “Behind the Music,” “Out of Bed/The Man Behind the Myth” and “Brian Goes Country.”

If “Spinal Tap” taught us anything, it’s that the line between rock ’n’ roll and parody is very thin, indeed. (Actually, Frank Zappa showed us the same thing, only 20 years earlier.) “Tight” chronicles the transition of four porn stars into a touring rock ensemble of the same name. Originally intended as a raunchy reality mini-series — Showtime’s “Family Business,” comes to mind — “Tight” looks about as vérité offstage as “Honey Boo Boo.” As far as I can tell, it can only be seen here on DVD and a couple of adult websites. Tight, the band, is comprised of Monica Mayhem, Layla Labelle, Tuesday Cross and Alicia Andrews. It’s managed by Bree Olson, whose 15 minutes of fame came when Charlie Sheen introduced her to the world as his “goddess.” Conveniently, most of the band’s dates are booked in strip clubs, where they can take off their tops and there’s a good chance someone in the audience will recognize them. Each night, too, one of the ladies throws a “golden condom” into the audience, giving whichever guy or gal who catches it an opportunity for extracurricular activity. If the women play to type and appear to enjoy making music together, Olson’s inability to manage becomes apparent when she hires her hayseed Hoosier “cousin” to be the band’s road manager. The dork spends most of his time ogling the ladies and eating sardines from the can with his hands. At its best, “Tight” provides some goofy fun for porn fans – the band took first place in Howard Stern’s “XXX Factor” – and, at worst, it’s unwatchable. The same can be said about most reality series, though. The DVD adds deleted scenes, music videos, concert footage, a photo gallery and liner notes. – Gary Dretzka

Pet Sematary: Blu-ray
There was a time, maybe a quarter-century ago, when movies adapted from Stephen King’s novels and stories weren’t as predictable as rain in the jungle. In 1983, alone, five titles were turned into films. “Pet Sematary” was released in 1989, three years after “Stand By Me” showed us another, more introspective side of King. In that movie, King explored how a boy’s coming of age could be hastened by experiencing a tragic event. Here, almost perversely, a toddler’s shocking death becomes the catalyst for horror, and many parents of young children found “Pet Sematary” to be excruciating. As the story goes, a city-slicker doctor (Dale Midkiff) and his family move to a small town in Maine, where the greatest threat to happiness appears to be the giant trucks that pass by their property at breakneck speed. After a neighbor (Fred Gwynne) rescues the toddler from disaster, he mentions that the road “uses up” a lot of small animals. The more beloved of the roadkill end up in a pleasant pet cemetery nearby, a fact that creeps out the boy’s older sister. He also mentions to the doctor that there’s another cemetery, a bit further removed, where, it’s said, the dead don’t stay dead for very long. That’s because it’s built on an ancient Indian burial ground and the corpses aren’t fond of sharing the space with critters. Sure enough, this is the place that Dad decides to bury his daughter’s precious kitty cat after it’s killed by a truck. A few hours later, it returns a very different creature. No use spoiling anyone’s fun by going too deeply into the plot. Suffice it to say that the doctor can’t resist playing God, no matter how dangerous.

The supernatural aspects of “Pet Sematary” are pretty chilling, but what kicks the story up several notches higher are the special makeup and sound effects. The deaths are horrifying and the people who return from the dead look very much like considerably more ambulatory zombies. What happens when the little boy returns from the dead is almost unconscionably monstrous. That’s why they call it horror, though. The Blu-ray upgrade makes the 23-year-old movie look as fresh as a daisy, while the sound design is as unnerving as it could be. The Blu-ray package adds commentary by director Mary Lambert and three background featurettes. The 3D cover image is pretty scary, too. – Gary Dretzka

Note to Self
The upbeat urban rom-com, “Note to Self,” uses one trick too many to tell the story of Curtis King (Christian Keyes), a popular and soft-spoken student athlete, and the many trials he faces upon entering his senior year in college. After being caught pulling a prank, his no-nonsense coach tells him to see a psychologist to help get his priorities straight. In most other movies targeted directly at the African-American audience, the troubled protagonist would seek the advice of a preacher. Here, while asking the same kinds of questions, the counselor encourages Curtis to keep a journal detailing his circumstances and thoughts. Their conversations don’t feel at all organic, serving mostly to provide a bridge from one problem to the next. Among the things contributing to the young man’s malaise are a seriously ill mother; a father who disappeared 16 years earlier; an upcoming conference tournament; and an impatient libido. His life is further complicated by a brief affair with a sexy femme fatale and his determination to keep on the right side of things with his new girl, a genuinely nice single mother and nursing student. It’s a lot of weight for a graduating senior to carry, but Curtis benefits from good advice and direction from the psychologist. In addition to starring in “Note to Self,” Keyes wrote the screenplay for director Trey Haley, who also is a partner in the company that produced the picture. The cast includes former Destiny’s Child member, Letoya Luckett; singers Brian McKnight and Jason Weaver; and lots of faces that will be familiar to BET viewers and fans of Tyler Perry’s projects. The DVD supplements include deleted scenes, bloopers, a making-of piece and an “I’m Alright” music video. – Gary Dretzka


General Education: Blu-ray
Tom Morris’ first feature as writer, director and producer is a teen rom-com so devoid of humor and lacking in romance, it defies categorization. Given the genre, you’d think there would be one or two scenes in which kids drank too much and were stricken with projectile vomiting or fainted while sneaking peeks into the girls’ shower room at school. But, noooooo! “General Education” is a story about a teen tennis phenom, Levi Collins, who’s spent all his time practicing, instead of studying for the science final he needs to pass to graduate and qualify for a scholarship. Not only does Levi (Chris Sheffield) fail the course, but he also stands to flunk summer school. For some reason, he withholds this information from his wealthy parents (Larry Miller, Janeane Garofalo), freaking out his tennis-obsessed father when it’s revealed. At the same time as Levi breaks the news to his dad, he comes to the realization that, as good as he is, he doesn’t enjoy playing tennis and would prefer hanging out with his geek buddies and the pretty daughter of the teacher who’s failing him. That everything eventually works out for Levi should be evident from the moment the opening credits begin to roll.

What isn’t predictable is how darn nice everyone is or becomes. If it weren’t for Levi’s jerk father and his main competition for the tennis scholarship, there wouldn’t any conflict whatsoever. Given what I saw and heard, even the PG-14 seems extreme. With some gentle editing, it could easily qualify as an after-school movie on ABC Family or Disney Channel. I don’t think that was what the filmmakers were going for, though. The bonus material includes outtakes, a making-of featurette and commentary with director, producers and sound editor. – Gary Dretzka

Downton Abbey: Limited Edition: Seasons One & Two: Blu-ray
With 9 wins among 27 nominations, “Downton Abbey” has become the most celebrated British television production in Emmys competition. Like its kindred predecessor, “Upstairs Downstairs,” it has been embraced wholeheartedly by American audiences, as well. (FYI: The third season of “Downton Abbey” had already begun in England and will show up here in January, while the next go-round of “Upstairs Downstairs” begins October 7 on PBS.) The uninitiated would do well to catch up with the doings at “Downton Abbey” by picking up “Limited Edition: Season One & Two” on DVD or Blu-ray. There’s no better reason than to admire the Emmy-winning performances of Dame Maggie Smith, who stars as the imperious Dowager Countess of Grantham, matriarch of Downton. As her dutiful son and progressive American daughter-in-law, Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern also are great fun to watch.

Season Two takes place as World War I rages across Europe and the impact is felt, as well, by everyone at the estate — rich and poor – especially after its been retrofitted as a hospital. Amid the chaos, there’s plenty of soap-opera melodrama to keeps fans happy, including a wedding and the scourge of the Spanish flu. The package adds “Downton Abbey Christmas Special” and the bonus features from Season One: “Making of ‘Downton Abbey’: A House in History” and “Great British Heritage Pass,” a promotional spot for British tourism.” The Season Two supplements include “Fashion and Uniforms,” “Romance in a Time of War” and “House to Hospital.” – Gary Dretzka

David Blaine: Decade of Magic
Throughout much of the 1990s, magic experienced the kind of commercial renaissance that standup comedy had a decade earlier. Las Vegas may have been the world capital of magic, but exposure on network television encouraged club owners to switch from comedy to magic. The same thing that burst the comedy clubs’ balloon eventually impacted on magicians. Once an entertainer had performed his act on HBO or the Comedy Channel, it was dead. Not even the most devout fan would put down hard-earned money to see the same jokes and “ad-libs.” Magicians faced the same dilemma. After viewers watched one made an elephant disappear before millions of viewers, how many people would pay for the same privilege on stage? Among the survivors was David Copperfield, who made a very good living by dispensing with the tuxedo and top hat and creating illusions that might have made Houdini gasp. If he wasn’t the hippest guy on the planet, at least he was young, handsome and exceedingly charismatic. How would the next generation of magicians top his act?

Along with Chris Angel, David Blaine found another way – guerrilla magic, if you will — to build a customer base. Instead of forcing their fans to buy tickets to a club or showroom, they took their act to the streets and made new friends along the way. Cable networks would exploit the popularity, using unobtrusive cameras to capture the excitement and wonder on the faces of the spectators. In most cases, these rock-’n’-roll magicians were performing card tricks and small illusions that were as old as George Burns, but spectators still reacted with “cool” and “awesome.” The more popular the magicians became, the more risks they took. The bigger the risks, the larger the audience became. After a rocky opening, Angel’s mind-freaky collaboration with Cirque du Soleil has found a home in Las Vegas’ Luxor. As is on full display in “Decade of Magic,” Blaine’s reputation has grown even more dependent on spectacle. His illusions and tests of endurance go on for days at a time and in places in full view of thousands of non-paying customers. The two-disc DVD compilation balances the big, headline-making stunts with televised accounts of “street magic.” In “Vertigo,” Blaine stands atop a 100-foot-high pillar in a New York City park, unharnessed, for 35 hours; in “Drowned Alive,” he spends a week submerged in a sphere containing 10,000 gallons of water, then attempts to break the record for holding one’s breath; and in “What Is Magic?,” Blaine catches a .22-caliber bullet, traveling at a speed of over 1,000 feet per second, in a cup clutched in his teeth. It’s a great stunt, but I swear I saw the same thing accomplished in Penn & Teller’s show. Perhaps, I missed something. – Gary Dretzka

Magic City: The Complete First Season: Blu-ray
New Girl: The Complete First Season
Hart of Dixie: The Complete First Season
How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Season 7
From Dust to Dreams: Opening Night at the Smith
Frontline: Alaska Gold
The Starz network has been around for 18 years, but, in all that time, it hasn’t attracted the kind of positive heat as it has in the last two or three seasons. Credit belongs to the bold decision to begin showcasing high-quality original mini-series, produced on budgets nearly the equivalent of those afforded shows on premium-cable competitor HBO and Showtime. Starz’ resurgence can be traced to the British historical epics “Pillars of the Earth” and “Camelot,” as well as the sci-fi fantasy, “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” and contemporary series “Crash” and “Gravity.” It scored a direct hit with the sword-and-sandal mini-series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” which combined graphic sex and violence and a highly stylistic visual style, reminiscent of Zach Snyder’s “300.” Even after losing its star to cancer, the mini-series would spin off a prequel and sequel. Next on tap were the classy political drama, “Boss,” and sexy gangster period piece, “Magic City.” Coming up next year is another historical drama, “Da Vinci’s Dreams.” Nine other shows are in the development stage. The common denominators are T&A – gladiator penises in “Spartacus” — and lots of spilt blood.

“Magic City” is set in Miami Beach, 1959, when the giant oceanside resort/hotels were the hottest places to stay in winter – imagine Las Vegas without the gambling — and, 90 miles away, Fidel Castro’s rebels were preparing to storm Havana. The white-hot center for action in Miami, we’re told, is the Miramar Playa resort, which serves as a home away from home for the Rat Pack, the Kennedys and mobsters about to lose their Cuban playground. The place is managed by Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), an ethical, if thoroughly compromised second-generation hotelier who is in constant danger of losing his property to the resident gangster, Ben “the Butcher” Diamond (Danny Huston). Otherwise, the story borrows liberally from “Casino,” “Godfather II” and “The Sopranos,” which is OK, I suppose. (When in doubt, steal from the best.) I don’t think any show can touch “Spartacus” for graphic displays of sweaty flesh, but “Magic City” comes close. If most of the men look as if they just stepped out of a police lineup, the women – Olga Kurylenko, Jessica Marais and Elena Satine, among them — may as well have been recruited from the Playboy mansion. (Although the introduction of silicone and saline breast implants would come several years after the period in which the show is set.) For the sake of cheap thrills, alone, “Magic City” is difficult to beat. The Blu-ray adds several background and making-of featurettes, none of which is long enough to add much perspective.

There are two very good reasons to watch the hit Fox sitcom, “New Girl”: 1) Zooey Deschanel and 2) it isn’t nearly as stupid as it sounds. The kooky flavor-of-last-year star, Deschanel, plays a slightly ditzy young woman, who, after losing her cheating boyfriend and job, moves into a bachelor pad with three single guys. This is the kind of thing that happens every day outside TV Land, right? Deschanel’s character, Jess, is pretty enough to set any young guy’s heart aflutter, but her purpose here is to play den mother and confidante for the trio of doofuses and her more worldly girlfriend, Cece. Tentatively titled “Chicks and Dicks,” which probably wouldn’t fly past network censors, anyway, the series was created by executive producer Elizabeth Meriwether. Her previous credits include the screenplay for “No Strings Attached” and an episode of “Children’s Hospital.”

Season One of the CW’s fish-out-of-water dramedy “Hart of Dixie” was targeted directly at the hearts of those young women who made hits out of “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl.” The connective tissue between all three shows is the presence of writer/producer Leila Gerstein. Rachel Bilson plays Dr. Zoe Hart a New Yorker bred in the bone hoping to become a heart surgeon, just like Daddy. After a major setback, Zoe agrees to accept a job at a practice in someplace called Bluebell, Alabama. Before she can even open a box of tongue depressors, though, the doctor who owns the practice dies. Unexpectedly, he bequeaths half of it to Zoe. The other half belongs to a doctor played by Tim Matheson, who had the audacity to name his pretty blond daughter Lemon (Jaime King). Like father, like daughter, Lemon takes it upon herself to make the newcomer’s life in Bluebell a nightmare. Naturally, too, the rest of the Gulf Coast town is populated by colorful rustics, one of whom keeps an alligator as a pet. The second season begins on October 2.

Meanwhile, the hit CBS sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother,” has already entered its eighth season. The DVD package is subtitled “The Ducky Tie Edition,” in reference to the bad-penny tie that’s already made out-of-sequence appearances in previous episodes “The Naked Truth” and “The Best Man.” Here, in typical “HIMYM” fashion, Barney is so desperate to see and/or feel Lily’s pregnant breasts that he makes a wager with Marshall he’s sure to win. If, perchance he loses, Barney must agree to wear the duckling-patterned tie that he finds hideous. In the episode’s clever ending, Barney comes out on top, as usual, even after losing the bet. If that weren’t enough excitement for Barney, he’s also getting married. Look out, as well, for the return of the Slutty Pumpkin.

For those “HIMYM” viewers who simply can’t get enough of the multitalented Neil Patrick Harris (a.k.a., Barney), there’s “From Dust to Dreams: Opening Night at the Smith.” He hosts the opening-night concert at the sparkling new Smith Center for the Performing Arts, in Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there was no real impetus for such a facility as long as the Strip resorts brought in the world’s top entertainers. That’s not necessarily the case anymore and the city has grown to the point where it requires a permanent home for the Las Vegas Philharmonic, Nevada Ballet Theater and touring cultural attractions. Back in the day, the casino bosses would have put the kibosh on any such complex, but the city is large enough now to provide separate entertainment magnets for tourists and locals. The entertainers include Jennifer Hudson, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Joshua Bell, Mavis Staples, Merle Haggard, Pat Monahan, John Fogerty, Carole King and a company of Broadway All-Stars.

The “Frontline” presentation, “Alaska Gold,” tells another familiar story of life in our times. As if the state’s natural resources haven’t already been exploited enough, this documentary describes yet another confrontation between environmentalists and commercial interests hoping to squeeze every penny of profit out of mineral deposits discovered in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska. Inconveniently, the bay also is home to the last great wild Sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The battle already is being waged in the statehouse and courts. – Gary Dretzka

Cartoon Network: Adventure Time: Jake vs. Me-Mow
Nickelodeon: Dora’s Royal Rescue
Everyone enjoys getting extra value for their money, no matter if they’re shopping for tires or DVDs. The new compilation of 16 episodes from the offbeat Cartoon Network series, “Adventure Time,” not only arrives with the special trivia feature, “Little Did You Know,” but also a cloth replica of Finn’s iconic bear cap, valued at $20. (Take that, Criterion Collection!) In the title episode, “Jake vs. Me Mow,” 14-year-old Finn’s shape-shifting dog does battle with a feline assassin, Me Mow, who is the size of a tick. The character’s look was inspired by a drawing sent to series creator Penn Ward by a young fan, whereas Jake is based on Tripper Morgan, Bill Murray’s character in “Meatballs.” Finn and Jake live in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo.

Dora’s Royal Rescue” arrives with coloring and activity book. The new double-length episode follows Lady Knight Dora as she joins the effort to rescue Don Quixote from Malambruno (voiced by Andy Garcia and Placido Domingo respectively). The Knight of the Woeful Countenance is being held captive in the Story Castle. The DVD also adds the new-to-DVD episode “Dora’s Knighthood Andventure.” – Gary Dretzka

VR Troopers: Season One, Volume One
Red vs. Blue: The Best
Saban Entertainment’s live-action companion to “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “VR Troopers” was cobbled together from three different shows in the Japanese “Metal Hero” series: “Superhuman Machine Metalder,” “Dimensional Warrior Spielban” and “Space Sheriff Schaider.” The “action fighting kids show” introduced viewers to the world of virtual reality, which was hot at the time, but enjoyed a short shelf life. It tells the story of Ryan Steele, Kaitlin Star and J.B. Reese, three teens with the ability to turn themselves into virtual superheroes. Ryan’s father created a technology that allows the Troopers to defend our reality from an evil mutant, Grimlord, who threatens to take over the world. It debuted in 1994 and ran for two years. The DVD contains 26 episodes.

The gimmick behind “Red vs. Blue” is adding voiceovers to the blockbuster videogame Halo, just as Woody Allen did with the dopey Japanese actioner, “International Secret Police: Key of Keys,” which became “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” The effect was hilarious, as it is here. “Red vs. Blue” is a parody of first-person shooter games, military life and science fiction films. It begins with two opposing teams of soldiers fighting a civil war in the middle of the desolate box canyon. None of this makes much logical sense, but that’s pretty much the point. The episodes included here were voted by fans to be the best. – 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