By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup
If, in 1972, any young actresses not named Linda Lovelace had starred in “Deep Throat,” it’s conceivable that the landmark XXX movie would have been made in exactly the same way and rung up approximately the same astounding amount of money at the box office. Lovelace’s gift, so to speak, was hardly exclusive to her, even then, and, as a thespian, she wasn’t likely to make anyone forget Marilyn Chambers, Seka or, even, the comparatively chaste Bettie Page. What made the story so irresistible to sexually curious audiences wasn’t Lovelace, per se, but how her specific talent complemented the narrative, which, at the time, wasn’t an ingredient in porn movies. Before “Deep Throat,” porn was basically limited to “loops,” during which a repairman/mailman/gardener satisfied the itch of a horny housewife, with or without taking off his socks. Loops weren’t limited to hetero sex, of course, and precious little time was wasted on plots. Extreme fellatio can still be found on the menu of the brothels at Pompeii and Herculaneum, so Lovelace wouldn’t have qualified for a patent or copyright, in any case. Still, she performed with such enthusiasm, it would be easy for media nitwits to assume she invented it.
Lovelace (a.k.a., Linda Susan Boreman) plays a woman frustrated by her inability to achieve an orgasm. A friend invites her to attend an orgy, but it proves to be of no avail. Their next stop is at the offices of the doctor who discovers that Linda’s clitoris is located in a part of her body that only a man with a very large penis could reach. He gallantly volunteers to teach her how to control her gag reflex and enjoy the experience as much as any partner. Although Linda (Amanda Seyfried) falls in love with Dr. Young, he’s only willing to hire her as a therapist until she finds the right man and gets married. All of this activity plays out in 61 minutes and, as befits a low-brow comedy, against a backdrop of crazy sounds and wacky visual effects. No one expected “Deep Throat” to become a media sensation or clear a path for the mainstreaming of pornography. Lovelace’s pimp/boyfriend/manager Chuck Traynor (Peter Saarsgaard) stole her $1,250 fee, while an estimated $600 million in undeclared revenue poured into mafia coffers. Years later, Lovelace would argue persuasively that Traynor forced her at gunpoint to turn tricks and perform in “Deep Throat.” As it caught fire, however, she partied with celebrities, made a couple more movies and starred in a Las Vegas stage act. All of this has been documented previously in Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s documentary “Inside Deep Throat” and Legs McNeil’s “The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry.” Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s “Lovelace” follows the dramatic trajectory of Lovelace’s life with Traynor and, before that, the role played by her intensely religious parents in driving her into his conniving grasp.
There’s plenty of nudity in “Lovelace,” but the sex wasn’t graphic enough to threaten its “R” rating. What’s truly pornographic here is the degree of on-screen violence inflicted on Lovelace by Traynor and it only gets more repugnant as the movie goes on. Given what we now know about Lovelace and Traynor’s sick relationship, before and after “Deep Throat,” it could have been even worse. Left unanswered by the filmmakers is why didn’t she ask her new pals Hugh Hefner and Sammy Davis Jr. to rescue her from the constant beatings? It’s almost as if Lovelace wanted to become the poster girl for the Stockholm syndrome, as well as a media star. It’s also fair to ask what what 2013 audiences are expected to take away from the movie. “Lovelace” doesn’t work particularly well as a cautionary tale, because the adult industry has evolved to the point where some women, at least, have more control on their careers than any husband or boyfriend. We learned more about the adult industry and its pitfalls from “Boogie Nights,” which stopped being fun to watch at approximately the same time as Dirk Diggler became addicted to the one common denominator in all of these films, cocaine. None of this diminishes the fine performances of Seyfried, Saarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Juno Temple, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, Hugh Hefner, James Franco and Debi Mazar, all of which are pretty much spot-on. The Blu-ray includes the making-of featurette, “Behind Lovelace.” – Gary Dretzka
Although Brian De Palma has been AWOL for quite some time, he’s lost none of his ability to wow audiences with his adventurous cinematography and attention to Hitchcockian detail. “Passion” is a remake of the 2010 French film, “Love Crime,” directed by the late Alain Corneau. The greatest difference between the two versions, which share a co-writer in Natalie Carter, is the 20-year gap in age between Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas and the absence of an age gap in Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. In Corneau’s story, the older woman takes credit for ideas given her by her assistant as a way of preserving her corporate status and to teach her a harsh lesson in business ethics. In De Palma’s version, the women are close friends, vying for essentially the same position. The shift in interpersonal dynamics are likely to bother fans of “Love Crime” far more than those who haven’t seen it … which I recommend. If the women in “Passion” are evenly matched in their pursuit of stardom, De Palma throws them a curve in the form of a pervy boyfriend and the introduction of another attractive, if slightly less fashionable woman in the office, with ambitions of her own. If this synopsis sounds overly vague, it’s only because telegraphing any of early the twists in “Passion” would spoil several others down the road. Would it have been fair of a critic to reveal the MacGuffin in a Hitchcock movie or the red herring in others? Fans of DePalma, who don’t mind his homages to Hitchcock, shouldn’t find it too difficult to see what’s coming around the corner here. But, why spoil the fun for everyone else. The Blu-ray presentation really enhances DePalma’s imaginative deployment of colors and angles, which telegraph the twists as much as any detail in the primary characters’ face or wardrobe. It adds interviews with Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. – Gary Dretzka
White House Down
The premise behind Roland Emmerich’s latest action epic, “White House Down,” is so ridiculous that it almost borders on the distasteful. It’s one thing to watch space invaders demolish the White House, as they did in “Independence Day,” or dramatize its burning in the War of 1812, but quite another to see the same thing being done by a gang of mercenaries and politicians pissed off because they consider the incumbent President (Jamie Foxx) to a wimp … and an African-American wimp, to boot. Channing Tatum plays a Secret Service wannabe, Cale, who just happens to be in the White House on a job interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal when a bomb explodes at the Capitol and heavily armed thugs break into the residence, killing everything that moves. Caught in the chaos is Cale’s daughter, a precocious lass with a photographic memory of all things presidential. Armed only with a cellphone camera, she provides the only link to the outside world from the besieged White House. When the invaders finally capture the girl, they use her as a negotiating tool with Cale and the President. It will take quite some time before we learn what it is they want and, by then, it hardly matters. Boiled down to its essence, “White House Down” is simply an excuse to blow stuff up and demonstrate state-of-the-art weaponry. Considering the amount of damage done to the White House and its grounds, nothing else really matters. They could tear down the ruins and replace them with a parking spot for food trucks, for the amount of time it would take to replace the building. As such, anyone who doesn’t mind checking their brain at the door should enjoy the 130 minutes of concussively loud and consistently mindless action in “White House Down.” Not having seen the very similar “Olympus Has Fallen,” I couldn’t argue with any certainty which one is better, except to point out that “WHD” scored slightly higher with the critics at Metacritic.com. Financially, though, “OHF” made more money on half the estimated $150-million budget of “WHD.” The DVD adds a six-minute gag reel and a dozen shorter making-of and backgrounder featurettes. – Gary Dretzka
It isn’t often that the difference between VHS, DVD and Blu-ray leaps off of the small screen and slaps you in the face with it. The hi-def edition of D.W. Griffith’s historical 1916 epic, “Intolerance” does just that. Anyone who enrolled in a film-history class before the introduction of the Laserdisc should easily recall how difficult it was to appreciate the grandeur of any movie projected onto to rarely washed screen in 16mm. The greater the scope of the movie, the more damage was inflicted on it by scratches, artifacts and splicing. The Cohen Film Collection’s immaculate restoration of “Intolerance” quickly erases all of those bad memories, sharpening images that seemed to blur into the elaborate backgrounds of previous editions. Carl Davis’ spectacular score also adds a dynamic new dimension to the proceedings. For the uninitiated, “Intolerance” traces the negative effects of bigotry and intolerance in four interwoven stories, covering thousands of years. The device only served to confuse early audiences, even though Griffith tinted the sequences according to theme and period. Also benefiting from the facelift are the magnificent sets – Babylon, Judea, medieval Paris, a modern factory town – which, today, probably would have cost $200 million to re-create, even using green screens and other CGI tricks. (The standing elephants now reside at the Hollywood/Highland complex, just outside the theater in which the Oscars are awarded.) Perhaps, the most pertinent observation made in Kevin Brownlow’s video essay, which accompanies the movie, is his belief that “Intolerance” wasn’t made in reaction to the protests that followed the opening of the KKK-friendly “Birth of a Nation.” He argues that Griffith had planted the movie’s seeds even as “Birth of a Nation” was being filmed. Among the bonus material are two full features, “The Fall of Babylon” and “Mother and the Law,” accompanied by new scores by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and new essays by Cineaste editor Richard Porton and historian William M. Drew. – Gary Dretzka
The Three Faces of Eve: Blu-ray
Notwithstanding Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” the first time most Americans came face to face with multiple personality disorder – a.k.a., dissociative identity disorder, split personality and, incorrectly, schizophrenia – was in the best-selling book and popular movie, “The Three Faces of Eve.” Joanne Woodward was awarded an Oscar for playing three of the two dozen distinctly different personalities claimed by Chris Costner Sizemore. Two decades later, Woodward would be assigned the task of portraying a psychiatrist treating Sally Field’s Sybill Dorset, who developed 16 different personalities, although that number has been challenged. Field won an Emmy for her work in the 1976 mini-series, “Sybill.” In 2009, Toni Collette won an Emmy for playing a suburban wife and mother with multiple personality disorder in “The United States of Tara.” Nunnally Johnson’s black-and-white adaptation of “Three Faces” has just been released on Blu-ray by Fox. Although much of the drama seems dated, both by lack of current medical knowledge and Production Code restrictions, there’s no denying the quality of Woodward’s performance or that of Lee J. Cobb, the shrink who brings out Eve’s second, devil-may-care personality in a hypnotherapy session. Another will reveal herself when mousy Eve White and horny Eve Black come to loggerheads. The hi-def presentation is terrific and includes commentary by Aubrey Solomon, a Fox Movietone News clip from the Academy Awards and an original theatrical trailer. – Gary Dretzka
Oil City Confidential
The Greatest Ears in Town: The Arif Mardin Story
Hava Nagila: The Movie
London-born Julien Temple is a terrifically inventive documentarian and creator of rock videos that matter. It’s possible that Temple’s greatest contribution to the cinema ultimately will prove to be his daughter, Juno, but, right now, his films are well worth the effort to find. Unlike “The Filth & the Fury” and “The Future Is Unwritten,” about the Sex Pistols and Joe Strummer respectively, his completely engaging rockumentary, “Oil City Confidential,” found almost no traction in the U.S. That’s almost certainly because the ’70s pub-rock band on which his camera focuses, Feelgood, had no impact here in terms of record sales, concert tours or T-shirt revenues. In England, though, Feelgood is a band remembered fondly by Baby Boomer audiences who still consider it to be the missing link between the Pistols and Clash. Highly theatrical, extremely loud and angry as hell, Feelgood emerged from tiny Canvey Island, a weekend retreat for Londoners and their “caravans,” and home to much of the country’s petrochemical industry. It was nearly washed out to sea in the great North Sea Flood of 1953, but proved too tough to die. In telling the band’s story, Temple mixes imaginative montages and other graphic devices, with the testimony of band members, fans and journalists. There’s also plenty of footage shot at concerts. The person who comes off the best in the film is the same one whose drunken revelry and drugged antics nearly killed the band in 1975, just as it was about to attempt an American tour. Even today, guitarist Wilko Johnson looks and sounds as if he’s got a million things on his mind and only 10 minutes to spit them all out. His candid reminiscences of band life are hilarious, as are his recollections about growing on Canvey Island, which sits at sea level and looks as if it could sink if one too many tourists cross the bridge over the Thames estuary. Released on DVD only a couple of weeks apart from Richard England’s similarly rousing “East End Babylon,” Temple’s documentary goes a long way toward explaining what real bands look like before they’re seduced, signed and scrubbed to within an inch of their being by record-company weasels.
Quick, besides Beatles’ George Martin, name two or three other producers of popular music who’ve made a difference in your life. I didn’t think so. Given the anonymity usually associated with the people who work the controls in music studios, it’s truly amazing how many producers and executives of Atlantic Records have had feature-length documentaries made about their contributions to the company and its artists. There are executives Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, producers Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler and, now, Arif Mardin. Also remarkable is that three-fifths of those men – all responsible for laying down some of the greatest jazz, R&B, rock and pop music of the 20th Century – were born in Turkey, but made names for themselves in the musical melting pot of America. Doug Biro and Joe Mardin’s highly entertaining bio-doc, “The Greatest Ears in Town: The Arif Mardin Story,” is both a portrait of and testimonial to the longtime Atlantic producer, who also wrote beautiful music. Among those testifying in Mardin’s behalf are Martin, Bette Midler, The Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins, Norah Jones, Barbra Streisand and family members. It’s a loving tribute, made even more poignant by the realization that Mardin wouldn’t live to see the final product.
If you live long enough, you discover amazing things hidden in plain view. In 1993, Dave Marsh found enough to say about the goofy rock icon, “Louie Louie,” to fill 245 hagiographic pages in “Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock ‘N’ Roll Song.” Among other things, Marsh points out that the FBI once kept at least one agent busy deciphering the song’s muddy lyrics; that Jamaican singer Richard Berry sold all rights to the calypso-inspired song for $750 to finance his wedding; and it was a cult fixture among Pacific Northwest bar bands, before the Kingsmen’s decidedly non-calypso version caught fire nationally. Two decades later, director Roberta Grossman and writer Sophie Sartain have delivered unto us a delightful tale of how the Jewish folk-dance song “Hava Nagila,” became the “Louie Louie” of wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs. First recorded commercially in 1922, “Hava Nagila” was adapted from Psalm 118 (verse 24) of the Hebrew Bible by ethnologist/composer Abraham Zvidelsohn to celebrate the 1918 British victory in Palestine. “Hava Nagila (The Movie)” follows the path the song took from Bukovina, which straddles Romania and the Ukraine, to Palestine, Carnegie Hall, Hollywood and beyond. It features entertaining interviews with Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Leonard Nimoy, Regina Spektor, Irving Fields, historians, scholars and rabbis. And, in case you’re wondering, there’s already a book chronicling the popularity of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Check out the original lyrics sometime. – Gary Dretzka
Out in the Dark
Throughout most of the first half of “Out in the Dark,” I thought I was watching a gay version of “Romeo and Juliet” set in and around contemporary Tel Aviv. It would have been easy enough to pull off, but is the world really crying out for yet another “R&J”? I know that I wasn’t. Blessedly, co-writer/director Michael Mayer zigged when he could have zagged, adding yet another dimension to the story of star-crossed lovers caught in a trap not of their design. Nimer is a Palestinian student, allowed to attend a prestigious university there, as long as the crossings are kept open by Israeli security. For several good reasons, Nimer has chosen not to come out to his family about being gay. Only after school, in Tel Aviv, is he more or less free to be gay and enjoy the nightclub scene and generally liberal attitudes of the city’s citizens. One night, he meets a young Israeli lawyer at a dance club and something clicks as soon as their eyes meet. Roy’s parents seem to be OK with his choices, as long as he doesn’t “flaunt” them in front of them. Nimer is far more limited, both for cultural and political reasons. If his thuggish brother were to learn of Nimer being gay, he very well could kill him or stand by while someone else does the dirty work. His mother and sister would be ostracized by their family and neighbors and the local militants would become suspicious of his ability to live in two different worlds. This is exactly what happens to one of Nimer’s best friends, who’s put on “trial” based solely on the possibility that he might think of spying for the enemy. Despite Roy’s intercession, Nimer is hassled as well by Israeli police, who want to blackmail him for information about his brother and his “terrorist” friends.
Sure enough, when Nimer’s sister inadvertently learns about Roy, she can’t help herself from blabbing about their romance, thus practically signing his death certificate. He buys just enough time for himself to cross the border, where Tel Aviv are waiting to check the shit out of him and send him back home. Mayer even finds a reason for Roy to turn on his lover. Nimer’s struggle to escape to a promised land, where being gay and Palestinian isn’t forbidden, is executed at an extremely high level of intrigue and emotional intensity. The Tel Aviv setting, especially at night, is exceptionally well rendered by Mayer and cinematographer Ran Avid, using Red MX digital cameras. The DVD adds interviews and making-of material. The sex scenes are tastefully rendered and within the context of the story.
The sex in Tiago Leão’s “Longing Nights” is quite a bit rougher than in “Out in the Dark,” but, again, integral to the nature of the story. To conquer loneliness in one of Europe’s biggest and most vibrant cities, twentysomethings Aitana, Pierrick, Jorge and Rita take to the streets of Madrid each night in a desperate search for companionship, if not true, last friendships. Leão sets their individual stories against a background of drugs, sex, multiple partners and almost constant potential for violence and they pretty much cover the LGBT gamut. There’s even a straight couple thrown in for variety. All of the characters, however, are exceedingly sad and in need of emotional rescue. They also seem exceptionally real. There’s really no plot to follow in “Longing Nights,” although it’s possible that some paths crossed during its 70-minute length. – Gary Dretzka
The title of Gilles Bourdos’ sumptuous portrait of the artist as a very old man, “Renoir,” could just as easily been “Renoirs” or “Artists and Models,” perhaps as a homage to that other French favorite, Jerry Lewis. Both would be accurate and adequately convey Bourdos’ intentions in this compelling, if slightly unusual family drama. It is 1915 and we are introduced to Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir only after we meet a voluptuous young woman, Andree (Christa Theret), walking on a forested road. She had been recommended to the artist by his wife and former model, or so she claims. (It’s more likely Matisse offered the recommendation, thinking Andree’s body was more suited to his friend’s predilections.) If Renoir finds this introduction curious, there’s no question that Andree is exactly the kind of model/muse he sought in the latter stage of his career. He would even compare her to the women painted by the 16th Century Italian artist, Titian. Andree is completely comfortable in her nudity and a quick study in posing. When Renoir’s son, Jean, returns from the war to nurse a wound suffered at the front, it’s easy for us to foresee a moment when she’ll have to pick between father and son as the most worthy candidate for her affections. At 76, however, Pierre-Auguste (Michel Bouqet) isn’t nearly as spry as he once was and Jean (Vincent Rottiers) seems more interested in the comrades he left behind in the war. Never mind, Andree never lacked for boyfriends.
Some critics have disapproved of the lack of dramatic tension in “Renoir,” which is little bit like complaining that the artist didn’t feature enough cats in his paintings. The love between Andree and Jean, which blossomed at its own speed and no faster, finally would bear fruit in their early forays into the cinema as collaborators. What most viewers will take away from “Renoir” is the great natural beauty of Parc botanique à Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer – standing in for Les Collettes, his farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer – and the magnificent light that informed so much of his work. He moved to the Cote d’Azur to help ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, which made his art no less significant, but required some assistance for the house staff and a gadget that slid the canvas to where his heavily taped hand was, thus eliminating painful movement. Art lovers will recognize, as well, the similarity between poses struck by the actress and paintings they’ve seen in museums or studied at school. Other Renoirs represented here are son, Claude “Coco” Renoir, Pierre and Aline. The DVD adds interviews with the filmmaker and cast members. – Gary Dretzka
Kenny Rogers as the Gambler: Blu-ray
If all a beginner understands about the holy game of poker is, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. You never count your money, when you’re sitting at the table, there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done,” they might not get slaughtered when they sit down at a “no limit” table for the first time. It might be the best piece of advice ever delivered by a made-for-TV movie, as well. In fact, though, Kenny Rogers turned Don Schlitz’ narrative song into a film some two years after it topped the charts, in 1978. Even if Rogers’ interpretation garnered a flock of awards, they weren’t enough to land Schlitz on the movie’s list of writing credits. Hollywood strikes, again. “Kenny Rogers as the Gambler,” newly released into Blu-ray in a bare-bones edition, extends the story to include a younger version of Brady Hawkes – ostensibly, the gambler who offers the advice on “a train bound for nowhere” – as he embarks on a mission to help the son he’s never met. Not surprisingly, the climax of the movie occurs at a green-felt table. Among the other participants are Bruce Boxleitner, Clu Gulager, Christine Belford and Lee Purcell. Inexplicably, the movie spawned four sequels. Such was the popularity of Rogers in his prime. – Gary Dretzka
PBS: Nazi Mega Weapons
No matter how much you think you know about World War II – or care to recall – someone at PBS or History Channel is, at this very minute, coming up with something new about the subject designed to surprise, shock or mystify you. And, considering the disparity in shows about Japan and Italy, it seems as if the Nazis were light years ahead of the other Axis powers in technology, strategy and capacity for flat-out evil. The recent PBS documentary series, “Nazi Mega Weapons,” demonstrates conclusively just how grandiose Hitler’s plans for the disposition of the war were. And, yes, the buck stopped right on the desk of Der Fuhrer. Among other things I learned was Hitler’s obsession with concrete. He ordered the construction of a highway of concrete bunkers stretching from Norway to Portugal. It was nearly – emphasize, nearly — finished by D-Day. A massive submarine hangar, constructed of unimaginable amounts of concrete, was finished but couldn’t protect the subs in open water as they approached the pens. Other segments deal with the V2 rocket, Super Tanks, the jet fighter Me262 and “Fortress Berlin.” “Nazi Mega Weapons” follows a group of experts on a scavenger hunt through Europe’s mountains, forests and beaches to uncover engineering secrets that have lain hidden for decades and the stories of the men who designed them. The scary thing is learning how Hitler’s lack of patience and unchecked ambition – more than anything else — might have cost him the war. – Gary Dretzka
Jack Irish: Set 1
PBS: Inspector Lewis Pilot Through Series 6
Starz: Magic City: Blu-ray
Several of the best crime movies and mini-series in recent memory have been imported from Australia on DVD. “Jack Irish” follows in the wake of “Underbelly,” a series as gritty, violent and demanding as “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” “Jack Irish” is distinguished by a terrific performance in the lead role by Guy Pearce, a world-class actor (“L.A. Confidential,” “Memento”) who routinely returns to Australia to support its film and television industry. The “Jack Irish” movies are based on Australian writer Peter Temple’s award-winning novels. Irish was a lawyer specializing in sketchy cases when one of his certifiably insane clients murdered his wife in the parking lot of his offices, then blew his own head off his shoulders. After a period of time spent drowning his sorrows in an ocean of booze, Irish returned to work as a private investigator. The cases take him to all sorts of dangerous places, as well as such usual gangster haunts as the racetrack and strip joints. The two feature-length mysteries here are “Bad Debts” and “Black Tide.” Like “Underbelly,” “Jack Irish” contains strong language, violence, graphic images, nudity and sexual situations. Oh, boy.
The popular Granada Television/WGBH co-production, “Inspector Lewis,” was spun off “Inspector Morse,” in 2006, and shown here under the “Masterpiece Mystery” banner. Both mini-series were inspired by the novels written by Colin Dexter. The latter picked up after Lewis’ return to Oxford from the British Virgin Islands, training police, following the death of his wife in a hit-and-run accident. To be effective, Lewis (Kevin Whately) must step out of the shadow of his mentor, Morse, who’s long dead. He’s fortunate to be joined by the intuitive, but withdrawn Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). The good news is that the new set contains all 27 mysteries through Series 6, as well as the pilot episode. The better news is that they’re cut from the British originals, which didn’t trim 10 minutes from each episode.
Starz’ sleek and sexy mob drama, “Magic City,” failed primarily because its story relied on viewers’ ability to suspend disbelief about known facts. These include the refusal of historically corrupt Florida lawmakers to approve the legalization of Vegas-style casinos in Miami – even after the fall of Havana — and the failure of Chicago- and New York-based mobsters to convince Fidel Castro to share casino revenues with them. Fat chance, on that one. What else, then, could sell audiences on a premium-cable series? That’s right, impossibly beautiful, if morally conflicted women. And, some weeks, it worked. Despite the flaky history lessons, “Magic City” was best at selling the tension between hotel owner Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and gangster Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Danny Huston), both of whom ultimately were beholden to Chicago money man, Sy Berman (James Caan). The hot hookers and handsome cabana boys almost were enough to keep things rolling toward a third season, but the wheels came off when Ike – in cahoots with a Cuban official whose khaki uniform barely hid a smokin’ body — scammed the Miami numbers rackets out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if something like that did happen, I refuse to believe it. As binging material goes, however, viewers could do a lot worse than “Magic City.” Fred F. Sears’ 1954 pot-boiler, “The Miami Story” – recently shown on TMC — told essentially the same story, but without the nudity. The second-season set adds several not-very-informative making-of featurettes. – Gary Dretzka
WWE: Straight to the Top: The Money in the Bank Ladder Match Anthology: Blu-ray
For all of its cartoon drama and choreographed mayhem, the one aspect of modern professional wrestling that’s indisputable is the ability of the athletes – and that’s what they are or, at one time, were – to stage incredibly dangerous stunts. Never has thos been so apparent, as it is in “WWE: Straight to the Top: The Money in the Bank Ladder Match Anthology.” As near as I can figure several top contenders battle it out for the right to pull a suitcase, containing a large sum of money, from hook hanging about 15 feet over the mat. The only way to accomplish this task is by climbing one of the tall ladders scattered around the ring and come down with it in one piece. This is not an easy task. Even more difficult is climbing the ladder while being punched, pulled and pushed by their foes. It sounds as stupid as it looks, but the amount of punishment these guys take is extraordinary. Being pushed off the top of a ladder, only to land on another piece of metal, would be dangerous even if the guys wore football uniforms. This is in addition to all of the other grappling moves they must withstand before even being able to pick up a ladder. As to where it all fits within the WWE universe, such future superstars as John Cena, Kane, Edge, CM Punk and Rob Van Dam have used the match as a springboard to winning a championship. The new compilation includes all of the PPV events, which start to look the same after the third or fourth Ladder Match. Fans won’t mind, however. – Gary Dretzka
The Lords of Salem: Blu-ray
Somehow, I missed this one when it was released in September. So, better late than never. “The Lords of Salem” is the latest assault on the senses from horror specialist Rob Zombie, and it may be as close to the genre mainstream as any of his pictures have been. As the title suggests, we’re dealing with witches here and, in true Zombie style, they’re pretty hard-core. Meg Foster, especially, looks as if she might have crawled through a bog to get to the set each morning. The story, though, focuses on Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a radio station deejay living in Salem, Massachusetts. One day, she receives a mysterious wooden box containing a record by “The Lords.” The “gift” only produces bizarre sounds that trigger horrifying flashbacks of the town’s past disregard for witches. Heidi thinks she might be going mad, but we know different. Zombie delivers his thrills without the use of CGI technology and it enhances the old-school vibe throughout the movie. The actors also are adept at selling their characters. The Blu-ray adds Zombie’s commentary. – Gary Dretzka
Happy Tree Friends: Complete Disaster
The flash-animation series, “Happy Tree Friends,” is what happens when kindergarteners are given LSD with their milk and cookies. If the “Sesame Street” and the “Jackass” gangs ever collaborated on an Internet cartoon series, it probably would feature the same cute forest animals being maimed in ways the Roadrunner never imagined. Accidental events that lead to bloodshed, pain, dismemberment and, sometimes, death for the critters. The webisodes have recorded tens of millions of hits, with a TV show on G4 adding even more fans. It’s strangely compelling viewing, but, after a hour or so, you may feel like climbing a tree and assaulting a squirrel. – Gary Dretzka