MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup

Jodorowsky’s Dune: Blu-ray
Almost everything any young film buff needs to know about the last 40-plus years in the American film industry can be summed up in two books, both by Peter Biskind, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood” and “Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film.” Some prominent filmmakers interviewed for the books have challenged Biskind’s methodology, but history has validated most of the author’s key points. Although Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky is 20 years younger than the Baby Boomers who emerged from USC, UCLA and NYU in the 1960s and spent most of his formative years in Paris and Mexico City, his influence on American filmmakers of the Golden Decade remains undeniable. If nothing else, he taught them how to make legitimately trippy movies that wouldn’t be laughed off the screen by anyone younger than 30 … or starred Peter Fonda. When Jodorowsky’s 1970 “acid Western,” El Topo,” failed to gain traction with mainstream distributors, the midnight-movie circuit was invented to accommodate underground movies by Kenneth Anger and John Waters, as well as such kindred flicks as “Freaks,” “Targets,” “The Harder They Come,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “Reefer Madness,” “Alice’s Restaurant” and Disney’s 1951 “Alice in Wonderland.” They would pave the way for the grand success of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and, of course, the rest is history. John Lennon was so impressed by “El Topo” that he convinced Allen Klein, president of Apple Corps, to raise money for Jodorowsky’s subsequent, quasi-religious sensation, “The Holy Mountain.” Although its distribution, too, would be limited to the underground circuit, it made him the obvious candidate to direct the film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi adventure, “Dune.” Written in 1965, the Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning novel transcended genre boundaries, giving readers a vision of the universe far more interesting than the geeks at NASA would come up with in the subsequent half-century. Alas, Jodorowsky’s vision was so great that it overwhelmed his backers’ ability to make the darn thing. Frank Pavich’s truly fascinating documentary, “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” chronicles the project’s rise and fall, but also teases us with what might have been, if “the greatest film never made” had actually been completed.

When a group of French investors purchased the rights to “Dune” and handed the reins to Jodorowsky, they probably saw an opportunity to merge the cult and college crowd with audiences newly turned on to the works of such brash young American filmmakers as Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese. And, it might have worked, too, if Jodorowsky hadn’t approached the project as if his backers wanted something that could be displayed in the Louvre, next to the “Mona Lisa.” As conceived by Herbert, “Dune” and its sequels would constitute a separate universe of its own. The settings and characters more closely resembled those found in the alternate worlds created for fans of fantasy role-playing games, from the tabletop-based “Dungeons & Dragons” to today’s interactive, multiplayer RPG games that are devouring bandwidth on the Internet. It was science-fiction for those whose imaginations weren’t limited to rocket ships, black holes and robots. While the narrative defies easy encapsulation, Jodorowsky’s head must have spun with ideas for turning spectacular locations into interplanetary empires, with creatures and costumes that would dazzle audiences in the same way as “Avatar” did, three decades later. To this end, he lured such wildly inventive illustrators and artists as Chris Foss, H.R. Giger and Jean “Moebius” Giraud to create the film’s phantasmagorical look and costumes; Dan O’Bannon, fresh off “Dark Star,” was to head the special-effects department; and the cast would include Orson Welles, David Carradine, Salvador Dalí, Gloria Swanson, Geraldine Chaplin, Alain Delon, Hervé Villechaize and the director’s 12-year-old son, Brontis, to play Paul Atreides. Dalí agreed to participate only after being told that his salary would be $100,000 per hour, without knowing that Jodorowsky could only afford one hour of his time. Welles was lured with the promise of daily on-set meals prepared by one Paris’ elite chefs. Jodorowsky flew to London to personally woo Pink Floyd, which was recording “Wish You Were Here” at Abbey Road Studios. With only slightly more than $7.5 million left to actually make the picture and 14 hours’ worth of storyboards already drawn, Jodorowsky tried desperately to raise more money. Knowing that $5 million would only prove to be a drop in the bucket, the producers slammed the brakes on “Dune.” Producer Raffaella De Laurentiis would hand the project to David Lynch, whose adaptation of the novel – which he never read, apparently – would be released and largely forgotten in 1984.

At one point in “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” he concedes that the only way his vision of “Dune” could be made today would be as an animated epic. Modern CGI and digital technology could make the madness affordable and audiences have bought into the 3D and large-format conceit. In fact, half of the grunt work already has been done for anyone willing to share Jodorowsky’s vision. To lure studio support, Jodorowsky and his artistic team had created what essentially was a book of the movie, comprised of wonderfully drawn storyboards. Now collectors’ items, they were the size of the Los Angeles phone book and quite spectacular. Pavich’s film tells the story of this debacle in a lively and easily accessible manner, with a dozens of original illustrations and interviews with most of the key players. Jodorowsky is in top form, as well, especially considering the bitter feelings with which he was left in the aftermath of the collapse. The film can easily stand alongside “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” and “Down and Dirty Pictures” as examples of how movies are made and unmade, and the passions that drive the industry’s dare-devils. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka

Kid Cannabis: Blu-ray
Movies in which a drug dealer is the likeable protagonist tend follow a similar trajectory. Everyone’s having fun and making money, until any one of three things happens: a friend dies of an overdose, a sleazy rival puts a contract out on the dealer or he graduates from selling pot to pushing crack or heroin. The surprisingly benign “Kid Cannabis” is no different from the rest in this regard. Where it does differ, however, says a lot about how far audiences have come around on the subject of marijuana, at least. For more than 30 years, the patently dishonest and ludicrously inflammatory “Reefer Madness” provided the blueprint for how Hollywood would handle drugs in movies produced under the Production Code. Death was the price one paid for getting high and enjoying it. In “Easy Rider,” Wyatt and Billy were punished for financing their journey on the wages of sin, not unlike the teens in slasher movies who were slaughtered for having sex on Lovers Lane. Still, the characters were credibly drawn and smoking pot had nothing to do with their demise. Released in 1972, “Cisco Pike” and Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues” offered an even more contemporary look at the business, which sometimes did pit “righteous” dealers against corrupt cops, mobsters, pissed-off competitors and their own self-destructive habits. “Kid Cannabis” reflects the new reality of marijuana usage in North America. The growers are harmless and the traffickers don’t belong to a cartel. You can credit that to the setting, which is a remote town along the U.S./Canadian border, where smoking pot is no more controversial than choosing to put cheese curds or gravy on your French fries, instead of ketchup.

Jonathan Daniel Brown plays Nate, your standard-issue high school dweeb who is stunned to discover how porous our border with Canada really is and how easy it is to purchase high-quality bud from the local hippie farmers. John C. McGinley’s presence as one of the growers provides several delightfully ditzy moments, especially as he explains the economics of the trade. After smuggling his first bricks into the U.S., Nate and his friend, Topher (Kenny Wormald), set up a distribution network among a diverse group of friends deemed impeccably trustworthy. Even when Nate turns to an Israeli gangster (Ron Perlman) for money to invest in larger purchases, nothing goes significantly wrong in the business relationship. Neither does Nate’s mother, an innocent victim of America’s economic doldrums, try very hard to discover where he’s gotten the money to put her back on her feet. Because “Kid Cannabis” is based on a real story, writer/director John Stockwell (“Turistas,” “Blue Crush”) didn’t have to stretch too far to find the holes in Nate’s strategy and create a scenario in which hubris and gluttony takes him down. In doing so, he pits Nate and his pals against a fellow dealer, who supplies the locals with harder drugs and doesn’t cotton to competitors. Anyone who can easily recall Joe G.M. Chan’s portrayal of Alfred Molina’s firecracker-tossing “boy,” in “Boogie Nights,” will find something of him in Nate’s Asian-American nemesis.

Finally, though, the American side of the business is brought down by Nate’s decision to take his eyes off of the day-to-day details of the operation and fall in love with his own product. When the real deal comes down, his associates are so sick of his antics that they happily rat him out for more lenient treatment and we don’t blame them for doing so. Stockwell has a way of portraying the antics and aspirations of young people that rarely feels forced, even when he’s applying dramatic license or playing for laughs. He makes full use of the beautiful British Columbia locations, as well. According to the bean-counters at IMDB.com, “Kid Cannabis” was shown at a single festival and exactly one domestic theater. Once the stoner crowd discovers the movie on DVD or on cable, it should enjoy a successful afterlife. I would hate to think that mainstream distributors are still afraid of releasing a picture, however low-profile, that makes it appear as if marijuana may not be as diabolical as the DEA would have us believe. – Gary Dretzka

Le Week-End: Blu-ray
Watching Jim Broadbent (“Topsy-Turvy”) and Lindsay Duncan (“Rome”) impersonate an increasingly unmatched pair of 60-something academics, who are attempting to breathe some life into their marriage, renews hopes that the cinema hasn’t completely surrendered to the comic-book crowd. Targeted specifically at graying Baby Boomers, the Paris-set dramedy is a British import and technically doesn’t qualify as a game-changer. Still, discovering “Le Week-End” in this week’s pile of new releases was kind of like finding an abandoned Crystal Geyser delivery truck in the middle of Death Valley: nothing less than refreshing. The couple, Nick and Meg, are in Paris revisiting landmarks from their honeymoon 30 years earlier. Clearly, they’ve spent more than a few of those years bouncing between extended periods of marital bliss, pointless bickering and romanticizing the 1960s. In the three days they’ve allotted for this second honeymoon, Nick and Meg will condense all of those highs and lows into one package and see what’s left on Monday morning. Neither is entering the weekend under ideal circumstances. Nick has just been fired from his teaching post for committing some breach of politically correct etiquette, while Meg seems to have lost interest in any further intimate contact with him. In fact, before Nick broke his sad news, Meg was planning to burst his bubble by announcing that she was leaving him.

Things don’t always work out as planned, however. While exchanging a passionate kiss on a Paris sidewalk, they’re recognized by one of Nick’s ex-patriot friends, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), who’s just published a book and is riding high in the saddle. Morgan believes that he owes a great debt of gratitude to Nick and invites them to a celebratory party, where long-hidden truths will be revealed and fissures in their relationship will become visible. Even so, director Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi, who previously collaborated on “Venus,” “The Mother” and “The Buddha of Suburbia,” convince us not to give up on them. The dialogue exchanged by Nick and Meg alternates between being bitterly acerbic and warmly nostalgic, with surprises scattered throughout the narrative. Goldblum, who seems to be spending more and more time on his music these days, delivers a highly caffeinated performance as the harmlessly verbose Yank.  Paris, as usual, is grand. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Michell and producer Kevin Loader; a behind-the-scenes featurette with Michell, Kureishi, Broadbent, Duncan and Goldblum; an illustration gallery; and tutorial video, “How to Dance ‘The Madison.’” – Gary Dretzka

Rigor Mortis: Blu-ray
Hong Kong multi-hyphenate Juno Mak’s directorial debut, “Rigor Mortis,” is set in a grimly austere tenement that appears to serve as a magnet for suicidal types, vampires, zombies and strange children. The building more closely resembles an abandoned warehouse, which someone converted to a cold-storage facility, than a place intended for habitation by humans. Given how few of them are in residence, though, it definitely fits the clientele’s needs. A displaced actor and onetime vampire hunter, Chin (Chin Siu-ho), moves into the building for the express purpose of killing himself. Before he takes his last breath, however, a wraith-like Taoist exorcist, Uncle Yau (Anthony Chan), slips into the room to spoil his plan. Although not normally pre-disposed to disapprove of unnatural death, Chin’s neighbors go out of their way to make him feel welcome. Not being creations of American filmmakers, the undead among them aren’t required to resemble fanged teenagers or shuffling ghouls. They’re considerably more imaginatively conceived and executed. Unlike Asian audiences already familiar with the odd rhythms, genre tropes and jarring subplots in J-, K- and HK-horror flicks, American viewers are urged to go with the slower, more deliberate narrative flow. Asian-American audiences may recognize some of the actors, some of whom were original cast members of the classic “Mr. Vampire” series. – Gary Dretzka

The Pretty One
The easiest, if not the most precise way to describe Zoe Kazan to anyone unfamiliar with her work is to compare her to a pre-sitcom Zooey Deschanel, with most of her rough edges still intact. Both women carry the DNA of Hollywood royalty in their blood, but only Deschanel has been able to land roles that make money and careers. Kazan’s breakthrough should have come in the self-penned rom-com “Ruby Sparks,” in which she played the kooky muse to a seriously blocked novelist (Paul Dano), who’s drowning in neuroses. Despite excellent reviews, it was never accorded the exposure it deserved. If it had, “Ruby Sparks” could have provided Kazan the same springboard as “(500) Days of Summer” gave Deschanel. Jenée LaMarque’s only occasionally compelling character study, “The Pretty One,” received even less respect than “Ruby Sparks.” I wonder, though, if Kazan hasn’t already decided to save her best work for the stage and page. In “The Pretty One,” she plays physically identical twins, Audrey and Laurel, who couldn’t have personalities that are more different. Laurel is an archetypal wallflower, who rarely leaves the house and has the fashion sense of a woman who hasn’t picked up a copy of Vogue since 1956. Audrey is a successful big-city business woman with an outgoing personality and no scarcity of suitors. When Audrey returns home for a visit, Audrey begins the process of pulling her sister out of her shell. It’s aborted, however, when she’s killed in an automobile accident and Laurel assumes her identity as “the pretty one.” What Laurel finds most disturbing is how little love and respect she’s accorded by those people, including her widowed father, who come to mourn her passing. Laurel also allows herself to consider the possibility of accepting love, in the form of Audrey’s married lover (Ron Livingston) and a free-spirited local (Jake Johnson). It’s in her lively exchanges with Johnson’s character that Kazan is at her best. Naturally, the truth will come out eventually and, with it, the heartache of learning that no one is happy that she’s the one who came back from the dead. The actors all work hard to sell LaMarque’s conceit, but “The Pretty One” simply can’t overcome the gimmickry of having a single actor play twins. That one hasn’t worked in a non-Disney movie since David Cronenberg’s truly creepy “Dead Ringers.” It is being released on a manufactured-on-demand basis, through Amazon.com and other retail outlets. – Gary Dretzka

Ragamuffin: Blu-Ray
Instead of “The True Story of Rich Mullins,” “Even Bible Bangers Get the Blues,” might be a more appropriate subtitle for the compelling faith-based bio-pic, “Ragamuffin.” At a time when right-wing evangelicals are attempting to rewrite the Constitution to fit their limited points-of-view, it comes as something of a surprise to meet an unabashedly Christian musician, who saw the rebel in Jesus Christ and whose mind isn’t shackled to Old Testament prohibitions. Rich Mullins was an extremely gifted singer-songwriter who recognized his calling early in life – his mother was a Quaker — and became his father’s punching bag because he focused more on his music than the proper way to care for a tractor. Instead of putting up with the abuse, he walked away from his family’s Indiana tree farm and headed directly for Cincinnati Bible College, where he found other people who loved music and God in equal measure. An iconoclast in a world over-populated with dyed-in-the-wool conformists, Mullins wore his hair and beard shaggy and favored jeans and white t-shirts. Instead of sticking to the music, Rich would deliver short sermons between songs, thus infuriating the preachers who resented him encroaching on their territory. Moreover, they rejected some of his notions of Christ’s teachings, which didn’t square with their fire-and-brimstone approach to homosexuality, alcohol and salvation. He was a sinner and wasn’t afraid to admit his shortcomings to his audiences. The title of this movie derives from a series of discussions he had with the controversial Christian speaker and adviser, Brennan Manning, who shared many of Rich’s same vices. He also believed that Jesus would have felt significantly more comfortable sitting at a table with a bunch of open-minded “ragamuffins” than trying to convince a lecture hall full of conservative pastors that the scriptures weren’t recipes for bigotry, prejudice and intolerance.

In Michael Koch’s capable hands, Mullins is a man who wears his emotional turmoil on his sleeve and had little patience for self-righteous Christians who feel that the gates of heaven should be open to them, simply because they show up at church every Sunday. He never truly got over the pain of being dumped betrayed by the only woman he truly loved and it was reflected in the songs he wrote and performed. Amy Grant was the first Nashville star to give him a break by recording his words (“Sing Your Praise to the Lord”). Eventually, he would begin to feel hamstrung by uptight, hits-oriented producers who wanted to add a happy face to what they saw as odes to melancholy. His biggest solo hits, “Awesome God” and “”Sometimes by Step,” became anthems for the burgeoning Christian-music community of the 1980s, even as he was becoming increasingly influenced the Catholic liturgy and the lifestyle espoused by St. Francis of Assisi. As such, Mullins gave far more than his fair share of his earnings to charity – he never knew much he actually made – insisting to his managers that he keep only what the average American worker earned. He hopped off the concert circuit to teach music to kids living on the Navajo reservation and died in a car crash on his way to a charity event. Not having heard of Mullins before watching “Ragamuffin,” it’s difficult for me to say whether or not Koch and David Schultz’ interpretation of Mullins’ life and faith is accurate. That said, however, “Ragamuffin” isn’t a particularly easy movie to watch. The hard-core pastors are a drag and Mullins’ prickly personality sometimes is hard to buy. The bonus features add much background material on Mullins, the movie and his music. – Gary Dretzka

Watermark: Blu-ray
Here’s a documentary for folks who’ve ever questioned the wisdom in William Bell’s hit song, “You Don’t Miss Your Water (‘Til the Well Runs Dry).” Although “Watermark” isn’t specifically about global warming, it reminds us in the most persuasive way possible of the danger in messing with the world’s most accessible miracle. From the team behind the award-winning “Manufactured Landscapes” — Jennifer Baichwal, Nick de Pencier and cinematographer Edward Burtynsky – “Watermark” contrasts the immense grandeur of water in motion, with the vast emptiness of regions that have dried up and are in the process of being blown away. The emphasis here is on man’s relationship with water: how it shapes people’s lives, as well as how humanity affects this precious resource. In doing so, the filmmakers traveled to various locations around the world – from great rivers and deserts, to the biggest dams in the world and most toxic factories — to create a compelling global portrait of growth, restoration and destruction. The filmmakers take full advantage of 5K ultra-HD cinematography and highly portable cameras. Indeed, one of the film’s most striking images comes from a digital camera attached to a concrete hopper as it’s lowered from a crane, from hundreds of feet above the floor of a construction site. Special features include, “The Making of Watermark,” a discussion with Burtynsky and Baichwal, deleted scenes and a photo gallery narrated by Burtynsky. – Gary Dretzka

TV-to-DVD
Prisoners of War: Season 1
Fans of Showtime’s acclaimed series, “Homeland,” can do themselves a favor by picking up a copy of the Israeli mini-series, “Prisoners of War,” upon which it’s based. Here, a pair of Israeli soldiers have finally been released from captivity after 17 years of mental and physical torture. A third is being shipped home from Syria in a box. As one might expect, the P.O.W.’s are totally discombobulated after their ordeal. Sadly, their return home is no picnic holds no escape from pain. The men’s families have changed in unexpected ways and their dreams are haunted by visions of what happened since their capture. Worse, perhaps, is the treatment they receive from representatives of their own government. After one night of less-than-blissful reunion, the men are hauled into a facility where they’re poked, prodded, debriefed and monitored by camera as they sleep. When one of the agents detects the prisoners using a crude form of Morse code, they assume that the men are hiding something sinister, not unlike Nicholas Brody in “Homeland.” Meanwhile, the ghost of the third soldier has found his way back to the home he shared with his sister, back in the day. If the adjustment period is painful for the men, it’s equally difficult for the families. While one of the wives is viewed as a hero for being out front in support of the P.O.W.’s for all those years, the other is widely condemned for falling in love, marrying and having a son with her brother-in-law. In neither case is the situation quite as cut-and-dried as it seems, for the wives, children and siblings. Things begin to get really interesting when a phone number handed to one of the men before leaving Syria is traced to a mechanic’s garage in the West Bank. Producer/director Gideon Raff has said that he was inspired by the lack of attention paid to former P.O.W.’s and their bouts with PTSD. As we see here, one is even made to feel guilty when a traded Palestinian prisoner commits a murderous crime. Just as “Prisoners of War” has been adapted to fit the demands of an American audience, different versions have been created for several other countries. The features include “An Open Wound: Making Prisoners of War,” including interviews with cast and crew, and episode commentaries with Raff and director of photography Itai Neeman. – Gary Dretzka

PBS: Vicious
PBS: Masterpiece Mystery: Endeavour Series 2
PBS: Nature: The Gathering Swarms
PBS: Locked Up in America
PBS: Time Scanners: St Paul’s Cathedral/Egyptian Pyramids/Petra
PBS: Cool Spaces: The Best New Architecture
Rockers TV: Dennis Brown: Live
The latest British import on PBS features two of the world’s greatest dramatic actors — Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi – in a traditional sitcom about a pair of elderly queens, Freddie and Stuart, who have lived together in their Covent Garden flat for nearly 50 years. Freddie is a retired actor and Stuart once managed a swank bar. For all of their time together, the two men have argued about everything from who’s going to answer the doorbell, to their careers and long-ago boyfriends. The show’s other regular characters are a classy old dame, Violet (Frances de la Tour), who, like Freddie and Stuart, can’t keep her eyes off the dreamy young man, Ash (Iwan Rheon), who’s just moved in upstairs. As such, the only thing differentiating “Vicious” from dozens of other sitcoms driven by double-entendres and bitchy repartee are the stars. In this case, at least, it’s worth the effort it takes to sit through the show’s annoying laugh track to watch great actors hitting softballs out of the park. And, yes, McKellen and Jacobi are gay and haven’t cared who knows it for a long time.

Season Two of the “Inspector Morris” prequel, “Endeavour,” opens with the young detective of the same name (Shaun Evans) still feeling the effects of his father’s death and other traumatic events that occurred during the first go-round. DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) urges patience, but Endeavour is ready to jump back in the saddle on simultaneous investigations into a suspicious suicide, the disappearance of a teenage girl and missing artifacts from an Oxford museum. Thursday and Superintendent Bright don’t buy Morse’s conspiracy theory, arguing that he may have come back to work too soon. As the four episodes unwind, we learn a lot more about Thursday and just how corrupt even a classy college town, like Oxford, can be. Morse, in his own fractured way, even manages to blow a sure thing with his agreeably nice and pretty next-door neighbor. “Endeavour” has been a huge success, so far, and perfectly complements the on-going “Inspector Lewis” saga. The production values and setting are of the highest standards, as well.

A staple of most nature shows are the scenes in which large groups of fish, birds, bats and wildebeest come together in packs so thick they’re practically impenetrable. They move together as one fluid unit, never once stumbling of the heels of the beasts in front of them or leaving themselves open to invasion by predators, large and small. The closest humans come to mimicking such behavior is when they exit subway cars in Tokyo or attempt to avoid gunshots in Chicago. The “Nature” presentation, “The Gathering Swarms,” sees the sardines, starlings, bats and wildebeest and raises them with millions of cicadas, grunion, carp, locusts, ants, monarch butterflies, parakeets, penguins and mayflies. Frankly, I’m not sure I learned anything remotely scientific from the presentations, but they’re definitely fun to watch.

The two “Frontline” episodes included in “Locked Up in America” cover very different aspects of the prison system and the depressing lack of answers for serious problems. “Prison State” examines a relatively new Kentucky program designed to give youthful and elderly offenders, accused of “crimes” ranging from assault to truancy, every opportunity to avoid serious jail time. The kids we meet live in a housing project within a long stone’s throw of the local police lockup; the older men have been in and out prison dozens of times, mostly because they can’t resist yielding to bad habits. Too often, repeat offenders come to believe that they belong in jail and these rehabilitation periods are mere vacations from reality. It’s one thing to recognize that degree of resignation in an old man with few friends or relatives on the outside, but quite another to see it take hold in a teenager for whom recidivism might as well be her middle name. If the show is depressing, it comes as a relief to know that lots of people we don’t meet benefit from the program. “Solitary Nation” offers almost no room at all for hope. The residents of the solitary unit in a Maine prison to whom we’re introduced are angry they’ve been removed from the rest of the population, but do nothing at all to warrant being spared the punishment. Some of them register their displeasure by slitting their wrists and smearing the blood on the two windows available to them, or by stuffing up their toilets to flood the hallways with fetid water. Some also collect feces to smear on the walls. Muscle-bound and tattoo-laden, the inmates leave no doubt as to their anti-social tendencies, thus begging the question as to whether they ever can be released and, if not, what to do with them. Neither show is easy to watch, but both deal with important issues facing all Americans, especially those who advocate putting everyone from pot smokers to jaywalkers in jail.

The occasional PBS series, “Time Scanners,” explores another mystery frequently addressed in network shows: how is it that the pyramids and other ancient structures have held together so well, while the house we just built already has a leaky roof and a cracked driveway? Here, modern laser and CGI techniques are used to strip the structures to their bare bones and examine the skeleton, without removing a single stone. Host Dallas Campbell and structural engineer Steve Burrows take us to St. Paul’s Cathedral, Petra and Egyptian pyramids built before the ones at Luxor and Giza. It’s fun and viewers don’t require a graduate degree in architecture to understand most of it.

The PBS series “Cool Spaces!” also attempts to make architecture accessible to civilians. Here, though, architect/teacher/host Stephen Chung opens the doors to contemporary structures that look great today, but probably won’t be around in 50 years, let alone several millennia. That isn’t to suggest that Dallas’ AT&T Stadium, Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center couldn’t last more than a century or two, only that their owners wouldn’t hesitate to tear them down to accommodate a larger scoreboard or higher-definition Jumbotron. Season One is divided into segments exploring performance spaces, healing spaces, libraries and art spaces.

For more than a quarter-century, New York deejay and TV host Earl “Rootsman” Chin has served as Jamaica’s musical ambassador to the U.S. His “Rocker TV” series, which mixes interviews and music, occasionally is shown on one of our local PBS affiliates. Among the many musicians who’ve appeared on the show was the prolific and highly popular Dennis Brown, who died in 1998 of pneumonia, possibly aggravated by crack and ganja. The interview and concert segments on this DVD were recorded shortly before that happened. – Gary Dretzka

Runaway Nightmare: Blu-ray
Lake Placid: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Usually, the rewards that derive from finding a DVD that’s so bad it’s good are so miniscule as to be invisible. Watch a 100 straight-to-video titles and only one or two might qualify for such a distinction, so, maybe you can see where a reviewer might go insane before a really good bad movie surfaces. “Runaway Nightmare” is being touted as just such a treasure by Vinegar Syndrome, a company that, like Shout!Factory, knows a bad movie when it sees one. Moreover, when it does finds one, VS tends to spend more money upgrading the product and adding bonus materials than the movie made in theaters the first time around. Here, two Death Valley worm farmers – worm farmers! Death Valley! – discover a woman being buried alive in a patch of ground usually reserved for tube-shaped invertebrates. The men are, then, kidnapped by an all-female cult of drug runners, who, after making them their slaves, force them to assist in a plan to steal a suitcase full of platinum from the mob. I kid you not. A sure sign that a movie is being held together with duct tape and staples is the number of times someone’s name shows up on the credit roll. Mike Cartel is listed as director, writer, producer, editor, stuntman, star and husband of one of the femme fatales, Mari Cartel. There’s violence aplenty, but most of the nudity is reserved for an alternate VHS segment, featuring topless women doing the boogaloo. The uncut and authorized edition of “Runaway Nightmare” has been fully restored in 4K from the original 35mm camera negative. It includes commentary with the Cartels.

Lake Placid” was released in 1999, two decades after “Piranha,” but minus a director as inventive as Joe Dante and screenwriter as hip as John Sayles. David E. Kelley may be responsible for some of the television medium’s best series, but, clearly, he was out of his element when it came to writing a creature feature. Instead of a man-eating fish from the Amazon, the killer residing in the body of Canadian water posing as Lake Placid is a crocodile capable of wholly digesting a live cow, donated for the purpose by a local nutcase played wonderfully by Bette White. The reason “Lake Placid” isn’t close to being in the so-bad-it’s-good category is because its stars are far too prominent and Kelley gave them a few too many good lines. Otherwise, while obviously fake, the monster isn’t nearly as cheesy as those in the average Syfy flick. The blood-letting is messy but not realistic enough to induce vomiting in queasy viewers. The toothy beast might as well be a hippopotamus for all of the stealth it displays while approaching its prey. If “Lake Placid” were a bicycle, it would come with training wheels. The scenery’s nice, but I can’t imagine anyone over 16 being particularly challenged by this one. The Blu-ray extras include new interviews with director Steve Miner, actor Bill Pullman, director of photography Daryn Okada, editor Marshall Harvey, production designer John Willett, effects supervisor Nick Marra and puppeteer Toby Lindala; a vintage featurette with Miner, White, Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt and Brendon Gleason; a behind-the-scenes still gallery; animatronic “Croc Test” footage; and original marketing material. – Gary Dretzka

How It All Began: Origins of Master Mantak Chia
Although this bio-doc too often feels like an infomercial for Grand Master Mantak Chia and his international chain of healing centers, there’s enough interest in yoga these days to mention it alongside movies about killer crocodiles and worm farmers in the desert. After all, just because I’ve never heard of Mantak Chia doesn’t mean others won’t value from his teachings. Born to Chinese parents in occupied Thailand, Chia climbed the ladder from Thai boxing, to Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido, yoga and broader levels of Tai Chi. He would combine disciplines from various masters, forming his system that merged Thai boxing, Kung Fu, Taoist, Buddhist and Zen teachings. He brought the Universal Healing Tao System with him when he eventually moved to New York’s Chinatown and steadily built his business. He has since returned to Thailand, where he has created a posh Tao Garden Health Resort and Universal Tao Training Center for the benefit of his many New Age disciples and newbies. There’s no reason to think that his followers wouldn’t find “How It All Began: Origins of Master Mantak Chia” to be entertaining and enlightening. – Gary Dretzka

Erotic Adventures of Candy/Candy Goes to Hollywood
All Night Long/Tapestry of Passion
Vintage Erotica: Anno 1970
42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection, Vol. 3
The latest double-features in Vinegar Syndrome’s “Peekarama” series harken back to a time when porn directors still thought in terms of narrative content and providing entertaining content for couples, in addition to vigorous hard-core sex. In the mid-1970s, Gail Palmer was one of only a very few women directors/writers/producers and very good one, at that. Her best-known titles, “Erotic Adventures of Candy” (1978) and “Candy Goes to Hollywood,” appear to have been based as much on Terry Southern’s “Candy” as Voltaire’s “Candide.” “Deep Throat” co-star Carol Connor plays the bubble-headed bleach blond who loses her virginity to the handsome young Mexican gardener her father warned her against befriending. The sex was disappointing, to say the least, so she tries to find love in places besides her back yard. In the second chapter of the saga, Candy finds a predatory talent agent, Johnny Dooropener (John Leslie), who introduces her to more celebrated sex fiends in Hollywood, including Johnny Carson and Chuck Barris look-alikes. In one of her attempts to find straight work after “Deep Throat,” Connors landed a gig on “The Gong Show” as a buxom introducer of “talent.” Palmer satirizes the experience in “Candy Goes to Hollywood.” There’s also a surprise appearance by the power-saw-wielding punk-rocker, Wendy O. Williams.

The second “Peekarama” collection is right out of “Boogie Nights.” “Tapestry of Passion” is a chapter in the series of hard-core adventures featuring John C. Holmes’ recurring Johnny Wadd character, immortalized by Mark Wahlberg in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film. Bob Chinn, who was portrayed by Burt Reynolds in the same movie, is credited as co-screenwriter with director Alan Colberg. Private detective Wadd is hot on the case of a woman known as “The Black Widow.” Colberg also directs Holmes in “All Night Long.” In it, characters played by Holmes and Rick Lutze embark on a competition to see who can sleep with the greatest number of women over the course of a night. It’s not as easy as they think it will be. All of these films have been restored in 2K from the 35mm camera negatives and add vintage trailers.

Vintage Erotica: Anno 1970” offers prime examples of how the ’70s’ “porno chic” phenomenon was interpreted in Europe, where anti-pornography laws were falling much faster than they were in the U.S. Here, court cases still awaited the stars of “Deep Throat” and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. For one thing, the 14 short films are more risqué than hard-core and not nearly as aggressively in-your-face as the loops that preceded “Deep Throat.” For examples of those nasty little boogers, check out Impulse Pictures’ “42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection, Vol. 3.” It is the latest compilation of 8mm shorts from Impulse Pictures, re-mastered from original film prints. This collection features 15 classic loops, with such future stars as Annie Sprinkle, Susan Nero, Bobby Astyr and Jamie Gillis. Liner notes from Cinema Sewer editor Robin Bougie also are included. – Gary Dretzka

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“We don’t have any idea what the universe is. Wise people have always told us that this is proof you shouldn’t think, because thinking leads you nowhere. You just build over this huge construction of misunderstanding, which is culture. The history of culture is the history of the misunderstandings of great thinkers. So we always have to go back to zero and begin differently. And maybe in that way you have a chance not to understand but at least not to have further misunderstandings. Because this is the other side of this question—Am I really so brave to cancel all human culture? To stop admiring the beauty in human production? It’s very difficult to say no.”
~ László Krasznahorkai

“I have a license to carry in New York. Can you believe that? Nobody knows that, [Applause] somebody attacks, somebody attacks me, oh, they’re gonna be shot. Can you imagine? Somebody says, oh, it is Trump, he’s easy pickings what do you say? Right? Oh, boy. What was the famous movie? No. Remember, no remember where he went around and he sort of after his wife was hurt so badly and kill. What?  I — Honestly, Yeah, right, it’s true, but you have many of them. Famous movie. Somebody. You have many of them. Charles Bronson right the late great Charles Bronson name of the movie come on.  , remember that? Ah, we’re gonna cut you up, sir, we’re gonna cut you up, uh-huh.

Bing!

One of the great movies. Charles Bronson, great, Charles Bronson. Great movies. Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct, right? It’s not politically correct. But could you imagine with Trump? Somebody says, oh, all these big monsters aren’t around he’s easy pickings and then shoot.”
~ Donald Trump