By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: Better Angels, Humbling, Tinker Bell, Blacula, Outlander and more
The Better Angels
Growing up in the Midwest, one of the things I enjoyed doing on a summer weekend was hopping in a bus with other Boy Scouts for the sole purpose of hiking 10-25 miles over uneven terrain to claim a medallion commemorating one historic site or another. One of destinations was the site of Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, on what was then the 348-acre Sinking Spring Farm, nearly equidistant between Louisville and Bowling, Green. The log cabin replicated there couldn’t possibly have been more modest or representative of a farming family’s life in the early 1800s. The Lincolns would move to southern Indiana, where the future president lived and toiled from ages 7 to 21. Despite writer-director A.J. Edwards’ decision to shot his debut feature, The Better Angels, on location in Upstate New York’s wonderfully scenic Mohonk Preserve and Ashokan outdoor education center, it’s easy to believe it was shot in the forested hills and valleys along the Ohio River Valley. At first glance of the trailer, I wondered when Terrence Malick had the time to squeeze in another project between To the Wonder and Knight of Cups. As if anticipating such a question, his participation as producer/presenter is prominently mentioned on the trailer and poster for the movie. That Edwards has worked almost exclusively with Malick in his brief career explains why The Better Angels looks like a kid brother to The New Land. The story of Lincoln’s early formative years is told through vignettes, poetically shot in ethereal black-and-white by relative newcomer Matthew J. Lloyd. Young Abe is played by first-timer Braydon Denney, who wasn’t given much dialogue to memorize but makes up for the lack of oratory by closely resembling rocker Jacob Dylan. Neither was square-jawed Jacob Clarke given much to say as the stern and unforgiving Tom Lincoln. One suspects, however, that few words were wasted between pioneer sons and fathers exhausted from hard days in the fields.
Instead, by all historic accounts, it was Tom Lincoln’s two wives, Nancy (Brit Marling) and Sarah (Diane Kruger), who made sure that the boy would largely be spared the rod after doing something, however minor, to earn his dad’s anger. Likewise, they both encouraged Abraham’s interest in reading and early desire to become something other than an inheritor of the family farm. Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s sad demise comes fairly early, after an outbreak of a sickness caused by drinking the milk of cows that had ingested a toxic weed. Tom soon would return to Kentucky for the sole purpose of proposing to Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children, whose family he had known for many years. He brought them all to his farm in Indiana, where Sarah became a welcome stepmother to his two children. In The Better Angels, Kruger portrays her as being more free-spirited and inquisitive than either Nancy or Tom, as well as someone willing to go behind her husband’s back to provide her stepson with educational material. The movie ends almost at the point where other biopics of the 16th President might begin. That Edwards doesn’t embellish Lincoln’s story with miraculous moments of inspiration or a convenient encounter with an influential pedagogue. The closest we come to such an occurrence is when Abraham is passed in the woods by a bounty hunter escorting a chain gang of escaped slaves south to their owners. No lightbulbs go off over his head, but it’s obvious an impression was left on him. Fans of Malick’s movies should find a lot to enjoy here.
The Humbling: Blu-ray
It’s difficult to imagination that any film starring Al Pacino, directed by Barry Levinson and adapted by Buck Henry, from a novel by Philip Roth, couldn’t find distribution outside the festival circuit and a couple of big-city art houses. Thirty years ago, such a thing would be unthinkable. Pacino was coming off Scarface; Levinson had just hit a home run with The Natural; Henry had adapted his screenplay for Protocol from a story by Charles Shyer, Nancy Meyers and Harvey Miller; and Roth’s “The Anatomy Lesson” was vying for year-end literary awards. Also working in favor of The Humbling are co-stars Greta Gerwig, Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin, Dianne Wiest and Nina Arianda. Pacino plays Simon Axler, a major Broadway star whose diminishing physical and mental health has prompted him to question if there’s any reason left for him to live. At the height of his doldrums, Axler is paid a visit by the daughter of longtime close friends. Gerwig is almost unrecognizable as professor Pegeen Stapleford, a lesbian willing to backslide for the sake of hooking up with a man she’s fancied since childhood. Their affair becomes seriously complicated when her parents accuse Axler of betraying their trust – and worse — and Pegeen’s previous lovers test her newfound bi-sexuality. Actually, for all of Pegeen’s neuroses, she feels no compunction to be confined by a label. More a product of the 20th Century sexual conventions, Axler isn’t interested in sharing her with others, unless it’s in a fantasy three-way with an Asian-American woman attracted to Pegeen. A few of Roth’s other subplots are compacted into the flow of the film’s 112-length, along with some genuine surprises. The Blu-ray adds a short background featurette.
Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast: Blu-ray
It took Disney more than 50 years to give Tinker Belle, one of the company’s greatest assets, a feature-film franchise of her own and, even then, the DVD-original “Tinker Bell” almost didn’t get made. When Pixar executives John Lasseter and Ed Catmull assumed control of Walt Disney Feature Animation, in 2006, they demanded wholesale changes in the project, which was considered to be 80 percent completed. It would be the fairy’s first speaking role in a Disney adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” and, although company fortunes weren’t riding on it, the straight-to-video market had become an important source of revenue. As if propelled by pixie dust, the series took off immediately. Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast is the sixth feature-length film, with Mae Whitman voicing the character in all of them. In it, Tinker Bell and the “animal fairy,” Fawn, come across a strange and ferocious animal believed to be mythical. Co-writer/director Steve Loder tore the page out of “Aesop’s Fables,” upon which “Androcles and the Lion” was printed, by having Fawn pull a thorn from the Neverbeast’s paw. Nevertheless, the other residents of Pixie Hollow believe that it still is a threat to their gentle community, not unlike the one posed by local birds of prey and various supernatural phenomena. There’s no reason to think this entry in the series won’t be as successful as previous installments, especially with the younger set. The Blu-ray adds deleted and unfinished scenes, as well as several background and making-of featurettes.
Here’s yet another very deserving film, whose only real flaw appears to be that it was made in Canada, by Canadians, if not exclusively for Canadians. At a time when festival favorites produced in the United States aren’t even ensured theatrical distribution, despite the presence of familiar Hollywood actors, Jefferson Moneo’s excellent “prairie noir,” Big Muddy, was going to face an uphill climb from the get-go. Filmed in Moneo’s native Saskatchewan, it bears comparison in some ways to Badlands and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. In it, Nadia Litz plays a woman, Martha, who became estranged from her father (Stephen McHattie) when she left the family farm in search of the fast lane in a slow town. Her taste for outlaws left her with a husband in prison and a bun in the oven. Nearly two decades later, Martha has retained enough of her youthful good looks to set up drunks for her new boyfriend to roll outside bars. Somehow, though, she was able to raise a son, Andy (Justin Kelly), who’s led what passes for a normal life, despite her. Things will change when the father he believes to be dead escapes from prison and his mother and her boyfriend inadvertently involve him in a scheme to rip off the region’s leading crime boss. When it goes terribly wrong, mother and son retreat to the home in which she grew up and is no longer welcome. With the escaped murderer and enraged gangster making a beeline to the farm, Andy’s transition from boyhood to manhood will be reduced from years to hours. It may not be the most complicated of scenarios, but the high-lonesome setting adds something distinctly different to the drama. McHattie, who will forever be confused with Lance Henriksen, is the rock around which all of the film’s turmoil flows.
Believe Me: Blu-ray
To Write Love on Her Arms
As I’ve noted previously, faith-based films have begun to arrive in all shapes and sizes. And, while certain themes prevail, faith and redemption remain high on the list of priorities. Equal parts satire and cautionary tale, Will Bakke’s Believe Me is the rare Christian title that encourages laughter, contemplation and curiosity. His protagonist, Sam (Alex Russell), is a modern-day Elmer Gantry who preys on college-age students who accept as fact that Jesus is the answer to all of their questions, however mundane. He takes advantage of the fact that the only thing that separates Christian rock from AC/DC is the emphasis on Christ and God in the lyrics and absence of marijuana smoke in the air. When Sam learns from his adviser (Nick Offerman) that he’s $9,000 short on his senior-year tuition bill, he enlists three of his frat buddies in a scheme to convince church-goers that God has called on him to dig wells in drought-plagued villages in Africa. Naturally, while he’s at it, Sam would be spreading the gospel to the spiritually deprived natives. Even people who haven’t been washed in the blood of the lamb understand that bringing clean water to impoverished villages is a worthwhile cause to support. Corporations are digging wells in Africa, as well, but only so they can measure usage and charge by the gallon. What Sam and his pals lack in the predatory polish of the talk-show preachers on the Trinity Broadcasting Network – or, in their day, fire-breathing Pentecostals Marjoe Gortner and Sam Kinison — they more than make up for in mock sincerity and youthful pizazz. It catches the eye of a promotor of arena-size revival meetings (Christopher McDonald), which combine witnessing, prayer and rock music. The tour manager is a cute and chronically upbeat blond, Callie (Johanna Braddy), who falls for Sam and his message. For a change, the only member of the tent show who smells a rat is the comparatively unkempt band leader and Callie’s former paramour (Zachary Knighton). Slowly, too, Sam’s partners begin to get queasy over making promises to audiences they have no intention of fulfilling. Will the Holy Ghost reveal itself in time to rescue the sinners? Stay tuned.
Strictly speaking, To Write Love on Her Arms isn’t a movie that fits neatly alongside such niche titles as Believe Me or God Is Not Dead! But, since most 12-step recovery programs are faith-based in one way or another, it delivers a similar message. It dramatizes the true-life story that inspired the non-profit organization of the same title and the Internet- and concert-based movement designed to present hope for young people struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and thoughts of suicide. Kat Dennings plays Renee Yohe, who, as a girl growing up in the danker quarters of Orlando, used alcohol, drugs and “cutting” to deal with her demons. Fortunately, when she hit rock bottom, a small group of much-abused friends was there to point her in the direction of recovery. Before Renee could enter the preferred rehab center, however, she was required to abstain from cocaine and booze for five days. It was during this period that she met Jamie Tworkowski (Chad Michael Murray), who became Renee’s confidante and related her struggle to thousands of other young people via his blog. By the time she leaves the residential program, To Write Love on Her Arms has grown into a movement of evangelical proportions, funded by T-shirt sales and concerts. The newfound attention may have thrown Renee for a loop, but, eventually, she would be able to take charge of her own life. Dennings is extremely convincing as Renee, who shares most of the self-destructive traits as movie addicts from Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, in Days of Wine and Roses, to Maggie Gyllenhaal, in Sherrybaby, among any other characters. The DVD adds deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and material on the organization.
Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife: Blu-ray
Here’s a black comedy for those still waiting for a sequel to Throw Momma from the Train and triquel to Weekend at Bernie’s. You know who you are. Writer/director/producer/co-star Scott Foley’s Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife has fun with the idea that one of the wives in a group of four yuppie couples is so obnoxious — especially to her overmatched husband, Ward (Donald Faison) – that they’ve begun to toy with the idea of getting rid of her, entirely. Just when it appears as if they’ve come to their senses, Ward’s wife does something so mean to him that they decide to go ahead with their plans. In fact, she makes it easy for them. As we’ve seen in dozens of other such “comedies,” however, murder is easy … getting rid of the body parts is hard. Even more difficult is squeezing laughs from the process. Foley gets some decent support from Patrick Wilson, Amy Acker, Nicolette Sheridan, Ava Carpinello, James Carpinello and Dagmara Dominczyk. The Blu-ray comes with outtakes.
Day of the Gun
Whether or not Westerns are an endangered genre – or simply in danger of being usurped by revisionist ideas – is a question that’s been open to debate for decades, now. Certainly, the traditional Hollywood concept of the Western has been relegated to the niches of cable television and straight-to-video services. More often than not, these films promote the idea that the western expansion was undertaken solely for the benefit of families and WASP ideals. And, maybe it was. White-hatted cowboys, lawmen and preachers were pitted against black-hatted outlaws, hired guns and gamblers. In a nod to the populist instincts of screenwriters and directors, it was the greed of mine owners, land barons and railroad moguls that often served as a catalyst for violence. Westerns made in the second half of the 20th Century described a moral landscape constructed of shades of gray and bright red blood. Day of the Gun is targeted at that most elusive of demographics, the family audience once owned by prime-time network television series, such as “Bonanza” or “The Big Valley.” It’s the latest release by writer/director Wayne Shipley, who specializes in tales of the Old West, especially those presumably still told in Montana.
Day of the Gun is an extreme example of the do-it-yourself Western, shot on the cheap but conforming to themes as old as the movies themselves. Set in 1890s Montana, it chronicles a conflict between the widowed rancher Maggie Carter and cattle baron Cyrus McCall, enflamed by the drip-drip-drip loss of cattle to rustlers. Because some of the missing cattle end up on Carter land, McCall decides to put up a barbed-wire fence. As any genre buff worth his snuff knows, separating ranches of the time with barbed wire was anathema to the notion of open ranges and unimpeded grazing. Maggie considers this to be an affront to the memory of her late husband and a challenge to her position as a woman in a man’s world. One thing leads to another and the range war devolves into a personal vendetta, complicated by a romance that can’t be contained by a fence, the death of son and arrival of a shady gunman played by Eric Roberts. Sadly, because Roberts is the closest thing to a well-rounded actor in Day of the Gun, it frequently resembles the musical production in Waiting for Guffman. Neither does it help matters when footage shot in the mountains is combined with material shot at Shipley’s Maryland farm, representing the village of Singletree. The DVD adds “Tales of the Wild West: Gunfight at Osage Station” and “Tales of the Wild West: The Day the Aces Got Trumped.”
Exterminators of the Year 3000: Blu-ray
Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream: Blu-ray
In anticipation of the release, this May, of Mad Max: Fury Road and Shout Factory’s nearly simultaneous Blu-ray upgrade of the original Mad Max, it’s perhaps worth noting S!F’s re-release of Exterminators of the Year 3000. George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action-adventures Mad Max and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior had already taken the world by storm, adding “dystopian” to the lexicon of film buffs barely able to spell it correctly. Giuliano Carnimeo’s Exterminators of the Year 3000 is so closely matched to Mad Max that a co-scripting crediting for Miller would have been an appropriate tip of the hat to the source material. Once again, humanity’s post-apocalyptic future is threatened by nuclear waste, shortages of gas and water, and an overabundance of leather-clad hooligans. While Exterminators of the Year 3000 won’t make anyone forget Mad Max and the many films that have followed in its trash-strewn wake, it could whet fans’ appetites for a bountiful month of May. The Blu-ray adds commentary and an interview with actor Robert Iannucci.
By the time Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream were released in the early 1970s, such Blaxploitation classics as Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Shaft, Super Fly, Across 110th Street, Black Mama White Mama and The Legend of Nigger Charley already had made a big impact in the urban marketplace. Blacula may have performed well at the box office, but it remains far too tame and unoriginal to be remembered with any great fondness. Neither does it help all that much that Pam Grier was talked into joining William Marshall’s ageless African Prince Mamuwalde in the sequel as the successor to voodoo queen, Mama Loa. Why waste such formidable talent on PG horror flicks? The new Shout!Factory upgrades are more interesting for their curiosity value than anything else, even the period costume designs and music. Two decades later, Wes Craven and Eddie Murphy would attempt to revive the subgenre with Vampire in Brooklyn, neither audiences nor critics embraced what should have been a no-brainer.
A Darker Fifty Shades: The Fetish Set
Now that Fifty Shades of Grey has begun to show signs of drifting into the ancillary sunset, its success is likely to spawn a few more rip-offs before plans for the second and third chapters in the trilogy are finalized. A Darker Fifty Shades: The Fetish Set began its cinematic life simply as “The Fetish Set,” with its primary attraction being cult favorite Bill Oberst Jr. (Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies) in the role, of course, of a sadistic serial killer. Scream queen Sarah Nicklin (The Disco Exorcist) would also have been expected to attract fans to Shane Wheeler’s debut picture. While several non-trendy fetishes are briefly explored here, the emphasis is on what happens when things veer wildly off-course. Oberst doesn’t show up until A Darker Fifty Shades is already halfway through its frequently ponderous 81-minute length. By then, the four women invited to attend a fetish convention in south Texas – or Las Vegas, it’s hard to tell – have killed a man they believe to have raped one of them, but, in fact, didn’t. Oberst’s badly disfigured character, The Wolf, then decides to demonstrate for them the difference between pretend fetishes and sociopathic behavior. A not terribly illuminating commentary track is provided by Nicklin, along with four incomprehensible shorts.
Chris Soth’s first directorial effort, SafeWord, also deals with S&M, fetishes and obsessive behavior, but in a way more closely related to films in the torture-porn genre. Tall and willowy, Stephanie Edmonds (“Greek”) plays a young woman haunted by no small degree of psycho-sexual trauma in her past. Compounding that misery, Sabina is drugged by tennis companion and delivered to the dungeon of a man who most assuredly is a sadist. Somehow, half-naked, she manages to escape her captor, only to be picked up by a trio of people who take her to a fetish party where the guests are only slightly less crazy than the first guy. There’s a method to Soth’s madness here, but it only will become clear toward the tail end of the movie. For that happen, viewers will be required to endure some fairly blood-curdling stuff.
Outlander: Season One: Volume One: Blu-ray
Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete Second Season: Blu-ray
Doctor Who: Last Christmas: Blu-ray
PBS: Nazi Megaweapons: Series Two
PBS: Tales From the Royal Bedchamber
PBS: The Queen’s Garden
Nickelodeon: Bubble Guppies: Fin-Tastic Collection
Nickelodeon: Paw Patrol: Marshall and Chase on the Case
The Beginner’s Bible
Despite the fact that I can access the Starz channel on my cable system, I was taken completely by surprise by the British-American mini-series, “Outlander.” Based on a series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, it is a historical drama that combines bodice-ripping romance, time-travel, fantasy, spectacular scenery and period violence, all in the service of an increasingly enthralling eight-episode whole. The hypnotically beautiful Irish actress and model Caitriona Balfe plays Claire Randall, a World War II combat nurse, who hopes to reconnect emotionally with her husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies), on a long-delayed honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. While in Inverness, Frank spends some time researching his family history, in particular his ancestor Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall. Inspired by a local legend, they eavesdrop on a re-enactment of Druid ritual, which takes place among a set of standing stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun. The next morning, Claire returns to the ancient site, only to be transported back 250 years back in time, just before the calamitous Battle of Culloden. Still dressed in modern clothes, Claire is rescued from the grips of a Redcoat officer – who looks suspiciously like her husband – by a Scotsman of the Mackenzie clan. Still confused, Claire is transported to the Highlander camp and later to the clan’s ancestral home at Castle Leoch. By this time, however, she’d endeared herself to the rebels by re-setting the dislocated elbow of the handsome warrior, Jamie Fraser, and treating his bullet wound. The laird of the castle immediately suspects their guest of being an English spy, but is impressed by medical skills some people mistake as sorcery. Meanwhile, Frank is concerned that his wife might have met with foul play and demands action of the local police force. Although such disappearances have happened in the past, the locals are reluctant to inform Frank of them. As the mini-series unspools, Claire can’t help but get more deeply involved in the hostilities between the clansmen and Redcoats, only occasionally hinting that she might be able to warn them of their fate. What distinguishes “Outlander” is its attention to period detail, historical settings and soap-opera intrigue. As is the case in other premium-cable offerings, it’s also pretty sexy. “Volume 2” of the series’ first season will launch in April, so there’s plenty of time to catch up with it, without binging, like I did. The making-of featurettes add a great deal to the enjoyment of “Outlander.”
Much of the same applies to the Starz/BBC Worldwide collaboration, “Da Vinci’s Demons,” another historical fantasy series, this time set largely, but not exclusively in Renaissance Florence and Rome. In the second season, Leonardo is detoured from his search for the Book of Leaves by an unplanned journey to the New World. It’s just as well, because Florence has been tossed upside down by the usual political, religious and financial turmoil. For her part, Lucrezia ventures to Constantinople, where the Ottoman aggressors and possibly the truth behind the Book of Leaves may lurk. The series’ third season also returns this spring.
Nobody does Christmas like the “Doctor Who” crew and the 2014 presentation, “Doctor Who: Last Christmas” only adds more of the same sci-fi action. As befits the end of Peter Capaldi’s highly successful first season as the Doctor, the special offers an entertaining blend of humor, suspense, horror and intrigue. Lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat summed up the story: “Well obviously, as everyone knows from the end of Death in Heaven (season finale), it’s the ultimate meeting of Christmas heroes: Santa Claus meets Doctor Who. The buddy movie you’ve always wanted. The Christmas element is covered in the fairly notable form of Santa Claus and the elves and their sleigh. But the rest of it is very much Doctor Who: scary, in a polar ice cap base, scientists under threat. I keep describing it as Miracle on 34th Street meets Alien.” Nick Frost stars as Santa Claus. The Blu-ray adds commentary from director Paul Wilmhurst and producer Paul Frift, as well as a 10-minute behind-the-scenes making of featurette that includes interviews with Capaldi, Frost, Moffat and Jenna Coleman.
Just when you think you’ve learned all there is to know – or care to know – about a terrible conflagration that ended 70 years ago, it seems as if PBS comes up with a documentary series that sheds new light on the struggle to free Europe from fascism. Nazi Megaweapons describes just what the Allied forces were up against, besides hundreds of thousands of soldiers and officers dedicated to serving Adolph Hitler. Not only had the Fuhrer convinced average citizens to embrace his mad dream, but he also was able to draw on the collective knowledge of a body of scientists, architects, academics, physicians and sociopaths perhaps unparalleled in world history. That the U.S. was willing to spare the lives and exploit the unique talents of Nazi masterminds in the new war against communism attests to their proficiency in developing the machinery of death. In the second season of “Nazi Megaweapons,” we not only meet the engineers who designed Germany’s fortifications and infrastructure, but also learn how they sparked a technological revolution that changed warfare forever. If there is one word to sum up all six episodes, it would be “concrete.” From the construction of the Siegfried Line to the building of launching pads for V1 rockets – “the world’s first Cruise missiles” – the tonnage, alone, is almost beyond comprehension. And, because concrete is so difficult to destroy, the show’s producers were able to locate some of the most noteworthy structures, many of which remain hidden from the public, throughout Europe. The topics include, the role architecture played in the formation of the SS; Hitler’s secret headquarters, the Wolf’s Lair; the development of gigantic warships; and science behind Japan’s kamikaze strategy and Germany’s aborted suicide attacks.
Near the end of The Theory of Everything, after Stephen Hawking is honored by Queen Elizabeth, the family is invited to spend some time in the Buckingham Palace Gardens. Unlike the White House’s Rose Garden, the private garden at Buckingham Palace covers more than 40 acres, and includes a helicopter landing area, a lake, a tennis court and 2½ miles of gravel pathways. The producers of PBS’ “The Queen’s Garden” were accorded unprecedented access to the urban oasis, which has been part of British history for five years. The show follows the garden’s transformation across all four seasons, uncovering rare flowers specially bred for the queen, wildlife captured using hidden cameras, a vast lake with an island in the middle where the royal bees make honey and a huge marble urn that once belonged to Napoleon.
Likewise, “Tales From the Royal Bedchamber” pulls back the curtains on an aspect of history previously dramatized only in movies and literature. The bedchamber once was a place where courtiers and dignitaries would attend royal marriage ceremonies and observe royal births, in order to verify the baby’s gender. Even the process of creating royal babies often took place in a semi-public context to prove an heir’s legitimacy. Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, is our guide, explaining the increasingly lavish design of Royal State beds and the huge expense which went into them. In fact, she observes, the rise and fall of their magnificent beds reflect the changing fortunes of the monarchy, itself.
Nickelodeon’s latest compilations of episodes from its popular kids’ menu include “Bubble Guppies: Fin-Tastic Collection” and “Paw Patrol: Marshall and Chase on the Case.” In addition to the select episodes, the sets offer special activities for pre-schoolers.
“The Beginners Bible” may not advance the state of the art of animation, but parents looking for a simple way to introduce the pre-schoolers to lessons from the bible, without scaring the bejeezus out of the wee lads and lassies. The three 25-30-minute chapters cover “The Nativity,” “The Story of Easter” and “The Story of Moses.”
Forty Years From Yesterday
In movies, scenes of death and grieving are most frequently used to tear at the guts of viewers and provide them with a reason for investing in what’s happening to fictional characters. Just as the movies mimic life, however, audiences adopt the exaggerated dramatizations of rituals of everyday life, including the weeping and wailing associated with wakes, funerals and burials. Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck’s Forty Years From Yesterday could hardly be more different in tone and scale. Quiet as a funeral director’s condolences to a loved one, it follows one man’s excruciating discovery of his longtime wife’s unexpected death and the ordeal of having to cope with it in the days and hours leading up to and immediately following her funeral. This is accomplished without mournful orchestral music, melodramatic outbursts from friends and next of kin or the platitudes of clergy. It’s as if a documentary crew had been standing at the ready outside the bedroom of the woman who died and had planted unobtrusive cameras in strategic locations around the house. The film opens as the husband prepares for his morning jog and picks up when he returns, only to discover the passing of his wife. No longer spree and ready to tackle the day, he can barely put one foot ahead of the other or acknowledge the presence of visitors. It’s a remarkable performance. The DVD adds the short film that inspired the feature and a piece left on the cutting-room floor, featuring only the two cemetery workers who prepare the grave.
The Eternal Return of Antonis
Very few Greek films find their way to American art houses and the ones that do are as different from other European exports as feta is to cheddar. Elina Psykou’s debut feature, The Eternal Return of Antonis, is no exception to the rule. Antonis Paraskevas is a well-known television personality, who maintains his popularity by acting the clown on screen or personal appearances at beauty shows. In a bizarre exercise in hubris, Antonis stages his own kidnapping to gain sympathy and attention from an audience that may no longer exist. By hiding in an abandoned seaside hotel, outside a tiny village, he’s able to monitor television reports and newspaper coverage. In solitude, Antonis is left with his hallucinations, paranoia and delusions of grandeur. Imagine Al Rocker in the same situation and you’ll get the picture. The DVD includes an interview with Psykou, who explains how difficult it is to find financing in a country that is an economic basket case.
Victori: The Truth Just Can’t Be One Thing
The lives and works of history’s greatest artists have provided the fodder for countless movies and documentaries. In the last half-century, alone, the titles have ranged from The Agony and the Ecstasy to Tim Burton’s Big Eyes. Forgers have also been the subject of fine films, most recently, The Best Offer. Stories about unconventional, controversial and oppressively commercial artists are left to “60 Minutes” and such niche documentaries as Cutie and the Boxer, Banksy Does New York, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Waste Land. Michael Melamedoff’s Victori: The Truth Just Can’t Be One Thing profiles Victor Victori, a Korean-America whose “multiplist” style has inspired U.S. presidents and countless patrons of galleries in shopping malls and starving-artist sales. The documentary also spends a great deal of time with Victori’s son, who quit his job as a financial adviser to manage his father’s career.