By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: 100-Year-Old Man, Strangerland, La Grande Bouffe, Troma’s War, Hackers, The Rebel, 17 and more
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared: Blu-ray
If Forrest Gump had an uncle living in Sweden, he might have provided the inspiration for novelist Jonas Jonasson and filmmaker Felix Herngren’s hilarious geezer comedy, The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The similarities between the film’s titular protagonist, a half-wit pyromaniac named Allan (Robert Gustafsson), and Tom Hanks’ most beloved character can hardly be disputed. That he also bears certain cursory resemblances to Leonard Zelig only adds to the fun. Allan is about to celebrate his 100th birthday when he takes his revenge against a fox that’s raided his henhouse and killed his beloved cat, Molotov. For reverting to his deterrent of choice, dynamite, Allan has been sentenced to live out his days in a retirement home. Sufficiently cogent to understand the ramifications of such confinement – however mild and well-intentioned it may be – Allan slips out of a window, while the attendants are planning his birthday party, and disappears. At the town’s bus station, an outlaw biker asks the old man to watch his suitcase while he uses the severely cramped men’s room. Instead, the thoroughly confused centenarian walks off with it, along with the fortune in currency being smuggled inside, and takes it on a magical mystery tour. Because all of this takes place in movie’s first 15 minutes, the summation shouldn’t be construed as a spoiler.
As the felonious owners of the suitcase continue their search throughout Scandinavia, co-writer/director Herngren employs flashbacks to fill us in on Allan’s Gump-ian odyssey. We learn that his love of explosives carried him from various childhood mishaps to the Spanish Civil War, where he accidentally saved the life of Generalissimo Franco; the Manhattan Project and a fortuitous meeting with Robert Oppenheimer; lunch with Vice President Harry S Truman on the day FDR died; a post-war sit-down with Stalin; an escape from the Gulag in the company of Albert Einstein’s brother, Herbert; and to Ronald Reagan, whose declining condition has made him as intellectually befuddled as Allan. Believe me, there’s plenty more to enjoy, even knowing these events ahead of time. Swedes may not be known for their uproarious senses of humor, but it’s worth knowing that Herngren also co-created, with John Nordling, the TV comedy, “Ulveson & Herngren.” After it became a hit in Europe, FX adapted the nutty buddy comedy for consumption by American audiences, as “The Comedians,” starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad, who combined to make it one of the must-see shows of the spring. Although “The 100 Year-Old Man …” arrives with a R rating, it can safely be ignored by parents with kids who can’t recognize cuss words in Swedish. Censors in most other countries found it sufficiently tame for pre-teen viewers. The Blu-ray arrives with a lengthy making-of featurette and interviews.
I wonder if any travel agency in Australia has come up with an itinerary for tourists interested in personally reliving scenes from their favorite Aussie thrillers. The locations might include Lake Jindabyne and the Snowy Mountains, Alice Springs, Kangaroo Island, Kakadu National Park, the Kimberly Ranges, Kununarra, Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, the actual rabbit-proof fence, Hanging Rock, Avalon and Bondi beaches, Uluru/Ayres Rock, Sydney’s King’s Cross red-light district or, for the kiddies, the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure. In person, they must be even more unnerving than they are in the movies. Australian filmmakers maintain a special relationship to the continent’s wildly diverse landscapes and freely exploit the settings as if they were characters, not merely backdrops. I don’t know if John Ford ever visited Australia, but some of the locations might have reminded him favorably of Monument Valley. Kim Farrant’s debut feature, Strangerland, stars Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes as a middle-class couple forced to move to the Outback for an unspecified sexual indiscretion on the part of Matthew’s wife, Catherine. Their children are supremely unimpressed by the diversions provided by the sleepy town of Nathgari, whose primary attractions include the occasion sandstorm and some starkly beautiful wastelands. Their teenage son Tommy goes on nightly walkabouts, while, at 15, Lily has decided that promiscuity might be her only option to boredom. One night, with a towering red-dust cloud approaching, both of the kids simply vanish into the bush. Recriminations fly, but, as one Aboriginal woman observes, “Sometimes, people just disappear.” The locals, a naturally suspicious lot, put aside their gossip and Foster’s cans long enough to conduct a manhunt, but, it isn’t until a few days later that Tommy’s reappearance adds even more mystery to the skepticism. His refusal to talk doesn’t help the search for his sister, either. While Matthew treats the disappearance as only one more nail in the cross he’s been forced to bear, Catherine goes bat-shit crazy, as if the ghosts of the ancient desert took over her fragile psyche and refused to let her go. Caught in the middle of the fray is the local sheriff, David (Hugo Weaving), who appears to be stuck in Nathgari, paying penance for sins of his own making. While Kidman is excellent as the beyond-frazzled Catherine, it’s the unforgiving desert and hypnotic sunsets that make Strangerland special.
La Grande Bouffe: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Released several years after the Beatles included “Piggies” on “The White Album,” yet only a few months ahead of Mel Brooks’ famously scatological Blazing Saddles, the existential French-Italian comedy, La Grande Bouffe, probably would seem out of place in any other time period in recent history. Since then, only Monty Python has used bodily functions and gluttony as effectively in the pursuit of laughs and social commentary. Just as George Harrison skewered conspicuous consumption in “Piggies,” Marco Ferreri uses La Grande Bouffe to comment on the ennui experienced by successful bourgeois males after reaching the pinnacle of their professions at an early age and alienation that can only be trumped by bonding sessions with the best friends. It stars Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli and Philippe Noiret as an Alitalia pilot, restaurateur, television producer and judge, respectively. By all outward appearances, they’re living the good life, but the thrill is gone. They gather in a splendid, if largely unused Paris home for a bacchanal of truly epic proportions. The menu could hardly be more mouth-watering or rich in artery-clogging products. Each plateful equals the annual caloric intake of a small country and those plates keep coming throughout their stay.
It doesn’t take long before Marcello, the increasingly impotent aviator, suggests that the weekend’s missing ingredient is female companionship … the most convivial that money can buy. Also joining them is a somewhat plump school teacher (Andréa Ferréol), whose classes frequently use the unoccupied backyard of the mansion for poetry lessons. For a while, at least, Andrea stands in direct contrast to the prostitutes, who look as if they just returned from Frederic’s of Hollywood fire sale, and a surrogate mother for the men. As the glutinous orgy of suicidal behavior escalates, however, she decides to indulge vices of her own. When the three prostitutes decide that too much is more than enough for them, Andrea is flattered by Ugo’s proposal of marriage – he’s still living his horny nanny – and his willingness to share her motherly love with them. After gorging on such irresistible gastronomic treats, of course, even the strongest constitutions have to be relieved and the men are more than willing to come to aid of a constipated friend. The audible passing of gas will reach operatic proportions, while other involuntary digestive functions veer toward the explosive. It makes the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles look like an Emily Post etiquette seminar. Although most of Ferreri’s cinematic provocations are available in DVD, it does take a bit of work to find them. The only other one I’ve seen is Tales of Ordinary Madness, an excellent interpretation of stories written by Charles Bukowski, starring Ben Gazzara, Susan Tyrell and Ornella Muti. Arrow Video’s expansive Blu-ray package adds several vintage featurettes here, including enlightening interviews with Ferreri, who counts among his influences Tex Avery, Luis Buñuel and Tod Browning, and the key actors; a visual essay by Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone; select scene commentary by Iannone; and extracts from the television series “Couleurs autour d’un festival.”
5 to 7
Sometimes, there’s only a very thin line separating “chick flicks” from the cinematic wet dreams of male screenwriters. Typically, it manifests itself in romantic fantasies in which as yet fully formed young men are allowed the privilege of sharing time with women so far out of their league they don’t even play in the same ball parks. Such unlikely liaisons aren’t to be confused with cheerleaders and wealthy women falling for bad boys or Cinderellas escaping their dust bins to find Prince Charming. Victor Levin’s lushly mounted romantic drama, 5 to 7, describes a scenario in which a struggling young writer, Brian (Anton Yelchin), hooks up with a glamorous French woman, Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe), who, while 10 years older than he is, looks as if she was still getting carded at wine bars. Smokers at a time when such species are endangered, Brian and Arielle meet cute in the streets of Manhattan when she’s in need of a light. He enchants her with his glib anecdotes and bon mots, while she’s drop dead gorgeous and hungry for the attention of someone resembling a slobbering puppy dog. The one condition she sets is that their trysts can only take place between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m., in a hotel room he wouldn’t be able to afford for another 10 years, at least. The story might have been slightly more plausible if Arielle were more obviously needy and her husband, Valery (Lambert Wilson), was more of a dick. Yes, he’s having an affair with his assistant, Jane (Olivia Thirlby), but it’s the kind of thing we’re told a French wife expects of her husband. That Brian and Jane would make a far more appropriate couple is almost too obvious to mention. Naturally, things gets complicated when the young writer begins to get greedy for Arielle’s time. At one point, Levin actually expects us to believe that the privileged mother of two would consider giving it all up for an unproven quantity who lives in a crummy studio apartment. A cottage in Nyack, maybe, but obviously not a dump with a mattress on the floor. Even so, Levin’s experience as a writer and producer on such smart television shows as “Mad Men,” “Mad About You,” “Devious Maids” and “Survivor’s Remorse” helps add a reasonably credible ending to a writer’s wet dream. New York looks great and the addition of Glenn Close and Frank Langella in crucial supporting roles keeps the story from collapsing like a soufflé.
Lambert & Stamp: Blu-ray
Revenge of the Mekons
Rockumentaries have come dime-a-dozen for a long time, now. The truly revelatory ones, however, are worth their weight in gold records. Although you might not recognize the names in the title,Lambert & Stamp, there’s no mistaking the marquee attraction here: The Who. Sure, it’s one of those bands that needs no introduction, but what James D. Cooper’s film does so well is dig up the roots and expose them for all the world to see. Unlike Mick and Keith, the band members weren’t childhood friends who reunited at a Dartford railway station and formed a blues band, nor did they cut their teeth in the rough-and-ready bars in Hamburg’s red-light districts. Closer to Svengali than Brian Epstein, Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert literally created the Who out of a desire to make a movie about a rock-‘n’-roll band they discovered and managed to success. This wasn’t an early attempt to invent an earlier pre-fab Monkees, but an electric light that went on over the heads of two unlikely entrepreneurs. Their talent was knowing when to talk and when to listen, to both their instincts and other people’s opinions. Even when the Who was struggling to release a hit, they were savvy enough to build an independent label around such unsigned acts as Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Brown and Thunderclap Newman. The sensation that became “Tommy” proved to be a turning point for the parallel marriages between the Who and Lambert and Stamp and the team of Lambert & Stamp. Cooper’s years-long quest for answers bore fruit in the form of fresh and vintage interviews, archival clips and photos, terrific anecdotes and other evidence of a band’s evolution. With their background in film, Lambert and Stamp’s personal library was a great source of material, as well. Lambert & Stamp will satisfy the appetite of Who fans, while also providing a great deal of enjoyment for anyone still interested enough in the 1960s to devote 117 more minutes of their time – not counting bonus features – to relive the decade.
The Mekons hasn’t been around nearly as long as the Who, but, with nearly 40 years of rocking good music under its collective belts, the art/punk/country ensemble deserves our respect simply for hanging in there. Born amid the angry anti-Thatcher labor turmoil, in Leeds, the Mekons embodies the old cliché of being “the best band no one has heard of.” That’s because the raucous group of socially and politically astute musicians/artists has been uncompromising in its approach to business, marketing and its public image. This stance may have endeared the group to critics and loyalists, but it didn’t sell many records. If I were to compare the Mekons to any band young people might recognize today, I’d cite the indie sensation, Arcade Fire. Looking back to the 1960s, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the members were influenced, themselves, by the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Holy Modal Rounders. Critics, some of whom appear in Joe Angio’s lively Revenge of the Mekons, were the band’s earliest champions, and fans always flocked to their live performances, as well. A peculiar inability to sell records has haunted the Mekons for most of the last 40 years, however. Angio paints a complete portrait of the men and women who’ve persevered, through interviews and testimonials from such longtime fans as author Jonathan Franzen, film director Mary Harron, comedian/musician Fred Armisen and critics/authors Greg Kot and Greil Marcus. The highly entertaining DVD adds performance footage, interviews and backgrounders.
Until I sampled Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore’s dour Blood Cells and read some of the reaction to it, I hadn’t found a reason to add the word, “miserabilism,” to my personal lexicon. Apparently, one of its definitions pertains to a particularly gloomy British film sub-set, which approximates spending a rainy fall fortnight in a Midlands bar full of unemployed coal miners. Blood Cells opens with a scene straight out of Hud. A family farmer has been forced to eliminate his cows, because of the discovery of hoof-and-mouth disease in the herd. He has elected to personally shoot the last cow, after leading it to a burning pit, and his despondency can’t be disguised. Flash to a young man, whose relationship to the tragic event has yet to be made clear. All we know about Adam (Barry Ward) is that he’s been ordered to return home for the baptism of his brother’s child. If he doesn’t, after 10 years absence, he’ll finally be persona non grata at any family function. This warning appears to be taken seriously by Adam, who has been drifting aimlessly around England and Scotland, getting drunk and living off the fat of the land. His journey home allows him to revisit old friends, some of whom aren’t all that keen to see him. Adam doesn’t look any worse for the wear of being on the road, but it’s clear that he’s as drawn to booze as a moth to flame. As we continue to learn more about his grief, we begin to doubt whether he’ll make it to the baptism and in what shape he’ll be in when he gets there. Because the filmmakers don’t rely on dialogue to tell their story, much is required of viewers in terms of patience and empathy. It may not be an easy movie to watch, but art house audiences should find it worth the effort of finding.
Troma’s War: Blu-ray
Extreme Jukebox: Blu-ray
Kung-Fu & Titties
Flesh and Bullets
Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things
As co-director Lloyd Kaufman explains in his commentary, Troma’s War was made in response to then-President Reagan’s fondness for using the military to solve problems that might otherwise be negotiated through diplomacy. The production company Kaufman co-founded with Michael Herz (co-director here, as well) has never been reluctant to comment on political and environmental issues from the corroded points of view of the citizens and mutants of Tromaville. This film would be a departure, in terms of scope and budget, however. Moreover, its logistics appear to have been mapped out well in advance of the start of production and the screenplay wasn’t written in crayon. In fact, it almost makes complete narrative sense. Made in 1988, five years after Reagan’s invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, Troma’s War today resembles a nutty merger of Platoon, Rambo and the TV series, Lost. It opens in the immediate aftermath of plane crash on an island, somewhere near Cuba. The surviving passengers resemble a broad cross-section of Tromaville residents, all of whose mettle will be tested when confronted by heavily armed militias of terrorists secretly preparing for an invasion of the United States. The Kaufman-esque twist comes in the revelation that the invasion is being funded by wealthy American capitalists in need of an excuse for declaring martial law and taking over the government. Amazingly, the passengers are well up to the task of defending themselves against the terrorists. Apart from the occasional grotesque terrorist, the characters are deceptively ordinary, even by the Troma standards. As such, the hand-to-hand combat is as ridiculously hilarious as it is merely ridiculous. Kaufman alludes to the possibility that several gratuitous touches were edited from Troma’s War, simply to appease the bluenoses of the MPAA ratings board. He acknowledges that some of the trims may have been warranted, while others cost the production dearly. It seems OK to me, fitting somewhere between such Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker parodies as Police Squad! and Airplane!, and any one of a dozen comedies starring Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill. Besides commentary, the Blu-ray package adds several fan-friendly making-of featurettes, a kill-o-meter, interviews and reunion footage.
Recently imported from Italy by Troma Entertainment, Alberto Bogo and Andrea Lionetti’s Extreme Jukebox fits easily among the company’s list of domestic titles. Billed as the “First Horror Rock-Metal Comedy in the World,” it combines elements of traditional giallo with such America genre fare as Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Rock and Roll High School and The Lords of Salem. Although the story defies easy synopsis, Extreme Jukebox is set in the Italian rock-’n’-roll mecca of Nova Springs, where glam-rocker Jessie Cake and his groupie girlfriend, Chloe, discover a mysterious LP in the abandoned estate of legendary 1980s superstar David Crystal. The album unleashes the bloodthirsty spirit of the Killer of the Woods and flesh-and-blood maniac Naughty Rocky Boy, whose weapon of choice is his six-string ax. Look for Italian heavy-metal pioneer Pino Scotto, as Father Zappa. The Blu-ray adds a behind-the-scenes documentary, a slide show and other featurettes.
Any movie that dares brand itself Kung-Fu & Titties – no matter how blatantly exploitative and accurate – must live up/down to that billing or forever rest in obscurity. Joseph McConnell’s action comedy is just sleazy enough to qualify as low camp and, well, the titties speak for themselves. Sean Monlar plays Richard Titties, an inept martial-arts enthusiast who couldn’t fight his way out of paper bag, even if a hole had been torn into the middle of it. One day, he’s transported to a planet in an alternate dimension, where his girlfriend, Cynthia (Seregon O’Dassey), is being held by a breast-obsessed madman, Zeefros (John Archer Lundgren), who believes that he’s captured Richard’s B-movie-star sister, Raine (Raine Brown). Richard’s mission to rescue his girlfriend includes Raine, a guy in a gorilla suit and other bizarre characters. Anyone not expecting miracles might get a kick out of McConnell’s bosomy comedy.
Flesh and Bullets may sound like just another way of saying Kung-Fu & Titties, but, in this case, anyway, it’s skin-meister Carlos Tobalina’s way of saying Strangers on a Train. The only similarity between Tobablina and Alfred Hitchcock, however, is that they both made a movie in which two strangers agree to solve each other’s most nagging problem by eliminating it. Instead of the lounge car on a train, the encounter between hoodlums in Flesh and Bullets takes place in a Las Vegas bar. After singing the blues over cocktails, they agree to kill each other’s ex-wives. Maybe you can guess the rest. The only thing that distinguishes Flesh and Bullets from hundreds of other crummy B- and C-movies whose best-laid plans go astray is a cast that includes Yvonne De Carlo, Aldo Ray, Cesar Romero and Cornel Wilde in blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em roles. The presence of porn stars Mai Lin, Sharon Kelly and Bill Margold suggests that Tobalina had other plans for the movie, but, for some reason, most of the skin was left on the cutting-room floor.
It’s the rare film whose commentary is as devoid of praise or historical background as the track that accompanies Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things. In it, cult filmmaker David DeCoteau and film historian Nathaniel Thompson appear to be guessing in the dark as to the film’s origins, distribution and subsequent disappearance. Fortunately, the movie is so uniquely strange and disturbing that it’s possible to simply make things up and sound convincing. That’s largely because writer/director Thomas Casey accomplished precious little before “Sometimes …” and nothing after its release in 1971. It’s almost as if Edward D. Wood Jr. had decided to re-emerge from retirement to anonymously produce a sequel to Glen and Glenda. Here, two criminals who bear a striking resemblance to Andy Kaufman are on the lam in southern Florida, after committing a dastardly crime in Baltimore. The ringleader, Paul (Abe Zwick), pretends to be his child-like accomplice Stanley’s estranged Aunt Martha. Although neighbors are willing to buy into Paul’s matronly drag disguise, Stanley (Wayne Crawford) can’t reconcile his attraction to girls his age with a revulsion for heterosexual foreplay. Whenever a hottie begins to rub his junk, Stanley cries out for Aunt Martha, who quickly dispatches the temptress with a sharp or blunt instrument. Typically, this is followed by Stanley crawling into bed with Paul. Not surprisingly, there’s nothing remotely erotic in these homoerotic interludes. With a new 2K scan and restoration from a rare 35mm theatrical print, Vinegar Syndrome lavished more TLC on “Sometimes … “ than anyone involved in its production.
When a 30-year-old handyman from Brooklyn volunteers to move into his aunt’s group home for pregnant teenagers for a couple of weeks’ worth of repair work, it’s amazing how little time it takes for the girls to sense his distress over a failing marriage. Newcomer David Dahlbom plays Robbie, who, after learning that his wife has been cheating on him, travels south for some emotional rehab. The furthest thing from his mind is getting involved in a potentially reckless relationship. Between his wife’s incessant phone calls, demanding that he return to her clutches, and the hormonal magnetism of the girls, however, Robbie can’t help but melt into the arms of the damsel in most dire distress. The waif-like redhead Nina (India Menuez) doesn’t pursue Robbie as aggressively as some of the other girls, but neither does she discourage him from rescuing her from her undependable boyfriend, Chase (Casey Drogin), whose demands are become increasingly annoying. Although things are never easy for Aunt Clara, as she attempts to instill adult values into their unformed heads, Robbie’s obvious concern for Nina’s dilemma throws the house’s delicate balance out of whack. Unlike viewers, however, Clara’s the last person to notice it. Uncertain Terms is a sharply observed indie drama that never condescends to viewers or the teenage characters, some of whom may never recover from the first great mistake they’ve made in life. Nonetheless, the rural setting allows them a few months of peace to contemplate their futures and all of the men, like Chase and Robbie, who’ll cause tremors in their lives. Besides Menuez, the actors I expect to see in bigger roles down the road are Tallie Medel, Hannah Gross, Gina Piersanti and Adinah Dancyger.
As Americans have learned to their dismay in the nearly eight years since the collapse of this country’s economy, it’s far easier to detect corruption, greed and ineptitude in our financial institutions than to do anything about it legally. The Wall Street establishment has so intimidated the power elite in Washington that it’s decided to do nothing to prevent another calamity or punish those responsible for the first one. The same thing has been said about the military-industrial complex and organized crime, however, and what do we have to show for it: fictional dramas, in which the villains lose and the good guys win. David Lam and Wong Ho Wa’s slick procedural, Z-Storm, may take place in Hong Kong, but Americans can watch it and wish it applied to Wall Street, where organized crime is as entrenched as it is in Sicily. Here, Independent Commission Against Corruption agent William Luk (Louis Koo) has been given less than a week to prove that a large multinational corporation has been involved in a series of illegal operations. The corruption extends beyond the glass towers of the financial district and into the hallways of government and investigative units of the police department. In addition to powerful friends in official capacities, the crooks have expensive prostitutes and families that expect to enjoy comfortable lifestyles. Because Hong Kong is a wired society, the investigators are able to exploit their network of computers, cameras and surveillance equipment to find cracks in the system. When muscle comes into play, as it must in all Hong Kong action flicks, it’s there, too. The Blu-ray adds an extensive making-of featurette.
No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie
Sir Ivan: I Am Peaceman
I’ve seen enough movies about average citizens who’ve deluded themselves into thinking they’re superheroes to expect different endings from new ones in the multiplexes. Wear a hood, go to jail, is what I say. So, it was with no small degree of trepidation that I approached these two films in which men don capes to do good deeds. I was pleasantly surprised by No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie and Sir Ivan: I Am Peaceman, for very different reasons. In the former, John Maucere plays a caped character of his own creation, SuperDeafy, whose television show is targeted directly at hearing-impaired kids in need of a role model. The show is full of slapstick humor and life lessons designed to empower kids who might feel out of place at school or have been bullied by fully able peers. Unlike Maucere and co-star Marlee Matlin, Tony Kane continues to struggle as an actor when he takes off his SuperDeafy outfit. Even so, he’s a hero to 8-year-old Jacob (Zane Hencker) who’s caught in a tug of war between his father, who wants him to learn lip-reading exclusively, and his mother, who favors early instruction in American Sign Language. And, while the school he attends provides special classes for deaf students, Jacob’s father wants him to remain in a class full of unimpaired students. It’s a dilemma for all parents faced with making the same choice, but, here, director Troy Kotsur makes it clear that Jacob isn’t benefitting a fig by being in the class with hearing kids. Ultimately, SuperDeafy does ride to Jacob’s rescue, but not before learning things about himself with which he hadn’t previously reckoned. What’s unique about “SuperDeafy” is the distinction it holds as the first SAG commercial feature film executive produced by deaf filmmakers and helmed by a deaf director. Many of the actors are hearing impaired and the film will be 100 percent open-captioned at every screening. One of its delights derives from the eclectic visual presentation, which includes comic-book graphics and brilliant colors. The package adds informative background information.
At first glance, Sir Ivan: I Am Peaceman introduces viewers to a far more problematic superhero, Peaceman, a character who combines the sartorial eccentricities of Liberace and Tony Manero, with the singing chops of William Shatner. After leaving the banking business established by his late father, a Holocaust survivor, Sir Ivan (a.k.a., Ivan L. Wilzig) was left with more than enough money to pursue his dreams of becoming a recording artist, philanthropist, peace activist and world-class party monster. He’s appeared as himself on several reality and lifestyle shows, but, unlike Donald Trump, hasn’t used his wealth and outsized personality as a battering ram against regular folks. Jim Brown’s bio-doc takes Sir Ivan at face value, allowing him to demonstrate limited skills as a singer and greater appeal as a person who puts his money where his mouth is by creating a non-profit organization that targets hatred, violence, bullying and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s enough to make us forgive him his 15,000-square-foot medieval-style estate and party palace in the Hamptons. The documentary alludes to kinkier pursuits, but puts them aside after introducing us to his mother, Naomi Wilzig, and her World Erotic Art Museum, in Miami’s South Beach. The DVD adds more interviews and several music videos.
Hackers: 20th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Twenty years may not seem like a long time in the realm of collector’s edition DVDs, but, in Internet years, it might as well be an eternity. Iain Softley’s Hackers, like Steven Lisberger’s even earlier TRON, dealt with issues that have always defied easy interpretation on film. In the 1980-90s, they pertained largely to recreational hackers and cyberpunks and were far easier to visualize than explain. Absent advanced CGI technology, however, filmmakers lagged behind the ability of game designers to share their ideas. Critics weren’t especially kind to either picture, but, fact is, many of them had yet to make the transition from typewriter to home computer or play Nintendo games with their kids. While TRON was several years ahead of its time and Jeff Bridges already was an established star, Hackers’ leads Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller were practically unknown and, as yet, unmarried. The rest of the cast was similarly fresh-faced, radically groomed and propelled by skateboards. At 11, Miller’s Dade “Zero Cool” Murphy was arrested and charged with crashing 1,507 computer systems in a single day and causing a huge drop in the New York Stock Exchange. Once he turned 18, Murphy was free to return to his PC and focus on cutting-edge cyber-technology. After impressing fellow computer-club students at his New York high school, he competes against Jolie’s Kate “Acid Burn” Libby on her favorite video game. After she finally forgives him, the gang will unknowingly tap into a high-tech embezzling scheme, masked by a computer virus with the potential to destroy the world’s ecosystem. Attacked from both sides of the law, they must scramble to save themselves and the world. The Blu-ray includes “The Keyboard Cowboys: A Look Back at ‘Hackers,’” an hour-long retrospective that details not just the background of the film but also the hacker culture of the 1990s. Among the interview subjects are Matthew Lillard, Fisher Stevens, Penn Jillette and Softley.
From 1986 (and Shout Factory) comes Nomads, a convoluted sci-fi horror flick about a mysterious bug carried to Los Angeles by French anthropologist Jean-Charles Pommier (Pierce Brosnan), after he discovered evidence of an ancient nomadic tribe. As if that weren’t enough of a burden for one man to carry, Pommier and his stunning wife (Anna Maria Monticelli) move into a house in which a murder recently occurred and has become a playhouse for a Manson-like gang of freaks (Adam Ant, Mary Woronov). The even more stunning Lesley-Anne Down plays the ridiculously named emergency-room doctor Eileen Flax who is attacked by being attacked by Pommier after he’s brought into the ER, frothing from the mouth. But, wait, there’s more. This is a very silly movie, co-written and directed by John McTiernan, whose next three projects would be Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. If nothing else, he keeps the story from petering-out before hitting the 90-minute barrier. It adds interviews with Down and composer Bill Conti.
Julian Richings, who might be familiar from appearances on “Supernatural” and “Orphan Black,” has one of those faces that could raise goose pimples on a statue. It is the single best thing in Ejecta, a 2014 alien-invasion thriller that demands of Richings that he look completely freaked out for long periods of time. His character, William Cassidy, has experienced decades of frightening extraterrestrial encounters, but the latest one is a real doozy. On the evening of a massive solar flare, Cassidy invites paranormal researcher Joe Sullivan (Adam Seybold) to his secluded home in the woods for the big show. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine as to what Ejecta is about.
The Rebel: The Complete Series: The Collector’s Edition
Hell on Wheels: The Complete Fourth Season: Blu-ray
PBS: Frontline: Secrets & Politics & Torture
GMC TV: The Love Letter
Welcome Back, Kotter: The Final Season
Rookie Blue: Season 5-Volume 1
Lovers of classic TV Westerns will be ecstatic to learn of the release of “The Rebel: The Complete Series,” on DVD, from Timeless Media Group. Like so many of the other shows on ABC, it featured a charismatic protagonist with a backstory as interesting as any of the occasional characters written into the show. As portrayed by Nick Adams, Johnny Yuma is a former Confederate soldier haunted by what he saw in the war and in constant search of inner peace and justice. A native Texan, Yuma continues to wear his rebel cap and is armed with both a revolver and sawed-off shotgun. It’s instantly memorable theme song was sung and recorded by Johnny Cash. If “The Rebel” has gotten lost in the sands of time, it’s only because of Adams’ resemblance to Steve McQueen, who played an ex-Confederate bounty hunter in the post-war west on CBS’ “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” His Josh Randall carried a shortened Winchester Model 1892 carbine — the “Mare’s Leg” — in a holster patterned after “gunslinger” rigs then popular in movies and television. The shows ran nearly concurrently for three years, from 1959-1961. Where Steve McQueen’s career skyrocketed after his show ended, however, Adams’ lapsed into a series of failed projects and goofy genre flicks. After running around Hollywood with best friends James Dean, Elvis Presley and Dennis Hopper, Adams would be required to stand up to rumors about his sexuality and choice of inebriants. His death, in 1968, would be ruled an accidental suicide, caused by a lethal pharmaceutical cocktail, by coroner to the stars Dr. Thomas Noguchi. Regardless of Adams’ personal drama, “The Rebel” holds up as well as any of the classic Westerns on DVD. The storylines deal with issues related to the war and settlement of the west, in part, by mindless bigots, greedy ranchers and robber barons, and corrupt politicians and sheriffs. If it weren’t for guys like Johnny Yuma and Josh Randall, the homesteaders and immigrants wouldn’t have stood a chance of survival. Typically, the episodes featured guest stars whose careers as supporting actors were already established or soon would blossom on the large and small screens. Among them are Jack Elam, Agnes Moorehead, Dan Blocker, Soupy Sales, Robert Vaughn and Leonard Nimoy. The generous boxed set includes “Looking Back at ‘The Rebel,’” with series writer and producer A.J. Fenady; “Nick Adams Remembered,” an interview with his children, Allyson and Jeb Stuart Adams; the pilot for A.J. Fenady’s proposed companion series, “The Yank”; commercials featuring Adams; and a production-stills gallery.
There is a point in most documentaries focusing on different aspects of the American Dream when viewers are required to accept some ugly truths about themselves or accuse the filmmakers of distorting their concept of reality. Because of its increasing reliance of contributions by corporate donations, PBS has become surprisingly cautious in its final approval of documentaries that could offend conservative supporters, including conservative firebrand David Koch. Peter Davis’ idea for a series of six films to be shown under the collective title of ”Middletown” was conceived at about the same time that President Reagan was slashing the federal government’s contributions to public television. In addition to viewer annoyance over incessant begathons, during “pledge months,” the network was forced to enter into what some pundits considered to be pacts with corporate devils. The controversy has never been resolved, despite the furor that erupts whenever claims of censorship are raised. In the case of “Middletown,” five of the six documentaries aired on PBS affiliates in 1982. Set in Muncie, Indiana, the series was divided into segments meant to demonstrate how the times had or hadn’t changed since the city was labelled Middletown in a 1920s’ survey, as well as the challenges Muncie was facing as it looked into the future. The episodes examined a mayoral campaign; a prominent high school basketball rivalry; local religious activities; the struggles of a large family in operating the local Shakey’s pizza parlor; remarriage between divorcees; and the everyday lives of high school students. It was the latter segment, “Seventeen,” that stuck in the craw of programming executives who decided not to air it. Shot in the cinéma vérité format, Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines’ contribution was subsequently shown at a handful of festivals before being shelved for some 30 years. Frankly, I was surprised by how much of “Seventeen” could still be considered shocking, especially to parents of kids in public high schools. The film’s focus on an interracial group of students whose classroom demeanor may best be described as surly and spend most of their time outside of school smoking, doping, drinking, flirting and busting their parents’ balls. These are the children of a society starting to turn to seed, thanks to the migration of jobs out of Muncie and overall coarsening of discourse in America. And, some of the parents were as much to blame for the bad behavior as the kids themselves. I can’t tell if the kids we meet in “Seventeen” actually were representative of the student body – they likely weren’t the worst of the lot – and the school was made to look like a prison or dungeon. It could have stood as a call to action, then, if aired, and remains so today.
If “The Rebel” stands as a prime example of a classic TV Western, AMC’s popular Western saga, “Hell on Wheels,” is fully representative of today’s expansive oaters. With the series’ fifth and final season in full gear, there isn’t much to add on the subject, except to say that there’s never a bad time to begin binging on good shows. In the fourth stanza, conflict arises between the government and businesses, ranchers, homesteaders and the railroad, as all of those interests compete with one another for control of Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 1867, it was the most important railroad hub for builders and investors and, where there was money to be made on rails, there was corruption and crime. Meanwhile, the Union Pacific Railroad continues its expansion westward apace and series protagonist Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is adjusting to being a husband and new father. The Blu-ray offers several good making-of featurettes and interviews.
Reverberations from the release last December of the Senate’s bipartisan Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program can still be felt around Washington, and well they should be. The “Frontline” investigation, “Secrets & Politics & Torture,” not only examines the findings of the study, but it also questions why the intelligence community wanted to suppress its release. It opens with a look at how the CIA sold a bill of goods to the filmmakers responsible for Zero Dark Thirty, promoting its own version of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and attack on his Pakistani hideout. Believing they had been handed a scoop, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal took the bait, by creating a scenario that appears to support the agency’s use of torture to collect evidence on his whereabouts. Left undiscussed was how little credence was given the information collected through clearly illegal methodology – outside the White House, anyway – and the lengths it went to hide the truth from lawmakers, media and the public. It’s a shocking tale, but not one unfamiliar to people who read newspapers and keep abreast of such things. How odious the public and politicians still consider torture and subterfuge to be remains another question altogether.
The made-for-GMC movie, “The Love Letter,” would fit neatly on Lifetime, if it had decided to cater to African-American women, instead of women at large. It’s a pleasant enough diversion, but is so familiar as to be completely predictable and irrelevant. The very good looking Parker (Keshia Knight Pulliam) and Aaron (Romeo Miller) have been inseparable since childhood and, perhaps, really are too close to each other to each other to consider marriage. On the other hand, it isn’t likely that either of them will find someone better suited for a walk to the altar. To Parker’s quiet dismay, Aaron has decided to marry a woman with whom he appears to be perfectly compatible, even if she’s portrayed as being a tad materialistic. She suspects that Aaron’s heart isn’t completely invested in the marriage, but doesn’t know what to do with her doubts. Parker decides to pen an anonymous letter to her own advice column, asking readers for advice. There’s no need to waste much time guessing.
In the fourth and final season of ABC’s “Welcome Back, Kotter,” Gabe’s promotion to the vice-principal’s office gives the Sweathogs false hope that they’ll be able to escalate their misadventures and get away with them. Disappointed by their new reality, Horshack, Epstein and Washington drop out of school. The VP then asks Barbarino, now working as an orderly, to convince them to go back to school. Buchanan High gets a new student from New Orleans, Beau DeLabarre, who uses his southern charm to hit on several girls, including Juan’s girlfriend, who feels obligated to seek revenge in kind. Rumors of marriage swirl throughout the season. The rest, for John Travolta, at least, is history.
ABC’s surprise summertime mainstay, “Rookie Blue,” entered Season Five with officers Sam Swarek and Chloe Price in the hospital, having been shot in the line of duty. Meanwhile, new cops are put through their paces and criminals continue to test the efficacy of their training. It would be a police show on ABC if there weren’t strained and steamy romantic entanglements, blown covers and life-and-death situations. Be aware that the DVD has been broken into “volumes.” FYI: Season Six is already in the books.
The Seventh Dwarf
It’s incredible what one can learn by simply paying attention to the details. For instance, I’ve been completely unaware of the fact that the Seven Dwarfs haven’t always gone by the monikers, Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey. Because the story’s in the public domain, screenwriters can call them whatever they want and the characters will have to answer to their new names, like puppies with amnesia. In The Seventh Dwarf, the latest animated feature imported by Shout Factory, the youngest dwarf is named Bobo and he’s responsible for pricking Princess Rose with a cursed needle and sending the kingdom into a century-long bummer. It happens on the eve of Rose’s 18th birthday, when several legendary fairytale characters have gathered at Fantabularasa Castle. The dwarfs must rectify the mistake by standing up to a fiery dragon and outwit the jealous, scheming and evil witch, Dellamorta.