MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Burns on Robinson, The Force Awakens, Dylan/Zappa, Jorg Buttgereit, Tony Perkins and more

PBS: Ken Burns: Jackie Robinson: Blu-ray

Considering that Ken Burns put a tight focus on Jackie Robinson several times in his epochal 1994 documentary series, “Baseball,” and MLB has bent over backwards since 1997 to remind a new generation of fans of his significance to the game and beyond, it may seem curious that he would devote another four hours to this great African-American athlete and humanitarian. Fact is, though, there isn’t a superfluous moment in the entire 240-minute length of PBS’ tremendously compelling “Ken Burns: Jackie Robinson.” Rachel Robinson, his widow, convinced Burns to return to refocus on Jackie, who died, in 1972, at 53, to chronicle his off-the-field life in a separate bio-doc. In addition to covering his baseball career in greater detail, Burns, his daughter, Sarah Burns, and her husband, David McMahon (“The Central Park Five”) assembled interviews, photographs, reportage and other archival material, covering the hall-of-famer’s life from cradle to the grave. As such, the new documentary exists as an unexpected epilogue to Burns’ “The Civil War,” in that issues left unresolved by that conflagration have haunted black Americans – even those as prominent as Robinson — ever since Reconstruction. Instead of erasing the Original Sin of slavery by eradicating Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation in the South, Congress so wanted to maintain the illusion of national unity it allowed the defeated rebels everything they would needed to subjugate their former slaves and their ancestors. Today, the ongoing dilution of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Robinson and other civil-rights leaders demanded be enacted, could once again disenfranchise minority voters in states controlled by Tea Party Republicans. Burns’ film reminds us of the fact that Robinson never was able to escape the shadow of racism. Once the Dodger great hung up his cleats, he was condemned by whites and black Americans for taking an advocacy position on something more important than who deserves to start in the all-star game. Because his personal stand differed from the one taken by other civil-rights activists, Robinson started taking heat from those whose cheers once rang through stadiums everywhere. Among the things that went unremarked in official MLB celebrations marking the breaking of the color barrier was Robinson’s contrarian view of American politics. As Burns points out, because Robinson didn’t believe Democrats were sincere in their pledges to end segregation, he considered Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller greater hopes for racial justice than JFK and LBJ. It wasn’t until Barry Goldwater ignored black Republicans at the 1964 convention and Nixon embraced estranged Dixiecrats in 1968 that the Hall of Famer surrendered to political reality.

Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson was born into a family of sharecroppers in Cairo, Georgia, in 1919. After his parents divorced in 1920, his mother decided to move the family to Pasadena, California, where the children might avoid a future that only promised a life in the cotton fields. Instead, the Robinsons would encounter racism and police harassment in a city that, on its surface, was so unlike the region they’d left. If the memory of the Robinson brothers’ athletic feats is now a great source of pride for the City of Roses – older sibling, Mack, placed second to Jesse Owens in the 200 meters at 1936 Berlin Games, while Jack lettered in four sports at UCLA – it took a while for the scope of their achievements to be recognized off the fields of play. After being drafted into an officially segregated army, it would take heavyweight champion Joe Louis’ help to keep him from being anything more than a grunt among grunts in a war ostensibly against intolerance, bigotry and fascism. Even after Jackie was accepted into the army’s Officer Candidate School and commissioned as a second lieutenant, he would face court-martial for refusing a bus driver’s order to move to the back of an unsegregated bus commissioned by the army. He would be acquitted, but the proceedings prevented Robinson from joining the all-black 761st Tank Battalion in its deployment to Europe. In early 1945, while Robinson was coaching at Sam Huston College, the Kansas City Monarchs sent him a written offer to play professional baseball in the Negro leagues. And, as they say, the rest is sports history. Still, the only place Jackie and Rachel wouldn’t be confronted with the ugliness of racism and segregation was in Canada, during his time with the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League. Summer 1949 would bring another unwanted distraction for Robinson. In July 1949, the reigning National League MVP even was required to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities concerning statements made by athlete, actor and unrepentant communist Paul Robeson. If Robinson had declined to address the issue or defended Robeson’s First Amendment rights, he might have been sanctioned by the league. He managed to dodge that high fastball, but the tar would prove difficult to wash away. Rachel Robinson, even more so than such baseball greats as Don Newcomb, Carl Erskine and Willie Mays, singer Carly Simon and President Barack Obama and the First Lady, Michelle, steals the show with her lucid recollections of what life was like for them during both the darkest and brightest periods in their professional and personal lives. Several less-known historians, journalists, friends and activists are given the by-now familiar Burns’ interview treatment. This is terrific stuff. The archival material shown in the Blu-ray presentation benefits from a fresh hi-def scrubbing.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens: Blu-ray

Back in 1999, when Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace was about to debut on a few screens, I spent time on Hollywood Boulevard interviewing fans who’d camped out in front of the Chinese Theater to get the best seats on opening night. In a very real sense, they’d been waiting for 16 years for the prequel trilogy to arrive, minus the tents and instant access to countless T-shirt shops and the Scientology center. The Hollywood & Highland complex and then-Kodak Theater were still on the drawing board, so the campers provided the biggest free show in La La Land. I even was able to tear one of them away from the makeshift community to attend a press screening just ahead of the first midnight show. Even if, at first, my companion debated the protocol in getting a head start on his pals, they encouraged him to do it. On the way to Westwood, he literally was trembling in anticipation of watching “Episode I” before almost anyone else in the world. When we returned to the encampment, it was all he could do to refrain from spoiling the fun for his fellow Warriors and Internet geeks who were monitoring the activities on Hollywood Boulevard via a primitive pre-Skype hookup. While “Episode 1” did well enough at the box office, I can’t recall many fans lining up more than a few hours for “Attack of the Clones” or “Revenge of the Sith.” The thrill was definitely gone. It returned when Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens opened huge and grew even bigger here and overseas, setting records as the pre-Christmas rush continued into the new year. How much of the pent-up anticipation was inspired by producer Kathleen Kennedy’s confirmation of speculation that Jar-Jar Binks and the Ewoks were 86’d from “Episode VII” – one of the very few leaks to emerge from the set – is impossible to gauge. With J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) at the helm and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) returning to the fold, passionate fans must have been encouraged. Clearly, someone at Disney must have convinced franchise creator George Lucas to sit this one out and obsess on something other than creating characters that appealed to pre-teens and could be exploited in toy stores, video games, slot machines, TV spinoffs, books and product-licensing deals.

 

Nonetheless, the largest part of what makes “The Force Awakens” so appealing is the non-gimmicky way beloved characters, as well as actors Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, have been re-integrated and in more substantial roles than cameos. The decision to make Daisy Ridley’s scrappy Jakkuian scavenger, Rey, the heroine could have backfired, as well, with predominantly male geeks. Instead, she fits right into the mix. I’m still not sold on Adam Driver (“Girls”) as the conflicted antagonist, Kylo Ren, but that’s probably because I identify him with the hipster characters he’s played in previous indie dramedies. The son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, Ren is consumed by a desire to emulate the legacy of his Sith Lord grandfather, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. He even goes so far as to wear a black mask in his honor. Andy Serkis plays the hologramic Snoke, supreme leader of the First Order, who controls the dark side of Ren’s personality, while the light side lurks deeply sublimated in his DNA. The sinister First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire and is still consumed with the possibility that Luke, the last Jedi, will emerge from hiding and quash its plans to conquer the galaxy. With Luke gone, the burden is taken up by Rey, Solo, Chewbacca and Finn, a defecting Stormtrooper. The inner characters’ inner conflicts are balanced by much outstanding action in the skies above D’Qar, in its snow forest and Snoke’s Starkiller Base, with advanced airborne weaponry and, finally, lightsabers. The Blu-ray, which looks and sounds terrific, is further enhanced by a separate disc containing an extensive making-of featurette, deleted scenes, interviews, table reads and location visits.

 

Bob Dylan: Triumvirate

 

Frank Zappa: In His Own Words

 

I receive a dozen, or so, discs each year from MVD Visual, in which celebrated musicians are profiled without their specific authorization or participation. In addition to footage borrowed from music videos, free concerts and other public-domain events, they include interviews with old friends and entertainment reporters, studio technicians, session musicians and learned critics, mostly of the British persuasion. Some of these clip shows are better than others, but few deserve unequivocal praise. While I expected some interesting material to emerge from Bob Dylan: Triumvirate and Frank Zappa: In His Own Words, I wasn’t prepared to be as entertained as I was by them. Typically, Dylan and Zappa – before the guitar wizard’s untimely death in 1993, at 52 — have proven to be hugely elusive, famously enigmatic and occasionally antagonistic targets for interviewers. Nonetheless, the MVD catalogue, alone, offers some 60 DVD and CD titles on various stages of Dylan’s career and 30 on Zappa. As unsanctioned as the material may be, they represent a treasure trove for fan-atics. The first two discs in Triumvirate cover the years 1961-65, during which Dylan evolved from struggling refugee from the frozen tundra of Minnesota to emerging genius and potential threat to the international folk music establishment. Dylan buffs will already have seen and heard most of it in previous documentaries, in unauthorized biographies, Martin Scorsese’s “No Direction Home” and his autobiography, “Chronicles.” It’s the third disc, containing vintage interviews conducted in tour stops around the world and including his “60 Minutes” session with Ed Bradley, that makes this set essential. What sets these interviews apart is how happy and outgoing he appears to be in person and in the forthcoming responses he gives the reporters, most of whom aren’t in the same league with Bradley. He tells stories, laughs easily and opens up about his influences. It’s a side of the man I haven’t seen, unless one goes back to his interchanges with Johnny Cash on the country giant’s TV show. They almost serve to contradict the wiseass attitude Dylan revealed to hostile mainstream reporters in D.A. Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back,” shot back in 1965. The MVD/Collector’s Forum label recently released a similarly inclusive three-disc package on Leonard Cohen, also titled “Triumvirate.”

 

Likewise, Frank Zappa: In His Own Words showcases the iconoclastic musician at his most casual and chatty. In interviews recorded in Scandinavia, England and Australia, he cuts the largely uninformed interviewers a lot of slack with responses that are informative and absent snark, impatience or cynicism. In one panel discussion, the only thing the talk-show host appears to be interested in learning is the role groupies play in the rock world. Duh. Others clearly wondered why all of his albums weren’t as funny or caustic as the early Mothers of Invention material. (I was reminded of Joni Mitchell’s observation, “Nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ He painted it and that was it”) Frank really perks up whenever a reporter chooses to discuss his forays into classical music and the threat posed by then-Second Lady Tipper Gore and Parents Music Resource Center.

 

Sex Murder Art: The Films of Jorg Buttgereit: Blu-ray

 

Bride of Re-Animator: Limited Edition: Blu-ray

 

If a subgenre has been reserved for transgressive cinema, surely German filmmaker Jorg Buttgereit’s unparalleled work tops the rather short list of truly grotesque, unsettling and overtly anti-social titles only hard-core fans should be encouraged to watch before they die. Only those viewers who fully comprehend the risks to the brain of watching such provocations should attempt Cult Epics’ daring “Sex Murder Art: The Films of Jorg Buttgereit.” This carefully archived collection is comprised of his most noteworthy underground feature-length films: two versions of Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2, Der Todesking (“The Death King”) and Schramm, all in uncut and uncensored hi-def, as well as the documentary, “Corpse F*****g Art” and short films “Hot Love,” “A Moment of Silence at the Grave of Ed Gein,” “Horror Heaven,” “Bloody Excess in the Führer’s Bunker” and “My Father.” Add commentaries, making-of featurettes, separate soundtrack CD’s, a 40-page booklet containing interviews and photos with Buttgereit and collaborators, and trailers, and you’ve got the cinematic equivalent of a medieval slaughterhouse. Of special interest to collectors are Buttergreit’s music video, “Half Girl,” a live concert presentation of Nekromantik 2 and new art design by Silver Ferox. As transgressive as the films collected here may be, at least it’s clear there’s a mind at work behind them, which is more than one can say for Tom Six’s The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence).

 

And, while we’re on the subject, there’s Arrow Video’s Blu-ray upgrade of Bride of Re-Animator, the inevitable, if unnecessary sequel to Stuart Gordon’s horror/comedy,Re-Animator (1985). That cult classic was adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Re-Animator.” Its success helped open the floodgates to dozens of other films inspired by Lovecraft’s work. Not only is Gordon’s hand missing from the sequel, but so, too, are freshly conceived characters from the author’s canon. As producer of Re-Animator, Brian Yuzna (Society) was as logical a choice to replace Gordon as anyone. He was well aware of the need to create a solid balance of gory horror, inky black humor and T&A. The sequel is set eight months after the events of the original, with the nutso scientist Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and his reluctant assistant Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) in Peru performing illegal experiments on soldiers killed in a civil war. (Did I miss something?) Once back in the U.S.A., West continues his experimentation on corpses stolen from the graveyard next-door and the heart ripped from Cain’s dying lover (Mary Sheldon). If the bright yellow serum is effective in re-animating corpses, it also has the unexpected consequence of turning them into ferociously aggressive zombies. The less time viewers spend scrutinizing the narrative, the longer they can savor the cagey humor in the interaction between mortician Dr. Graves (Mel Stewart) and the disembodied head of Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), as well as the creations of special-effects master Screaming Mad George. Arrow’s fully upgraded three-disc set contains 2K restorations of the unrated and R-rated versions of the film; original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray), newly commissioned artwork, by Gary Pullin; a limited-edition booklet and packaging; fresh commentary with Brian Yuzna, alone, and alongside Combs, visual effects supervisor Tom Rainone and the effects team John Buechler, Mike Deak, Bob Kurtzman, Howard Berger and Screaming Mad George; another commentary track with Combs and Abbott; and featurettes “Brian Yuzna Remembers Bride of Re-Animator,” “Splatter Masters: The Special Effects Artists of Bride of Re-Animator” and “Getting Ahead in Horror”; and deleted scenes.

 

Village of the Damned: Blu-ray

 

Destroyer/Edge of Sanity: Blu-ray

 

In an interview conducted for the Blu-ray edition of his 1995 Village of the Damned, John Carpenter acknowledges that he agreed to remake Wolf Rilla’s sci-fi/horror classic, released in 1960, in return for the money necessary to put his stamp on Creature from the Black Lagoon. I don’t know what happened to that project or the money promised to him. (Wes Craven’s Swamp Thingprobably would have sated most horror fans’ appetite for such a thing.) One reason the original black-and-whiteVillage of the Damned was so scary is that it was among the first to suggest that a sinister force could control the destiny of children born to unsuspecting parents. Like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the children in Village of the Damned appear to have been engineered to conform to certain social and political norms, before growing up to become mindless communists, fascists or pawns of an intergalactic Caesar. The idea would be revisited in The Boys from Brazil (1978) and other movies about the cloned spawn of Adolf Hitler. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. How else to explain Ted Cruz? Besides adding color to the movie, Carpenter relocated the story to an isolated rural community in northern California and chose to tell it from the point of view of the women who were impregnated during the mysterious blackout period. Standing in the children’s way is Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve), whose own daughter is among the damned kids, and a scientist (Kirstie Alley) who stole the only stillborn baby from the mass maternity ward and is conducting experiments on it. Linda Kozlowski (Crocodile Dundee) plays the mother of a boy who might actually possess a conscience. The children are sufficiently scary and evil, but the addition of color tends to flatten the impact of their laser-beam eyes. So does our familiarity with the conceit and the absence of a convincing perpetrator of the mass pregnancy. That mostly applies to adult viewers and sci-fi buffs, however. Carpenter’s Village of the Damned is well enough made to scare first-timers. Special features include “It Takes A Village: The Making of ‘Village of the Damned’,” featuring interviews with Carpenter, producer Sandy King, actors Michael Pare, Peter Jason, Karen Kahn, Meredith Salenger, Thomas Dekker, Cody Dorkin, Lindsey Haun, Danielle Wiener-Keaton and make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero; “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds,” revisiting the locations of the film; “The Go-To Guy,” Peter Jason on John Carpenter; vintage interviews with Carpenter, Reeve, Alley, Kozlowski, Mark Hamill and Wolf Rilla; a stills gallery; and vintage behind-the-scenes footage. It would be Reeves’ final feature role, before being paralyzed in an equestrian accident involving a horse used in the film.

 

The common element in the Scream Factory double feature,Destroyer/Edge of Sanity is Anthony Perkins, who made the pictures back-to-back in 1988-89. While far from his prime as an actor – he would die a couple of years later from complications of AIDS – the 57-year-old star ofPsycho still was capable of raising goosebumps when the occasion arose.

 

In the women-behind-bars flick, Destroyer, Perkins’ replaced Roddy McDowall on short notice. He plays a director making an exploitation picture in a prison that, 18 months earlier, had been the site of a botched execution and terrible riot. The place is still haunted by the spirit of Moser (Lyle Alzado), a muscle-bound freak who defied death in the electric chair and is obsessed with the picture’s star, Deborah Foreman. (All of the female inmates wear stockings, a garter belt and heels.) While the picture is flimsy around the edges, Alzado’s menacing presence is enough to keep viewers from dozing off in mid-scene.

 

In Edge of Sanity, Perkins pulls double duty as the rational Dr. Henry Jekyll to the murderous Jack Hyde, who, after his alter ego freebases cocaine, might commit crimes historically attributed to Jack the Ripper. Jekyll’s sexual inadequacies cause him to take to the streets and brothels of London as Hyde. His gorgeous wife, Elizabeth (Glynis Barber), does charity work with the working girls of Whitechapel, some of whom have had near-misses with the monstrous Hyde, who she only knows as Henry. Gérard Kikoïne’s thriller benefits from some very convincing design work and cinematography, which recalls the heyday of Hammer Films.

 

Bannister: Everest on the Track

 

In 1952, when Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, Britain pretty much defined what it meant to win the war, but lose the peace. Work was scarce and financing for ambitious projects, including the 1948 Olympics, was even tougher to secure. The empire had shrunk dramatically, while the U.S. and Soviet Union, vied for the title of world’s most dominant superpower. What the shrinking commonwealth desperately needed was something to stiffen its citizens’ upper lips. The first such event made headlines on the same day as the queen’s long-delayed coronation, when a British mountaineering team led by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. A year later, medical student Roger Bannister would accomplish a feat many people also thought to be impossible. On May 6, 1954, at Iffley Road track in Oxford, he became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. Given the number of climbers and runners who’ve done the same thing in the past 60-plus years, it would be easy to argue that both giant leaps for mankind were inevitable, thanks to modern training methods and advanced equipment. The same could be said about the first lunar mission. Tom Ratcliffe and Jeremy Mosher’s no-frills documentary, Bannister: Everest on the Track, does a nice job setting the stage for the worldwide acclaim and honors bestowed on Hillary and Bannister as soon as the news spread around the world. They use vintage interviews to capture the excitement and frustrations that accompanied Bannister’s mission. Unlike almost everyone else who would follow in his pin-spiked footprints, he was a student first and athlete second. He practiced when it didn’t interfere with his studies and even showed up for work on the day he would set the record. Bannister: Everest on the Track isn’t the kind of film that is likely to get any young athlete’s heart racing, but, in the run-up to the Summer Olympics, there are far less entertaining ways to kill 70 minutes,

 

TV-to-DVD

 

Samson and Delilah: The Bible Stories

 

David: The Bible Stories

 

CNN Documents Babylon 5

 

PBS: Finding Your Roots: Season 3

 

PBS: Frontline: Supplements & Safety

 

Sisters: Season Four

 

The latest installments in executive producer Gerald Rafshoon’s series of made-for-TV bible epics are “Samson and Delilah” and “David,” which debuted here in the mid-1990s on Turner Network Television before moving into the ancillary markets and the Trinity network under various banners. The Shout! Factory editions are being released as “The Bible Stories.” Like most chapters in the Old Testament, they would appear to have been written in anticipation of God’s vision for Hollywood – Sodom & Gomorrah West – in mind. Checking in at or around three hours in length, they featured actors known to audiences around the world and behind-the-camera talent with experience on feature films. The timeless Moroccan locations added a palpable air of period authenticity, as well. What distinguishes Nicolas Roeg’s “Samson and Delilah” from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Technicolor pageant – besides the unlikely pairing of Roeg and the Book of Judges – is the presence of Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Hurley, Eric Thal, Michael Gambon and Diana Rigg in some of the same roles played by Victor Mature, Hedy Lamar, George Sanders, Henry Wilcoxon and a young and surprisingly hot Angela Lansbury. Although there are many discernible differences in the two movies, the basic framework is still visible. God imbues in Samson the supernatural strength necessary to battle the Philistines, who kept the Israelites under their collective thumb. After scoring several miraculous triumphs, Samson famously succumbs to forbidden pleasures of the flesh and loses his precious hair in the process. Lesson learned, Samson is allowed one more opportunity to serve God and punish the Philistines. If nothing else, Roeg (Walkabout) demonstrates that he’s still comfortable making movies about forbidden love in desert settings.

 

Robert Markowitz’ 1997 interpretation of the story of David faced competition that was even fresher in the minds of fans of bible epics. In addition to Henry King’s David and Bathsheba and, indirectly, King Vidor’s Solomon and Sheba, from the 1950s, there were Bruce Beresford’s 1985King David, starring Richard Gere and Alice Krige, and, a year later, the animated David and Goliath, with Robby Benson voicing the future king. At 190 minutes, David was accorded plenty of time to expand on the anointing of the shepherd boy (Nathaniel Parker) as future king of Israel by the prophet Samuel (Leonard Nimoy), through his slaying of Goliath, the tests presented by King Saul (Jonathan Pryce) and the seduction of Bathsheeba (Sheryl Lee), and on to the succession struggle with their sons. It’s a thrilling story, which continues to reverberate today in Jerusalem.

 

Not having watched a single episode of “Babylon 5,” I’d be one of the last people to judge anything related to its story or position in the hierarchy of episodic sci-fi shows. Based on what I’ve heard from people I respect, however, the series was admired by the kind of viewers who read things other than science-fiction and don’t aspire to being buried in a model of the bridge of the Enterprise. Although the ratings didn’t match those of the various “Star Trek” offshoots, its demographic appeal was sterling. In a sense, “Babylon 5” was the flagship of the ambitious, if short-lived Prime Time Entertainment Network, which only existed from 1993 to 1997. The show would be revived for a fifth and final season, beginning in 1998, by TNT. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski reportedly conceived of “Babylon 5”as, fundamentally, a five-year novel for television. “CNN Documents Babylon 5” offers diehard fans something unusual to the point of being unique. In anticipation of special news presentation, CNN producers were invited to the sets and stages used to create “Babylon 5” to conduct lengthy background interviews and collect footage to accompany the edited chats and clips. In any such report, hours of videotape might produce a mere10-15 minutes of footage, which will supplement a staff reporter’s narrative. The CNN package is comprised of five hours of vintage material: three hours of never-before-released video and two hours of bonus content. It is broken into five “encounters”: “Behind the Scenes,” “Behind the Scenes With Tour Guide Jason Davis,” “Complete Interviews,” “Complete Interviews With Video Footnotes” and “20 Years Later,” a picture-in-picture look back with Jerry Doyle and Claudia Christian.”

 

The third season compilation of “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Henry Gates Jr., continues to examine our nation’s fascinating ethnic mixture. The show employs traditional genealogical research and genetics to discover the family history of well-known Americans. The pairings include Donna Brazile, Ty Burrell and Kara Walker; Bill O’Reilly, Bill Maher and Soledad O’Brien; Shonda Rhimes, Maya Rudolph and Keenen Ivory Wayans; Bill Hader, Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear; Richard Branson, Frank Gehry and Maya Lin; Sean Combs and LL Cool J; Patricia Arquette, John McCain and Julianne Moore; Sandra Cisneros, Neil Patrick Harris and Gloria Steinem; Lidia Bastianich, Julianna Margulies and Azar Nafisi; and Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow.

 

In “Supplements & Safety,” PBS’ “Frontline” tackles the booming $30 billion industry built on vitamins and other dietary supplements. It’s estimated that half of all Americans take a health supplement every day, ranging from fish oil to multivitamins to diet pills. Some 85,000 supplements currently are on the market, which is largely unregulated and tests the limits of FDA regulators. The lack of proof in labelling has also become a hazard to consumers.

 

The early highlight of Season Four of NBC’s women-first drama, “Sisters,” is the addition of George Clooney as police detective James Falconer, who’s assigned to Cat’s (Heather McAdam) rape case and grows close to Teddy (Sela Ward). Jo Anderson (“Roswell”) also joins an already strong supporting cast as Dr. Charlotte ‘Charley’ Bennett. Otherwise, Season Four “Sisters” provides the same bewildering tangle of melodrama, drama, humor, tragedy and out-of-the-blue surprises as it did for six heart-tugging, gut-wrenching seasons.

 

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Dretzka

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin