MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Stealing Cars, Dixieland, Great Hypnotist, The Forest, Dreams Rewired, Giallo, Zydeco, Alice’s Restaurant and more

Stealing Cars

If this affecting teen drama had been made in the 1930s, it might have starred Mickey Rooney as the most unrepentant juvenile delinquent in a reform school full of hard cases. Or, it could have provided the perfect ensemble vehicle for the Dead End Kids, with Leo Gorcey standing up to the brutal screws and finding redemption in the nifty car he’s assigned to wax for the warden. In Stealing Cars, Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines) plays the self-destructive Billy Wyatt, a too-smart-for-his-own-good wiseass whose criminal behavior lands him in the Bernville Camp for Boys. Seemingly without any concern for his own safety, Billy shoves his education in the faces of the guards and fellow hoodlums, alike. Moreover, by defending the hapless, undersized Jewish inmate, Nathan (Al Calderon), Billy effectively deprives the camp’s bullies of a convenient punching bag. Both boys take the brunt of the head guard’s sadistic behavior, as well. Soon enough, it becomes clear that director Bradley J. Kaplan and screenwriters Will Aldis and Steve Mackall have created Billy Wyatt in the same mold as Paul Newman, in Cool Hand Luke, and Jack Nicholson, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That the young man isn’t invested with the same rebellious charm and charisma as those two great actors has less to do with Cohen’s acting chops and more to do with the fact that Bernville really isn’t the hellhole the filmmakers would like us to believe it is … except, perhaps, for Nathan. John Leguizamo isn’t bad as Warden Montgomery De La Cruz, who treats his classic automobile as if it were the world’s most expensive blow-up doll. He makes the effort to help Billy, by separating him from the rabble, but loses the teen’s respect when he ignores the abuse being heaped on Nathan. Now that society seemingly has embraced the out-of-sight/out-of-mind philosophy when it comes to correctional facilities for troubled kids, it’s laudatory that the filmmakers have shone a spotlight on a problem most of us refuse to acknowledge. As such,Stealing Cars isn’t nearly as urgent as, say, Rick Rosenthal and Richard Di Lello’s powerful 1983 reform-school drama, Bad Boys, which starred Sean Penn, Esai Morales and Ally Sheedy. Still, it has its moments. Nice work is also turned in by Heather Lind (“TURN: Washington’s Spies”), as the camp’s nurse and Billy’s love interest, and, in cameos, Felicity Hoffman, William H. Macy and Mike Epps.

Dixieland

I’m perfectly aware that “poor white trash” is no longer an acceptable way to describe no-account individuals from the rural South, whose principal interests in life appear to be procuring drugs, performing and/or drinking in strip clubs and worshiping the gun gods. Based solely on the evidence provided viewers in Hank Bedford’s surprisingly compelling Dixieland, there’s practically no other way to encapsulate the motivations of the characters, who define what it means to be dismissed thusly. Chris Zylka (“The Leftovers”) is convincing as Kermit, a handsome young man incarcerated for attempting to shoot his mother’s lover, when he caught them diddling each other in a hot tub. His father, a drug dealer, was killed when Kermit was still a boy, leaving his mother (Faith Hill, in white-trash drag) to support them by dancing in a strip club run by a guy who demands sexual favors of “his” girls. Kermit isn’t out of jail more than 24 hours, when hooks up with Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road), who lives in the double-wide trailer next-door and, likewise, has turned to dancing to pay for her mama’s cancer treatments. When the same greasy club owner attempts to put his mitts on Rachel, Kermit arrives in the nick of time to preserve her honor … such as it is. Worse, perhaps, he’s agreed to help Rachel pay off her debts by risking parole to act as courier for a $50,000 shipment of marijuana. All things being equal, Kermit would prefer training to become a barber to running drugs, like his daddy, but it isn’t in the stars. As unappetizing as all that might sound, Dixieland is salvaged by some fine acting, a rootsy country-music score and redneck atmospherics provided by the Mississippi Film Office. Also making memorable cameos are singer-songwriter Steve Earle and wrestler Mick Foley. (Need I remind anyone that the up-and-coming Keough is the eldest grandchild of Elvis and actress Priscilla Presley?) I know, perfect. The DVD adds deleted scenes and an interview with Bedford.

The Great Hypnotist

For reasons that, perhaps, can be laid at the doorstep of China’s censorship board, it’s unusual for a western-style psycho-thriller to find its way into circulation in the PRC. I don’t know the Communist Party’s official policy on hypnotherapy, but it’s not likely to be as accepted a practice as, say, acupuncture, tai chi or herbal medicine. Leste Chen’s The Great Hypnotist appears to have been influenced, at least, by Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, Christopher Nolan’s Inception and M. Night Shyamalan’sThe Sixth Sense, as well as the surrealistic imagery of Salvador Dali. Hypnotherapist Xu Ruining (Xu Zheng) finds his nationally recognized talents severely tested when a colleague asks him to take on a case involving a young woman, Ren Xiaoyan (Karen Mok), who claims to be haunted by the appearances of dead people. The harder Xu tries to find a solution for Ren’s dilemma, the deeper he finds himself in a psychological quagmire that might involve his own personal demons. Although much of the story takes place inside the doctor’s chambers, The Great Hypnotist opens up when Ren’s dream state is induced. If Chen had been free to add some giallo tropes to the story, it might have resembled Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (reviewed below). It wouldn’t have passed muster with the censors, but might have been fun to watch, anyway.

#Horror: Blu-ray

Veteran actor Tara Subkoff’s first feature film as writer/director feels as if it were inspired by a parent’s frustration at watching a pre-teen daughter and her friends communicate exclusively through social media, even when they’re sitting across the dinner table from each other.#Horror also is informed by the national plague of cyber-bullying. These may not be the most original of themes, but Subkoff has managed to merge both elements into a frequently horrifying experience both for teenage viewers and their parents. Likely influenced by the Internet’s “Slender Man” phenomenon – a sinister fictional character that originated as a meme – which has been cited in several acts of violence among teens. Here, a group of self-absorbed and obscenely privileged pre-teen girls take their obsession with a bewildering online game way too far. In a posh suburban setting that recalls Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, the precocious cabal is allowed free rein of a glass-walled house, with an indoor swimming pool and dozens of hideous art pieces that scream, “nouveau riche.” While parents played by Chloe Sevigny and Balthazar Getty are away, the kids take turns bullying each other and using objets d’art as toys. When one of the girls, Cat (Haley Murphy), decides she’s taken enough abuse for one day, she takes a shortcut home through the forest. Not a great idea, considering someone possibly impersonating Slender Man has been spying on the girls and already murdered the Alpha Female’s dad, cheating on his wife in a red sports car. Adding to the madness is a rage-laced tirade by Cat’s dad (Timothy Hutton), who threatens the girls with jail, or worse, if something untoward happens to his daughter. Subkoff does a nice job illustrating the more sinister aspects of the online game, incorporating splashy graphics, emogis and animated mayhem. While #Horror is far from perfect, it delivers the goods when necessary, demonstrating just how fragile and vulnerable oh-so-hip teeny-boppers can be when presented with real horror.

The Hallow: Blu-ray

If the name Corin Hardy rings a bell in the heads of horror buffs, it’s likely because they’ve read speculation in the trades that the Irish effects wizard had been hired to direct Relativity’s remake of The Crow. If that no longer appears to be the case, it shouldn’t dissuade anyone from checking out Hardy’s neat debut feature, The Hallow, which suggests that he probably won’t have to wait much longer for his next high-profile project. Boiled to its essence, the modestly budgeted movie is a by-the-book haunted-house thriller, enhanced by a very clever mix of practical effects, animatronics, puppetry, prosthetics and a bit of CGI detailing. In it, a British botanist, his wife and their baby move into an abandoned mill house in scenic Letterfrack, County Galway. Before they can even complain about the closets being too small, they’re warned by a local wag about raising a child so near the forest, which ostensibly is inhabited by faeries, banshees, leprechauns and baby-snatching boogeymen. “Things really do go bump in the night here,” they’re told. The botanist discovers something that’s possibly even more sinister, in the form ofOphiocordyceps unilateralis, an insect-pathogenising growth commonly known as the “zombie fungus.” Need I say more? Hardy’s imagination is sufficiently fertile to take things from there. The Hallow, which has been dedicated to effects wizards Ray Harryhausen, Dick Smith and Stan Winston, stars Joseph Mawle (“Ripper Street”) and Bojana Novakovic (“Shameless”). The Blu-ray adds Hardy’s audio commentary track; the featurette, “Surviving the Fairytale: The Making of ‘The Hallow’” and several more behind-the-scenes bits and production galleries.

Rows; The Forest: Blu-ray

While there’s nothing intrinsically frightening about cornfields – unless one suffers from seasonal allergies – filmmakers have found dozens of ways to use them to the advantage of a good story. In Field of Dreams, Phil Alden Robinson hid a ghostly team of baseball players between the rows of corn. In Casino, just as magically, a truckload of stalks was brought to Las Vegas to stand in for the Indiana cornfield in which the Santoro brothers are brutally murdered. Children of the Corn has produced eight sequels, with another on the drawing board. Real crop circles were carved into the fields M. Night Shyamalan used in Signs. Just as ventriloquist dummies strike fear in children and adults, alike, it’s now impossible to look at a scarecrow without thinking it might come alive and cut one’s throat with his scythe. There are plenty more examples of cornfields being put to sinister use by filmmakers, but you get the picture. Could there be a more succinct title than Rows? Apparently inspired by a Brothers Grimm tale, writer/director/producer David W. Warfield’s psychological thriller takes place in and around a well-tended cornfield that’s enchanted by someone other than the Jolly Green Giant. Because the story is told from at least four separate points of view, while flashing forward and backward at a dizzying frequency, Rows defies easy encapsulation. In some ways it reminded me of the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, because the protagonist, Rose (Hannah Schick), is captured by a malevolent blond squatter, Haviland (Nancy Murray), when she serves eviction papers at her condemned farmhouse. Her father wants to tear down the house and develop the property into something far more profitable than agriculture. After somehow escaping Haviland’s torture chamber and losing her memory of the ordeal, Rose returns again with her friend, Greta (Lauren Lakis), with shockingly different results. People are repeatedly killed and hidden in the cornfield, where they either are buried or come back to life to torment the perpetrators of the crimes. Despite the neatly parallel rows, the field appears to swallow up the girls, for the purpose of toying with their fragile psyches. Finally, the house, itself, develops a mind of its own and it clearly doesn’t want to be torn down and replaced by condos or a Home Depot. Nevertheless, Warfield doesn’t squander a moment of Rows’ 84-minute running time, returning to the cornfield whenever the other storylines begin to lag.

Historically, haunted and enchanted forests have provided even more fertile ground for purveyors of genre fiction. Today, filmmakers who choose to set their film in Japan’s dense Aokigahara park (a.k.a., Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees), which lies at Mount Fuji’s northwest base, already have half of their work done for them. Because it’s a place where people go to die on their own terms, visitors who stray from the approved pathways are likely to trip over a corpse or bump their head on the feet of a hanging victim. At night, the forest is said to be haunted by the yūrei (angry spirits) of those left to die. I’ve seen a few of the movies set at Aokigahara, mostly Japanese, and they share two basis conceits. One, a hiker ignores the guide’s advice to stay on the well-marked and monitored paths, and 2) at least one of the characters ignores curfew and ends up spending the night with the yūrei. It’s up to the screenwriter to come up with something unique. Jason Zada’s debut feature The Forest, which, like Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, got slammed by the critics, doesn’t break a lot of new ground. Ghost stories are best left to the Japanese and The Fores got tripped up by its own unlikely back story. On the small screen, however, most of its sins are overcome by some atmospheric cinematography and decent special effects. Rising star Natalie Dormer (“Game of Thrones”) plays Sara Price, an American woman who rushes off to Japan after receiving a call from Japanese police informing her that her troubled twin sister, Jess, was seen going into Aokigahara four days earlier and, therefore, is believed dead. After tracing Jess’ footprints from Tokyo to Mount Fugi, Sara strays far enough away from the path to find her sister’s tent. Instead of leaving a note and returning to the hotel, she decides to spend the night with an Aussie journalist who wants to report her story. No need to belabor the obvious, so I’ll leave well enough alone. If The Forest isn’t completely devoid of thrills – jump scares, mostly — there simply aren’t enough of them. Perhaps, if Sara hadn’t found the tent so easily … The handsome Blu-ray adds commentary, a gallery and making-of material.

Tumbledown: Blu-ray

Fans of romantic dramas adapted from the novels of Nicholas Sparks would find more to like in Tumbledown than most other viewers drawn to stars Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall. Although the setting is hundreds of miles north of the author’s beloved Carolina shore, the dynamics at work are nearly the same. Sean Mewshaw’s debut feature, co-written with his wife, Desiree Van Til, describes what happens when “pop-culture scholar” Andrew McDonnell (Sudeikis) travels to Maine to interview Hannah (Hall), the protective widow of a once-promising singer-songwriter who died before his star reached its ascendency. The songs, actually written and performed by Seattle musician Damien Jurado wouldn’t make anyone forget Jackson Brown or Nick Drake, but they possess a soulful authenticity true to the spirit of the deceased artist. Andrew and Hannah don’t exactly hit it off when introduced to each other in a tres-tres quain tbookstore owned by an elder hippie (Griffin Dunne). Even so, they agree to collaborate on a biography, for which Andrew has been accorded extraordinary access to the singer’s tapes and files. Just when it looks as if they’ll begin making some music of their own, Hannah snaps to the reality that they’re both coming at the same subject from different angles. Andrew believes that the singer’s melancholic lyrics reflect a depression that couldn’t be overcome by love, alone, while Hannah and other family members refuse to consider the possibility that his fatal fall from a nearby cliff could have been suicide. Will their creative impasse put a freeze on their budding relationship or will they discover something in the unpublished songs that will bring them together, again? Duh. Actually, the ending offers one or two decent twists, but none that would qualify as surprising. Hall and Sudeikis aren’t required to carry the weight of the schmaltz alone. They get ample support from Blythe Danner and Richard Masur as Hannah’s parents and Dianna Aragon as Sudeikis’ girlfriend, back in the big, bad city. Massachusetts and British Columbia pass easily for Maine, as well.

Dreams Rewired

Using hundreds of clips from films made between the 1880s and 1930s, directors Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart and Thomas Tode ask us in Dreams Rewired to imagine how the shrinking of the world through electronic communications might have rubbed the genie in the lamp in a way no one foresaw or intended. Consider the fact that during this 50-year period scientists and engineers connected disparate corners of the Earth through telephony and early motion-picture devices to radio and TV. Ideas, too, could spread like wildfire, if left unchecked by censorship boards. Edison and Melies conceived of miraculous ways to amaze and entertain the masses, while, a couple decades later, several western democracies would ban The Battleship Potemkin, fearing those same audiences might catch a severe case of Bolshevism. (Ironically, Stalin felt the same need to discourage rebellion and democratic reforms.) Adolf Hitler understood the power of film as propaganda much more acutely than documentarian Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will), who, upon forced reflection, said, “I filmed the truth as it was then. Nothing more.” In another 50 years, some political observers would argue that MTV had has much to do with raising the Iran Curtain as Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In one sequence, clips from popular movies demonstrate how the invention of the phone precipitated the invention of the switchboard, which allowed for eavesdropping on conversations and the creation of machines to record them. Tilda Swinton’s soothing, precisely measured narration allows viewers to make the connection between eavesdropping then and spying on e-mails and cellphone conversations now. Unlike Bill Morrison’s meditative compilations of archival films – many of which have been severely damaged by neglect and the ravages of time — the material in Dreams Rewired is remarkably well preserved and a joy to study, over and over again.

Mutual Friends

In the movies, nothing good can come from throwing a party for a lover, spouse or anyone old enough to resent having to acknowledge his or her age or inner demons. Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s The Anniversary Party provided an extreme example of what can happen when too many self-absorbed people come together under the same roof to pretend they’re happy. The characters to whom we’re introduced in Matthew Watts’Mutual Friends have been called together to celebrate Liv’s engagement to Christoph (Caitlin Fitzgerald, Cheyenne Jackson). They’re yuppies on the way yup and can only dream of owning a Richard Neutra-designed home in the Hollywood Hills, as did Cumming and Leigh’s characters. Maybe, someday, but not now. They’re fortunate to have cozy flats in a transitioning neighborhood in one of New York City’s suddenly trendy neighborhoods. Party planners shouldn’t have to be told to avoid inviting former lovers and other people with unfinished business hanging between them to someone else’s happy occasion. Here, both Liv and Christoph will be required to address problems from past longtime relationships. Liv’s closest confidant, Nate (Peter Scanavino), has left her hanging for years, even though both of them suspect they’re perfect for each other. Also at the party is Christoph’s formidable ex-girlfriend of seven years, Annie (Jennifer LaFleur), who is none too happy that he never popped the question to her. Other characters include Sammy (Ross Partridge), a husband who finds out his wife is (Annika Peterson) cheating on him that afternoon; Paul (Michael Stahl-David), who can’t decide how he feels about impending fatherhood; Cody (Derek Cecil), a guy Liv dated twice before realizing what an odd creep he was; and a few helpful dopers, who provide comic relief. If Mutual Friends doesn’t really hang together, it’s because Watts’ central creative conceit called for merging seven different story threads written by seven different people. You can almost see the duct tape holding some of the scenes together. The other problem is that none of the characters are particularly likable. Even so, indie fans probably will appreciate the effort.

Deceived

There isn’t much to be said for Carlos Jimenez Flores’ messy little thriller, Deceived, except to point out that it was shot in Puerto Rico and features several actors with deep local roots. At a time when Hollywood casting directors can’t seem to be able to place minority actors in high-profile projects, it’s worth pointing out that there doesn’t appear to be a scarcity of them in the DVDs that cross my desk from indie distributors. Hollywood suits mostly need to imagine them in bigger pictures, under better direction, and in more substantial roles. Here, Alejandro (Sevier Crespo) has returned to San Juan in order to rescue his sister, Magdalena (Betsy Landin), from a life dominated by finding work in sleazy nightclubs and copping drugs from her surfer boyfriend (Mike Falkow). The last anyone’s heard of Magdalena – who, like the other women in the movie, is drop-dead gorgeous – is that she’s laying low on the beach with the South African surfer. After some kind of spat, she returns to old San Juan looking for work. Just missing her brother, Magdalena agrees to a date with a rich trick, who isn’t at all what he appears to be. If Alejandro isn’t having any luck in his search, the same can’t be said for Magdalena’s friends at the nightclub – the bar manager (David Paladino) and two stunning bar maids (Millie Ruperto, Darlene Vazquetelles) – who begin to fear for her safety when her date’s identity is finally revealed. (Hint: his eyes glow bright red when he gets over-stimulated.) The final showdown will shock some viewers, but that’s only if they’re still interested in what’s happening in Deceived.

That Uncertain Feeling

Only Angels Have Wings: The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

Every month, dozens of “classic” movies are released on DVD, many of them retrieved from the public domain by distributors like Gotham Distributing Corporation and Alpha Home Entertainment. It’s pretty tough to keep up with the new stuff, but one good place to look is MoviesUnlimited.com or by picking up its extensive catalog. It beats waiting for the picture to show up on TCM. I can’t recall why I chose Ernst Lubitsch’s 1941 comedy, That Uncertain Feeling, except for the director’s ability to make me chuckle and a taste for Merle Oberon. In it, she plays the penthouse-bound wife of a wealthy insurance broker, Larry Baker (Melvyn Douglas), who’s more devoted to his job than his very attractive wife, Jill. After developing a lingering case of hiccups, possibly linked to her marital frustrations, she agrees to visit a psychoanalyst who specializes in psychosomatic disorders. While waiting for the tardy shrink, Jill allows herself to be amused by neurotic pianist Alexander Sebastian (Burgess Meredith), said to have been modeled after Oscar Levant. By comparison to her husband, Alexander is the life of the party. She convinces Larry to allow the fox to use a spare bedroom in the henhouse, eventually leading to a friendly divorce and yet another change of heart. It seems a bit risqué for a post-code picture, but that’s part of its appeal. There’s a wonderful scene in which the pianist nearly ruins a dinner thrown by Larry with a group of Hungarian investors, but ends up saving the deal with his ability to keep the doughy executives amused in their native tongue.

By marked contrast, Only Angels Have Wings, made two years earlier than That Uncertain Feeling, by an equally revered director, has been given a first-class makeover by Criterion Collection, with all sorts of goodies heaped on for good measure. Lubitsch’s film suffered endlessly after the original owner neglected to renew its copyright and it became open game for anyone with a duplicating machine. Howard Hawks’ aviation thriller has fared far better in its afterlife. Hawks loved making movies about the perils of flight and retelling the stories he’d heard about pilots who sometimes laughed at death, but never underestimated the dangers inherent in their job. Like Charles Brown’s Night Flight before it, Only Angels Have Wings is that kind of picture. Both movies are set in South America, where the Andes tested the limits altitude-challenged planes and forced pilots to take chances they wouldn’t have had to face anywhere else. Hawks was a master, too, of dramatizing the devil-may-care camaraderie that occurs when and if a mission is accomplished and booze is on the house. (How often have you seen someone pay for a drink in these kinds of situations?) Add a couple of immediately essential, but ultimately disposal dames to the male bonding and you had the fixings for a Hollywood melodrama. “Angels” opens when the “banana boat” San Luis makes its stop at the port of Barranca, Jean Arthur follows the mailbags off the ship to a part of town where stereotypically creepy local lurk in the shadows. Fortunately, she’s rescued from her dilemma by a couple of good ol’ boys from the watering hole that also serves as the airfield. She gets along famously with the pilots and ground crews, but immediately sets her sites on Cary Grant’s Geoff Carter, who coordinates the flights. The laughter stops when one of the younger fliers (Noah Beery Jr.) takes a nose dive on the landing strip, then picks up when the guys stiffen up their lips. As if Arthur weren’t tempting enough, Hawks adds Rita Hayworth on the arm of a disgraced former pilot, Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess), possibly seeking redemption for a deadly faux pas.Naturally, the beautiful newcomer shares history with Carter, causing Arthur to seize up like an engine with a damaged oil pump. What’s really special about “Angels” area flying scenes that aren’t enhanced by wires and models. MacPherson volunteers to land an unproven plane on a mesa in the high Andes to rescue a seriously injured miner. He’ll return soon thereafter with a load of nitro glycerin. It’s pretty good stuff. The bonus features include an audio-only chat between Hawks and Peter Bogdanovich; a critical profile of the director; a discussion focused specifically on Hawks’ love affair with planes; a radio play featuring the all-star cast; and an essay by critic Michael Sragow.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin: Blu-ray

Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli: Blu-ray

At a time when contemporary filmmakers are attempting to say something new by borrowing tricks, tropes and techniques from the noir and giallo masters, it’s never been easier to find the real thing in crisp new Blu-ray editions. Freshly polished noir titles from around the world have kept buffs happy ever since high-def technology made it easy for them to cut through the grit, grime and shadows and watch the films in the way they were intended to be seen. Giallo is only now being accorded the same treatment by specialty labels, including here Mondo Macabro and Arrow Video. Even if some of the movies have been around for years on VHS, they’re only now being accorded the same degree of pampering usually reserved for Criterion Collection and Cohen Media releases. These three are especially representative of the genre’s unique characteristics.

Directed by “Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci (Don’t Torture a Duckling, Zombie), Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (a.k.a., “Schizoid”) was considered sensational, even in territory already mined by Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Umberto Lenzi. Employing cutting-edge special effects normally reserved for horror, “Lizard” pushed the limits on what audiences could endure in a story that also exploited the recreational and therapeutic uses of LSD, sexual orgies, nightmarish murders and cheesy euro-rock. Brazilian bombshell Florinda Bolkin plays Carol, the frustrated wife of a successful London lawyer. Carol’s begun to experience erotic dreams about her uninhibited neighbor, Julia (Anita Strindberg). One night, her dreams culminate in Julia’s violent death and she wakes to find her nightmares have become reality. Carol is, at once, the main witness and primary suspect. Things go even nuttier from there, as a hippie played by the former lead singer of Los Bravos (“Black Is Black”), Mike Kennedy, and his demonic girlfriend, begin to torture Carol with the truth. This, the first U.S. Blu-ray release of the film, is the longest uncut version of “Lizard” currently available. The package includes several fascinating featurettes and interviews with actors, writers and historians, as well as commentary with Kris Gavin.

“Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli” presents two substantially different examples of genre staples, in Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight, both starring the gorgeous Nieves Navarro (billed under her occasional stage name of Susan Scott) in the twin role of protagonist and damsel in distress. In “Midnight,” fashion model Valentina agrees to help a journalist (Simón Andreu) research the effects of LSD. While under the influence of the drug, she sees a man bludgeon a woman to death with a spiked metal glove. Until she begins to be stalked by a creepy psychopath, Valentina isn’t sure whether a murder took place or it was a hallucination. Adding to her dilemma are a pair of detestable drug smugglers, a flaky boyfriend and a cop who doesn’t believe she’s innocent in a series of actual deaths. Remarkably, there’s almost no nudity in the picture. That vacuum is filled in “High Heels,” this time with Navarro as an exotic dancer and the daughter of a murdered jewel thief. She finds herself terrorized by a black-clad assailant, determined on stealing her father’s stolen gems. She allows a persistent sugar daddy to take her to his London pad, only to discover that she can’t escape all her demons. These films are believed to have influenced Brian De Palma’s early psycho-thrillers. The double set is filled with goodies that giallo fans will treasure and newcomers can learn everything they need to know about the genre in lengthy interviews. The restoration work is excellent, as are the interviews, essays and featurettes.

The Kingdom of Zydeco: Blu-ray

Zydeco Crossroads: Tale of Two Cities: Blu-ray

Antibalas: Live From the House of Soul

If these three discs aren’t able to get your head boppin’ and feet tappin’, don’t bother to set your clock tonight, because you’re already dead. In the first two Blu-rays, Robert Mugge’s The Kingdom of Zydeco captures a moment in Cajun and Creole music when the giants of zydeco handed the baton to a new generation of Louisiana-based musicians. The core event is a joint concert appearance by Boozoo Chavis and Beau Jocque, who, after the deaths of Clifton Chenier and Rockin’ Dopsie, were vying for the crown that went with the title, King of Zydeco. In deference to the undisputed master of the art, Dopsie adopted the title of Crowned Prince of Zydeco and even wore a crown on a 1986 album. After Chenier died a year later, the mayor of Lafayette anointed Dopsie king. When Dopsie passed, in 1993, he reportedly asked a representative of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame to bestow the title on Chavis. That didn’t sit well with Joque or fans who favored a more democratic process. In a wonderful marketing brainstorm, the owner of a Lafayette nightclub decided it might be fun to stage his own competition. The primary beneficiaries of the night’s festivities were the audience members, who didn’t need an invitation to dance, and anyone who can get their hands on this disc. Mugge’s film is noteworthy, as well, for showcasing the two bands before Chavis and Joque would themselves be summoned to that big crayfish boil in the sky. Also shown performing in the film are respected bandleader John Delafose and the talented younger artist Nathan Williams of Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas. Historical perspective is provided by competing nightclub owners Kerman Richard and Sid Williams (older brother of Nathan), deejay Lester Thibeaux, record store owner Irene Hebert, Zydeco Association heads Wilbert Guillory and Paul Scott, and from Louisiana Hall of Fame founder Lou Gabus. It adds the 27-minute performance film, Iguanas in the House (1996), starring New Orleans roots-fusion band the Iguanas.

Zydeco Crossroads: Tale of Two Cities documents the efforts of east-coast radio station WXPN to introduce its audience to a “great American genre that’s underexposed in Philadelphia that people really ought to know about,” says general manager Roger LaMay. The 15-month “Zydeco Crossroads” project featured broadcasts, live concerts, dance lessons and culinary exhibits. Mugge’s documentary also serves as an introduction to the generation of musicians who followed in the footsteps of the masters. Some are descendants of the artists discussed in The Kingdom of Zydeco and Les Blanc’s earlier, Hot Pepper, while others didn’t even enjoy the benefit of growing up in a French-speaking household. In addition to some interesting background material, the disc features concerts by C.J. Chenier and Rosie Ledet, in a Philadelphia festival setting, and performances in Lafayette by Buckwheat Zydeco, Nathan Williams, Chubby Carrier, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., Major Handy, Creole United, Soul Creole, Lil’ Nate Williams, Chris Ardoin, Corey Arceneaux and Mississippi bluesman Vasti Jackson. Just FYI, there’s still time to buy tickets for this year’s edition of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Anyone fortunate enough to have seen the New York or road production of “Fela!” is encouraged to check out the next installment of Daptone Records’ new video series, “Live From the House Of Soul.” Recorded at Daptone’s backyard stage, in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, Antibalas is an afrobeat band modeled after Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band and Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem River Drive Orchestra. The band also incorporates elements of jazz, funk, dub, improvised music and traditional drumming from Cuba and West Africa. In 2008, Antibalas was featured off-Broadway in “Fela!” and, again, a year later, when it moved to Broadway, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

Natural Born Pranksters

It would be difficult for any comedy troupe to make the Jackass gang seem warm, sincere and Shakespearean, by contrast to their own work. That, however, is exactly what happens in Natural Born Pranksters, which features the antics of YouTube and “vlog” sensations Roman Atwood, Dennis Roady and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy. Atwood, alone, has recorded over a billion views on RomanAtwoodVlogs. While the pranks bear a certain resemblance to the kind of gags popularized on “Jackass,” “Punk’d,” “Just for Laughs” and “Impractical Jokers,” all of which owe their existence to “Candid Camera,” Natural Born Prankstersoften is unbearably unfunny. Neither does prankster-in-chief Atwood display even a fraction of the crude charisma of a Tom Green, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Kennedy or the Crank Yanker crew. As for any comparisons with Johnny Knoxville, Bam Magera, Steve-O and Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, it boils down to the difference between inspired masochism and borderline sadism … watching restaurant patrons react with surprise to naked waiters and simply pointing a camera at a streaker at a sports events … or capturing the reactions of art patrons as a painting comes to life and merely exhibiting paintings made of homemade shit. That said, however, I haven’t seen any of the YouTube bits that prompted Lionsgate to take a chance onNatural Born Pranksters or Nissan, for that matter, which gave Atwood a 2015 GTR in exchange for the use of his Plastic Ball Prank video during half-time at Super Bowl XLIX. Maybe, I should have started there.

TV-to-DVD

PBS: Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Concert

NYPD Blue: Season 09

Power Rangers: Wild Force: The Complete Series

PBS Kids: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Daniel Goes Camping

PBS Kids: Peg & Cat: Super Peg & Cat Guy

Among the landmark moments in the life of any true hippie’s life would have to be the first time they heard Arlo Guthrie’s recording of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” Upon the release of his 1967 album from which it was taken, the only thing most people knew about the bushy-haired musician was that his father was the great folk singer, songwriter and Okie raconteur Woody Guthrie, who succumbed to the ravages of Huntington’s disease the same month as the song was released. The rambling 18-minute song/monologue was based on a true incident from Arlo’s life, which began on Thanksgiving Day 1965 with a citation for littering, and ended with the refusal of the U.S. Army to draft him because of his conviction for that crime. The garbage that Guthrie was charged with dumping illegally at a closed dump, outside Great Barrington, Massachusetts, had been stored at a deconsecrated church being used as a home for two of his friends, Alice and Ray. For young people protesting the Vietnam War and other things that bothered them about their country, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” contrasted what was wonderful about the burgeoning counterculture and its adoption of a communal lifestyle, with the arrogance of moralistic cops and judges, the inherent hypocrisy of military conscription and frustration that comes with banging one’s head against the walls built to preserve mainstream conformity. Flash forward 50 years and the song is still being trotted out every Thanksgiving by FM classic-rock stations and PBS outlets in need of pledge-month entertainment. “Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Concert” demonstrates just how timeless a well-told story can be, even several decades after the counterculture imploded and restaurants, like Alice’s, were turned into IHOPs. Arlo still has a full head of hair, albeit gray, and his voice remains evocative of a bygone era, not only of the Summer of Love, but also a period of time when acoustic music reigned and topical lyrics broke through the sounds of silence. The disc adds 13 additional songs, ranging from the whimsical “Motorcycle Song” and “Coming Into Los Angeles,” to “City of New Orleans” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and a featurette on the Guthrie Center’s annual “Arlo Guthrie’s Historic Garbage Trail March.”

Like everything else in New York City that fall, the launch of the ninth season of “NYPD Blue” was overshadowed by the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It would take a few weeks before the writers could incorporate the tragedy into the storylines, but shadows of gloom and doom hung over the 15th Precinct for most of the early episodes. Once again, Sipowicz would have to adjust to the reality of a new partner in the field, John Clark Jr. (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), and another in his heart (Charlotte Ross). He also is accorded a promotion. Clark took over for Danny Sorenson’s character, who disappeared in a dangerous bust at the end of Season Eight. Turns out, Sipowicz has had run-ins in the past with Clark’s dad, who steer’s the young man’s career from above, whether or not he wants the help. The cast also includes Gordon Clapp, Henry Simmons, Bill Brochtrup, Garcelle Beauvais, Esai Morales and newcomer Jacqueline Obradors.

Power Rangers: Wild Force: The Complete Series is something of an oddity, in that it lasted all of a single season and its production was split between Saban Entertainment and Disney’s BVS Entertainment, which took over the franchise from Fox. For those keeping score at home, “Wild Force” officially represented the 10thseason in the “Power Rangers” series. (This season used footage from “Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger.”)  Episode 34, “Forever Red,” represented an anniversary commemoration with nearly every Red Ranger. To confuse things even further, Disney moved production to New Zealand, allowing it to lay off many crew members and all voice actors. Saban would repurchase the company in 2010 and move the show to Nickelodeon and Nicktoons. There’s more, but who really cares? The year’s episodes revolved around the Orgs returning to the floating island in the sky, the Animarium, which is all that remains of an ancient kingdom destroyed 3,000 years ago. The Power Rangers are summoned to Animarium, where they join forces with giant beasts, known as Wild Zords.

The latest DVD offerings from PBS Kids include “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Daniel Goes Camping,” in which the feline star camps outdoors for the first time and experiences everything that makes nighttime special, from twinkling stars and playing with flashlights, to singing “Goodnight Sun.” The set includes “Backyard Camping,” “Daniel’s Sleepover” and an extended version of “Nighttime in the Neighborhood.” In “Peg & Cat: Super Peg & Cat Guy” the dynamic duo uses basic math and geometry concepts to protect the citizens of Mathtropolis.

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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