By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: BFG, Pete’s Dragon, Baked in Brooklyn, Weng Weng, T.A.M.I./T.N.T. and more
The BFG: Blu-ray
Pete’s Dragon: Blu-ray
With great numbers already recorded for Disney’s Moana, it’s difficult to look back at the last two years and imagine studio executives not being completely thrilled about what they’ve accomplished. Several releases have exceeded or threatened to hit the billion-dollar barrier and critical response has generally been friendly, even for those titles with lower financial expectations. The BFG, a co-production with Amblin Entertainment, and the live-action re-imagining of Pete’s Dragon, opened nearly back-to-back with Finding Dory this summer in theaters around the world. Dory became a monster hit, while the other two pictures were disappointments to the folks who analyze box-office returns. Each entered its opening weekend with the support of critics, although the value of reviews in mainstream outlets, one way or the other, seems to have seriously diminished in the last 10 years. Of the two, it’s safe to say that expectations for The BFG far exceeded those for Pete’s Dragon. That’s based on an estimated production budget of $140 million, Steven Spielberg’s presence in the director’s chair, brand recognition from the beloved children’s book and a delightful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s words by Melissa Mathison (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), who died of an illness that was diagnosed only as production neared its completion. Of a total gross of $176.8 million, only $55.4 million derived from domestic sources. Certainly, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the movie, which, in fact, is very well made and entirely representative of previous work by the all-star cast and crew. I suspect that advertising that made the giants look big, but not terribly friendly, might have scared off some pre-tweens or their parents. Knowing ahead of time that a gnarly-looking giant kidnaps a 10-year-old girl from a London orphanage – do such places exist, anymore? –regardless of the fact he isn’t interested in putting her on the menu, might have been an unsettling prospect for some kids. Parents unfamiliar with the book may have misconstrued the meaning of the title, seeing “Big Frigging Deal,” instead of “Big Friendly Giant.” At first, that’s how I read it.
Once Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the BFG (Mark Rylance) reach his funky abode in Giant Country – off the British mainland — he explains that she must stay with him for the rest of her life. He’s afraid she’d reveal the existence of giants and open the habitat to military attack or, worse, tourism. Sophie, an insomniac, doesn’t believe he can control dreams, so, after reading her to sleep, contrives a nightmare in which a failed escape attempt causes her to be eaten by another giant. When one of Unfriendly Big Giants, the Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), senses the presence of a human guest, he pays the BFG a visit. Sophie avoids detection, but demands they travel to Dream Country, where they can catch happy dreams and spread them to poor kids in London. They also forge a nightmare for Queen Elizabeth II, hoping it will inspire her to order the British Army to remove the unfriendly giants from her queendom. Penelope Wilton’s depiction of Her Royal Highness is wonderful, as are the contributions of Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall as her maid and butler. If your kids love fart jokes — of course, they do – The BFG will keep them giggling for weeks. The 2D Blu-ray includes the featurettes, “Bringing The BFG to Life,” with Dahl’s daughter, Lucy, screenwriter Mathison, executive producers Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Kristie Macosko Krieger, and other members of the cast and crew; “The Big Friendly Giant and Me,” in which Barnhill links characters in the book to their counterparts in the movie; “Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG,” a tutorial on giant-speak; “Giants 101,” in which Clement and Bill Hader (Bloodbottler) introduce us to the bad giants, along with movement-choreographer/motion-capture performer Terry Notary; and the bittersweet “Melissa Mathison: A Tribute.” Typically, 3D fanciers will have to wait a while for that version to arrive (ditto, 4K). BTW: the animated feature from 1989, Roald Dahl’s The BFG, was re-released earlier this year and it’s quite good.
David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon deserves to do a lot better in VOD/Blu-ray/DVD, as well. Of its $141.8 million worldwide gross, $75.5 million of it was earned here. The difference being that its production costs were $80 million lower and Disney won’t have to split the proceeds with other companies. In addition to changing the time-frame, location and certain aspects of Peter and Elliot’s relationship from the 1977 feature, Lowery’s biggest conceit here is adding a layer of short, green fur to the dragon. When asked about the decision, the co-writer/director (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) explains that he’d rather have “the kind of dragon you really want to give a hug to” than a “Game of Thrones”-type dragon, which he described as “cool, but scaly and cold.” It takes some time to get accustomed to the fur, but kids may not see the difference in this more canine-like creature. Here, Elliot reveals himself to Pete (Oakes Fegley) after the boy’s parents are killed in a car accident in the middle of a vast forest. (The movie was shot in New Zealand, which hasn’t been completely stripped of old-growth trees.) Together, Pete’s able to live off the land and get along without such things as haircuts and shirts. At night, they share a cave deep in the wilderness, where the dragon’s fur provides comfort for them. It isn’t until several years later that that Pete and Elliot are forced to deal with the real world. Bryce Dallas Howard plays forest ranger Grace, who grew up listening to stories of mysterious flying beasts told by her father (Robert Redford). She didn’t put too much stock in them until discovering Pete watching her tagging redwoods for her husband’s (Wes Bentley) logging company to avoid … or something like that. The boy’s description of his friend and guardian squares with her dad’s recollections and, together with his granddaughter (Oona Laurence), Grace joins in the effort to save the dragon natural habitat. Unfortunately, one of the loggers finds out about Elliot’s existence and, in a nod to King Kong, perhaps, decides to beat her to the punch by capturing the beast for profit and bragging rights. Pete’s Dragon more closely resembles a Disney adventure from yesteryear than the kind of superhero extravaganzas that fill the megaplexes today. Still, it should appeal to kids and their parents in need of some rainy-day entertainment. The Blu-ray adds bloopers, deleted scenes, the featurettes “Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary,” “Making Magic” and “Disappearing,” Lowery’s commentary with co-writer Toby Halbrooks and actors Fegley and Laurence, and music videos from the Lumineers and Lindsey Stirling.
Baked in Brooklyn: Blu-ray
Urban myth and yuppie romance both come into play in Rory Rooney and screenwriter David Shapiro’s diverting Baked in Brooklyn, not to be confused with Gustavo Ron’s My Bakery in Brooklyn or Tamra Davis’ 1998 stoner comedy, Half Baked, which it more closely resembles. Josh Brener, the half-pint computer genius in “Silicon Valley,” wasn’t required to alter his small-screen personality much to play the laid-off consultant, David, who turns to dealing pot via the Internet when the money crunch begins. Even a dog trained to detect drugs might be inclined to give the unassuming nerd a pass, if he tried to smuggle a kilo of grass through an airport in his solar-powered knapsack. That’s probably what Alexandra Daddario’s babelicious Kate thinks, as well, when he sings his sad song to her after meeting-cute at a party. Kate has a long-distance boyfriend, but finds something sufficiently comforting in David to ask him to be her BFF-without-benefits and his third roommate. David’s goth sister hooks him up with her decidedly non-geek dealer friend, Ace (Michael Rivera), who’s adapted Amway sales techniques to the marijuana trade. David’s brainstorm involves offering to supply small quantities of grass to strangers he meets on social media, so long as they’re reachable by bicycle from his Brooklyn pad. Not surprisingly, the business takes off like a rocket ship. Success, however, makes David as nervous as the prospect of someday making out with Kate. (Daddario’s bedroom scenes with Woody Harrelson, in “True Detective,” were nothing short of incendiary.) To calm his nerves during transactions with a rouge’s gallery of customers, David begins to ingest nerve-relaxants by the handful. They also help him make it through his sometimes acrimonious dealings with Ace. Naturally, David’s obsessive attention to business causes him to neglect his friends, all of whom remember the definition of “hubris” from their English lit courses and apply it to him. Despite a certain predictability, Brener never strays out of character long enough to become unrecognizable. Compared with other stoner comedies, Baked in Brooklyn is pretty tame. That doesn’t mean, however, that viewers who aren’t completely wasted can’t find things to enjoy in it.
Ants on a Shrimp
PBS: A Chef’s Life: Season Four
By the time that René Redzepi reached the ripe old age of 35, his two-Michelin-star restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen, had already been voted the best restaurant in the world four times in the annual San Pellegrino Awards competition, sponsored by the British magazine, Restaurant. Before making a long-term commitment to Denmark, Redzepi spend some time working in the similarly honored kitchens of Spain’s El Bulli and the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley. Not content to rest on his restaurant’s laurels, Redzepi accepted the challenge of creating a 14-course menu for the high-end dining room of Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. Three years earlier, he had had run a pop-up restaurant at Claridge’s, in London. Redzepi is credited with reinventing Nordic cuisine, through his use of freshly foraged ingredients, including a signature dish that consists of raw langoustine sprinkled with ants. Thus, the title of Maurice Dekkers’ food-porn documentary, Ants on a Shrimp. Curiously uninvolving, the film spends almost two-thirds of its time in the preparation for opening night and a third in the creation of delicacies fit for the world’s elite diners, and almost none on the dining experience, itself. As is typical in these sorts of documentaries, Redzepi is portrayed as a perfectionist, who demands the same of his employees, who traveled with him to Japan for the experiment … or, to be precise, ordeal. Perfection is an elusive goal, especially when it comes to food. Watching a chef attempt to translate his concept of perfection to a kitchen full of highly capable, if frequently frustrated assistants is like standing by powerless while a stranger berates their child in a store. Things really pick up when Redzepi leaves the hotel and visits the kind of places that will allow him to realize his desire to be “not just a tourist, but an informed traveler.” In addition to creating ways for his staff to study Japanese etiquette and basic language skills, he goes on trips to the mountains to forage for unique tastes and markets to learn about local ingredients and practices. Nothing’s easy, however, when it comes to putting what he’s absorbed into practice. If a dish doesn’t suit his palate — deep-fried fish sperm, for example — it won’t make the cut. I wanted to see the looks on the faces of the diners when they were presented with the individual courses and took those crucial first bites, but, alas, Ants on a Shrimp ends before that can happen. Foodies will certainly find something to love here. Others will have trouble getting past the idea of chowing down on a prawn the size of a lobster, with bugs sprinkled on its tail.
PBS’ Peabody Award-winning “A Chef’s Life: Season Four” is equal parts cooking show, tutorial on traditional Southern ingredients and soap opera, starring chef and author Vivian Howard. She’s famous in culinary circles, at least, for forsaking a career in New York City to return to her roots in the rural North Carolina town of Kinston. Her restaurant, the Chef and the Farmer, promotes cuisine that will be familiar to natives and promotes destination dining to outsiders. The most interesting thing about the new DVD to me, anyway, is her straight-forward approach to dishes and ingredients that need defending outside the South. Among them are rabbits, catfish, mayonnaise, sunchokes (a.k.a., Jerusalem artichokes), cabbage, watermelon and hocks. A negative Internet review momentarily puts her off her feed. (If it was on Yelp, the writer probably was looking for a free meal or other considerations to retract it.) The soap-opera aspect comes from involving viewers in her personal life (twins), her race to meet a cookbook deadline and the departure of her sous chef. Howard deserves credit for promoting community and incubator farming, addressing the complaints raised by meat-is-murder protesters at a culinary convention and admitting defeat when a recipe experiment fails. The presence of her mother and neighbors in the kitchen adds to the credibility of Howard’s trad menu,
One of the things that differentiates sitcom stars from their big-screen counterparts is a willingness to kill some of their time between seasons working on indie projects for friends that demonstrate an ability to deliver performances not supported by canned laughter and pratfalls. More often than not, however, these movies take the straight-to-DVD/VOD route to their fans. A common variation on the practice is ensemble casting, which gives equal time to a larger number of actors and a more relaxed atmosphere to the off-camera experience. Clea DuVall’s The Intervention seemingly fulfilled both considerations. In it, a group of 10 thirtysomething friends is invited to spend a few days relaxing, drinking and reminiscing in a large home near Savannah. By the time the movie’s over, they also will have wasted an inordinate amount of time and energy bickering, boozing, breaking up and swapping mates. If that description of The Intervention doesn’t immediately remind you of The Big Chill, you probably haven’t seen it. The difference is that this group of yuppies has been called together by Annie (Melanie Lynskey) primarily to intervene in the tortured marriage of Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza). The other variation involves a lesbian subtext, involving Jessie (DuVall), Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) and the obsessively bisexual Lola (Alia Shawkat), the much younger companion of Jack (Ben Schwartz). Also along for the ride are Rick (David Bernon) and Matt (Jason Ritter). Annie’s intervention doesn’t go as planned, primarily because she doesn’t have the guts to confront the dysfunctional couple. And, so it goes. Fans of the individual stars may enjoy seeing them outside their natural television habitats, but others will probably find it overly familiar by half. Also noteworthy here is the film score by Sara Quin of the Canadian duo, Tegan and Sara. Du Vall and the identical twin sisters have collaborated on several music and online videos.
The Search for Weng Weng
The closest most Americans have gotten to the Philippine cinema – location shoots for Apocalypse Now don’t count – is the series of women-in-prison films made by Jack Hill, Jonathan Demme and Cirio H. Santiago for Roger Corman. The actors we remember from those exploitation classics are Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Jeannie Bell, Roberta Collins and Judith Brown. Low-budget as they were, the movies made for New World Pictures looked like Gone With the Wind compared to most of the stuff churned out by Eddie Nicart largely for consumption by domestic Philippine audiences. It would be impossible, even today, for anyone whose seen such action/adventures asThe Cute… the Sexy n’ the Tiny, For Y’ur Height Only, D’Wild Wild Weng, Agent 00 and The Impossible Kid of Kung Fu to have forgotten the islands’ biggest box-office draw, Weng Weng. Standing a mere 2 feet, 9 inches, Weng Weng might have begun his career as a novelty act, but, after reaching leading-man status, he would be invited by then-First Lady Imelda Marcos to Malacañang Palace and named an honorary secret agent by General Fidel Ramos, who presented the actor with a custom-made pistol. He was a familiar guest on TV shows, at film festivals and awards ceremonies. Weng Weng stopped making movies – and money — after his popularity waned in the mid-1980s. Andrew Leavold, co-writer/director of The Search for Weng Weng, once owned and managed Trash Video, the largest cult video-rental store in Australia. As such, he was quite aware of the actor’s place in the Philippine film industry. What puzzled Leavold was what happened to Weng Weng – who didn’t identify with being a midget or dwarf, just small– after he stopped appearing in movies. He’d heard most of the stories, but needed to verify them for himself. It took him three visits to the islands and more than 40 interviews with the people closest to him, including his only surviving relative, brother Celing de la Cruz, to separate truth from myth. Fans of exploitation flicks will savor The Search For Weng Weng not only for its portrait of the artist as a small man, but also for Leavold’s exploration of the country’s cinematic history.
It’s All So Quiet
If Dutch auteur Nanouk Leopold’s austere drama had required a theme song, he couldn’t have picked a more representative tune than “Play It All Night Long,” Warren Zevon’s backhanded ode to redneck culture. In it, the late, great rock-’n’-roll poet observed, “There ain’t much to country living/Sweat, piss, jizz and blood. …” It’s All So Quiet fills the bill on all counts. Loosely based on Gerbrand Bakker’s International Dublin Literary Award-winning novel, “The Twin,” It’s All So Quiet follows a long-single dairy farmer, Helmer (Jeroen Willems), in his 50s, as he prepares for the death of his bedridden father (Henri Garcin) and, perhaps, a final opportunity to express himself in ways forbidden to him, so long as he remained under the stern old man’s roof. You may read into that what you will. As the movie opens, the close-mouthed Helmer is confronted not only with the imminent death of Vader, who is confined to his upstairs bedroom, but those of other elderly neighbors, and the retirement plans of closest friend, identified simply as Melkrijder, after his occupation. Wim Opbrouck plays the burly milk-truck driver who pays daily visits to the farm, but is about to give up the route and move in with his sister. Leopold (Wolfsbergen, Brownian Movement) leaves a lot of emotional baggage unspoken between the men. The same applies to the much younger farmhand, Henk (Martijn Lakemeier), who Helmer’s hired to help with the chores while he paints and cleans the first floor for the first time in decades.
The younger man’s presence raises the specter of Helmer’s long-dead twin brother, who we’re led to believe was Vader’s favored son and, had he lived, might have allowed the farmer some space to distance himself from his father’s once-iron fist. In the final film appearance before his untimely and unexpected death, at 50, Willems reveals the emotions behind his character’s dilemma with a quiet certainty that a statue might envy. Outside of central Europe, It’s All So Quiet’s was largely limited to festivals and the occasional arthouse. It would be an ideal picture to watch in a theater in Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa, where family farms have yet to be completely swallowed up by agribusiness concerns. Outside of Milwaukee, Madison, Iowa City and Minneapolis/St. Paul, however, you can probably count the number of compatible theaters on the fingers of one hand. It would make a terrific double-feature with Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam’s brutal 2011 drama, Bullhead, which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It somehow turns the illicit cattle-hormone trade in Europe into the basis for a battle between a pugnacious slaughterhouse worker (Matthias Schoenaerts) – himself addicted to steroids – and gangsters with a 20-year grudge against him.
There’s no disguising the source of tension between Matias and Jeronimo (Ignacio Rogers, Esteban Masturini) in the Argentinian rom-dram, Esteros, which expands the 2015 short, “Matias and Jeronimo.” In Papu Curotto and Andi Nachon’s debut feature, the boys who experienced their sexual awakening in the previous film reunite as adults. We learn that Matias’ disapproving father had caused them to separate, when he took a job in Brazil, and, in the interim, he’s walked the straight-and-narrow path. When, 10 years later, Matias returns to Argentina for Carnival, he’s accompanied by his girlfriend, Rochi (Renata Calmon), a charming young lady who doesn’t see the train about to hit her. In the kind of reunion that can only happen in the movies, Rochi’s desire for matching zombie makeup brings them both in contact with Jeronimo, who, in the interim, has fully acknowledged his homosexuality. At first, the resolutely glum Matias attempts to dampen the sparks that still crackle between them. It isn’t until Curotto switches the setting to the untamed wetlands of the Santiago del Estero del Ibera nature reserve that Matias loosens up enough to face his personal dilemma head-on. Esteros doesn’t push any particular social agenda, except to argue by example that LGBT-themed movies don’t have to exist in a ghetto created by inadequate budgets, compromised production values and actors only familiar to niche audiences. I’ve seen the same evolution in LGBT movies made in western Europe. Special features include interviews with the director and cast, and a stills gallery
American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock: Blu-ray
All movies come with a warning label, whether it’s in the form of the MPAA’s “advisory ratings” or the artwork and blurbs that appear on posters and DVD jackets. They all require some reading between lines and a healthy disregard for marketing hyperbole and the sometimes-hypocritical stance of the board. The warning attached to American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock can be found in the title, itself. Only serious students of hard-core horror are likely to decipher its meaning, though. Casual fans of the genre probably should avoid it altogether. The “Guinea Pig” in the title refers to a series of films made in Japan in the 1980s, so viscerally disturbing and unabashedly gory that one of them fooled no less an expert than Charlie Sheen into thinking it was an actual snuff film. It wasn’t, but the company making the manga-based series already was under investigation by Japanese authorities for their realistic depiction of torture. The scrutiny persuaded producer Hideshi Hino to cease and desist production, nearly 15 years before the subgenre acquired a name and subgenre of its own: torture porn. In 2002, a now-defunct German company collected six of the films, a making-of documentary and the previously unreleased “Making of Devil Woman Doctor.” Three years later, Unearthed Films released the first truly complete box set with all six features, both documentaries and Slaughter Special, along with bonus features and the manga on which Mermaid in a Manhole is based. The “American” in American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock alerts the cognoscenti that the baton has been passed to a new generation of genre specialists, whose mastery of special makeup effects was enhanced by CGI technology. In 2014, Unearthed Films’ founder and screenwriter Stephen Biro resurrected the concept with American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore. In it, two kidnaped women wake up strapped to beds in a room full of men wearing assorted masks and armed with 8mm and VHS cameras. The two women are then sedated and dosed with LSD, before being dismembered, disemboweled and fileted by a big guy in the Baphomet mask. No kidding.
The “Bloodshock” in American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock pretty much telegraphs what viewers can expect to see in Chapter Two in the new series. It’s the name given the financially lucrative process dreamed up by the film’s sadistic and probably insane doctor. It involves the harvesting of a torture victim’s blood, while serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins are being pumped through his circulatory system. Each time he is dragged from his padded cell, the levels of torture are increased to maximize the substances’ content in the blood that’s drawn. Ostensibly, patients in need of a quick pick-me-up could benefit from transfusions of the purloined blood. Things really get nasty when the male victim (Dan Ellis) discovers a female victim (Lillian McKinney) in the cell next to his and they find exciting new ways to boost their own endorphins. It all takes place in an abandoned mental facility. This time around, Biro dusted off the director’s chair for effects wizard Marcus Koch (We Are Still Here, 100 Tears), who added his own special sauce to the recipe. As if being treated to the sight of the male victim’s tongue being sliced off and sutured in the first 10-minute sequence wasn’t sufficiently nauseating, a making-off video describes how it was accomplished, along with other atrocities. The entire package includes commentaries with Marcus Koch and Stephen Biro, and actors Andy Winton, Gene Palubicki and Alberto Giovannelli; Biro’s introduction; production videos; footage from the Days of the Dead festival Q&A; interviews with Koch, Biro, Ellis and McKinney; featurettes “Bloodshock: Deconstruction” and “Bloodshock: Behind the Scenes”; a soundtrack CD; and booklet.
T.A.M.I. Show/The Big T.N.T. Show: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Peter Green: Man of the World
Lovers of classic rock and R&B haven’t lived until they’ve seen video footage of a very young Joan Baez — wearing a conservative dress, stockings and heels — belting out “You’ve Lost That Living Feeling,” accompanied by Phil Spector on piano and a full orchestra behind them. She’d already established her folk credentials by opening with “100 Miles” and “There But for Fortune,” so the idea probably sprung from the forehead of the inventor of “wall of sound” record production. The reigning queen of folk music is preceded on Shout Factory’s combined T.A.M.I./The Big T.N.T. Show Blu-ray by the Lovin’ Spoonful and Ray Charles and followed by The Ronettes and Roger Miller, who looked a bit shocked by the screams from the teenyboppers in the audience. If it seems as if the shows might have been booked by Ed Sullivan, if he’d been tripping on LSD, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Take a closer look at these supremely restored concert events and you’ll see the missing links between Alan Freed’s inaugural Moondog Coronation Ball and Woodstock. Of the two events, the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show is the better known, if only because its highlight moment comes when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones attempted to follow an electrifying performance by James Brown. Keith Richards admitted later that choosing to follow Brown and the Famous Flames was the biggest mistake of the Stones’ careers, because no matter how well they performed, they could not top him. The other acts represented a Who’s Who of current chart-toppers, including Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Supremes and Barbarians. Back in the day, Top 40 radio didn’t differentiate between white, black and Latino performers and frequently ignored genre boundaries.
The film was shot by director Steve Binder and his crew from “The Steve Allen Show,” using a precursor to high-definition television called “Electronovision,” invented by Bill Sargent. It was marketed for pay-per-view presentations in theaters across the country, as well as a movie released by teen-friendly AIP. The acronym, “T.A.M.I.,” meant both “Teenage Awards Music International” and “Teen Age Music International,” depending on who one asked. “The Big T.N.T. Show” is a 1966 sequel to “T.A.M.I.” and, if anything, more wildly eclectic. Shot before a live audience at the Los Angeles’ Moulin Rouge club – uniformed cops in the aisles and blacks relegated to the rear rows – the show also featured emcee and band leader David McCallum (a.k.a., Illya Kuryakin), Petula Clark, Bo Diddley, Roger Miller, The Byrds, Donovan and The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, who, despite Tina and the Ikettes’ atypically conservative outfits, absolutely killed it. The Blu-ray adds reminiscences from Petula Clark, John Sebastian, musician/photographer Henry Diltz and Binder; “The Big T.N.T. Show: An Eclectic Mix,” with more snippets of the same interview sessions, albeit with a focus on the different styles of music in the concert; and booklet of essays and photographs. The faces and fashions on display in the audience look like a casting call for “Hairspray.” (Keep an eye out for Frank Zappa, in the audience, and Teri Garr and Toni Basil among the go-go dancers.)
Along with Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson and Roky Erickson, the great blues guitarist and singer Peter Green may be best remembered today for going off the deep end on LSD and disappearing from view while the rest of the rockin’ world passed them by. Wilson has recently demonstrated how well he’s recovered from his ordeal, by returning to the recording studio and stages around the country. Erickson, too, has stepped back from the edge of the abyss. Barrett died in 2006, of pancreatic cancer, without fully recovering from mental illness and contrails of drug abuse. After replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Green went on to form Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, one of the essential blues-inspired rock bands of the second British Invasion. In addition to delivering superb interpretations of American blues classic, Green wrote and recorded “Black Magic Woman,” which would become a huge hit for Santana, as well as the ethereal instrumental, “Albatross,” and brilliantly layered, “Oh, Well.” Steve Graham’s thoroughly researched and interview-heavy rock-doc, Peter Green: Man of the World, goes a long way toward answering the 40 years’ worth of questions raised by fans and critics about his disappearance from Fleetwood Mac and how it impacted the band’s successful transition into superstardom. The film gives equal time to Green’s drug use and subsequent spiral into schizophrenia, discussing, as well, electroconvulsive therapy that prolonged his illness and extended absence from the music scene. He would make a tentative comeback in the mid-1990s, but also invest his energy into art and photography. “Man of the World” contains more than the usual amount of archival footage of live and studio performances, stills and original in-depth interviews with Fleetwood, McVie, producer Mike Vernon, Noel Gallagher, John Mayall, road manager Dennis Keane, biographer Martin Celmins, Carlos Santana and Jeremy Spencer. A visit to Green’s collection of vintage guitars is a highlight of the bonus package.
PBS: Willie Velasquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice
PBS: NOVA: Super Tunnel
PBS: NOVA: 15 Years of Terror
Despite the outcome of the race for the White House, the League of United Latin American Citizens found reason for optimism. After parsing the numbers, the nation’s “largest and oldest Hispanic organization” announced that Latino turnout increased over 17 percent since 2012, “a trend that LULAC feels will continue for the foreseeable future.” That news would have been greeted with approval by the subject of the PBS documentary, “Willie Velasquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice,” a Mexican-American civil-rights pioneer who died in 1988, at 44, after launching more than a thousand voter-registration drives in 200 cities. This was accomplished through the nonpartisan Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, an initiative that “forever changed the local and national political landscape.” Hector Galán’s film was broadcast over PBS affiliates a month before the national elections. It’s impossible to determine if it had any impact on higher voter turnouts –the fear of a Trump presidency pretty much took care of that – but it would be nice to think that such inspirational portraits of Hispanic leaders would keep the ball rolling. A Mexican-American butcher’s son from San Antonio, Velasquez spent two summers as an intern in Washington working for San Antonio’s pioneering Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez. After that, he returned home to help found the Mexican-American Youth Organization and become a key player in the formation of the Raza Unida Conference. It wasn’t until he turned his focus onto voter registration, though, that he could see progress in the fight against the remnants of Jim Crow and the gerrymandering of political districts with significant Latino populations. Enough obstacles remain to make this documentary relevant today as a teaching tool and source for inspiration.
The “NOVA” documentary, “Super Tunnel,” takes viewers on a journey below the streets of London, where the $23-billion Crossrail transit system is being constructed by 10,000 workers, alongside portions of what is considered the world’s oldest subway. Not to be confused with the Chunnel, which runs under the English Channel, the Super Tunnel adds 26 miles of tracks bisecting some of the city’s most historic districts. The problem comes, of course, in avoiding damage to buildings situated above the construction sites and keeping the existing “tube” intact. Crucially, the workers must drive one of their gigantic 1,000-ton tunnel-boring machines through the earth, passing within inches of escalators and an active subway tunnel, without the passengers on the tube platforms below ever knowing they are there.
Also from “NOVA” comes “15 Years of Terror,” an investigation into the progress being made by U.S. counterintelligence agents in the struggle to anticipate terrorist attacks and prevent recruitment of new fighters by ISIS computer jockeys. Internet trolls also are attempting to understand what happens in the minds of terrorists and intercede to stop the next attacks, sometimes by making the leading proponents of jihad targets for drone strikes.
Alpha and Omega: The Big Fureeze
The Wild Life
Lionsgate’s animated DVD franchise, “Alpha and Omega,” continues apace with “The Big Fureeze,” the seventh entry in a series that began in 2010 with the big-screen feature, Alpha and Omega. That one featured an all-star voicing cast that included Justin Long, Hayden Panettiere, Dennis Hopper, Danny Glover, Christina Ricci and the ubiquitous Larry Miller. It was set in Canada’s Jasper National Park, where wolves Kate and Humphrey have known each other since puppyhood, but exist on opposing ends of the Western Pack’s social structure. Kate was the energetic Alpha daughter of the pack leader, while Humphrey is the good-humored Omega. If Kate agreed to accept an arranged marriage with Garth of the Eastern Pack, the packs unite in peace and prosperity. Love intervened in favor of Humphrey. Six sequels later, Kate and Humphrey have a litter of three wolf pups to tend. When they disappear in a fierce winter storm, looking for food, Stinky, Claudette and Runt — along with Brent the bear cub and Agnes the porcupine – set out bring them home safe and sound. For what it’s worth, “The Big Fureeze” is the first sequel to have original co-writer Steve Moore back at the word processor. Nevertheless, at a brisk 47 minutes, this one is strictly for the kiddies.
Originally titled “Robinson Crusoe,” Lionsgate and nWave Pictures’ feature-length adventure, The Wild Life, re-interprets the Daniel Defoe classic from the point of view of the island’s animal population. Things are going along swimmingly for the colorful critters until a seriously disheveled sailor washes ashore during a furious storm. Parents concerned about Defoe’s detours into cannibals, murders, slave trading and the Christian proselytizing should know that there’s nothing here your average pre-schooler can’t grasp. Instead, a chatty parrot named Mak, who dreams of escaping the island to see what else is out there, uses Crusoe’s arrival as inspiration to get going. His posse includes a goat, a chameleon, a porcupine and a tapir, each with little quirks of their own. The DVD adds “Meet the Characters,” “Tips for Your Trip” and “The Wild Life Musical Adventure.”