By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: Star Trek/Wars, Indignation, Private Property, Morris From America, Viktoria, Mes Aynak, Initiation and more
Star Trek Beyond: Blu-ray
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens Blu-ray
If you dig deep enough into the Pulp Fiction bonus package, you’ll find a deleted scene in which Mia Wallace tells Vincent Vega: “My theory is that when it comes to important subjects, there’s only two ways a person can answer. For example, there’s two kinds of people in this world, Elvis people and Beatles people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis. And Elvis people can like the Beatles. But nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere, you have to make a choice. And that choice tells me who you are.” Having interviewed diehard fans of Star Trek and Star Wars, I suspect that the same is true for the rival sci-fi/adventure franchises. If pure numbers mean anything in such a comparison, it’s probably relevant to point out that Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens outgrossed Star Trek Beyond on the worldwide stage, $2.07 billion to $341.9 million. The domestic/foreign ratio of 45/55 percent is roughly the same for both films. If Beyond is the weakest of the three “rebooted” editions domestically, it falls between Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness in overseas markets. Comparing the production budgets for the latest entries shows that Episode VII cost $245 million, while Beyond ate up around $185 million. It’s practically impossible to figure in the exact cost of [rints & advertising these days. Among other things, digital technology has virtually eliminated the costs associated with film prints, and the so-called Fanboy/Fangirl Effect also impacts the bottom line of franchise pictures. (“Beyond” benefited, as well, from a lucrative marketing and merchandising arrangement with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.) Identifying and cultivating a new generation of franchise loyalists is as essential as it is difficult to maintain. Critics appeared to endorse both films, with “Force” scoring an excellent 82 rating on Metacritic versus a very positive 68 Metascore for “Beyond.” In the case of franchise and comic-book pictures, though, an aggregator of reviews on niche sites likely would more helpful than the opinions of mainstream pundits.
If these holiday-ready set demonstrate anything conclusively, it’s that distributors of DVD/Blu-ray/VOD titles are way ahead of consumers and equipment manufacturers on the technological curve, at least when it comes to promoting the visual and audio potential for home theaters. Unlike Ultra High Def and Blu-ray 3D units, technologically advanced pictures, like Star Trek Beyond and the upgraded edition of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, are priced to sell right now. Disney made fans wait seven months for the Collector’s Edition everyone knew would arrive by Thanksgiving, giving them time to save their quarters and silver dollars for a new high-end set. Paramount decided not to test the patience of “Trek” loyalists, choosing, instead, to give them the whole meal at once. Complicating things, as usual, are the side deals distributors cut with retailers to offer “exclusive” bonus features. The fold-open DigiPack/Collector’s Edition of “Episode VII” can be purchased in a single all-inclusive box, representing Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray 2D, DVD and Digital HD, as well as a bonanza of new supplements. This, in addition to carryover material from the last release and singular packaging. The release, it should be noted, omits a new Atmos or DTS:X soundtrack, relying, instead, on the previous iteration’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack. New material includes audio commentary with director J.J. Abrams, who opens with a passionate recounting of seeing the original film for the first time and the franchise’s influence on cinema; three newly added deleted scenes; and three new featurettes, “Foley: A Sonic Tale,” “Dressing the Galaxy” and “Sounds of the Resistance.” Tech-savvy fans will have to wait a bit longer for the UHD version of the movie, as well. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Collector’s Edition, though.
While it’s possible to settle for the basic Star Trek Beyond package, with Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD/UltraViolet and Atmos sound, some consumers will be tempted by separate a 4K Ultra HD edition; Blu-ray 3D; 4K/3D Gift Set, exclusively through Amazon; and two-disc sets, whose individual packaging, features and collectibles have been created for sales at Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy. Do your homework and you won’t be disappointed when you get home. In the same way that some glossy magazines will distribute different covers of the same edition, hoping to snag collectors, it’s possible that Paramount is counting on Trekkies to buy several different packages, hoping they’ll be valuable one day. Maybe, if it also limited the production run, the gambit would work. Too much of the same good product won’t make it any more lucrative in 20 years, though. Fortunately, “Beyond” can stand on its own as a vehicle for fast-paced action, solid story-telling and character continuity. The biggest difference this time around, really, is the introduction of director Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious), who was handed the baton by Abrams when he was entrusted with “Star Wars: Episode VII,” and a distinct feeling of loss, knowing that Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin are no longer with us. Otherwise, after docking at Starbase Yorktown, the crew of the USS Enterprise — halfway into their five-year mission – once again is called upon to venture into dangerous uncharted territory to rescue stranded allies. The Enterprise is destroyed in an ambush by a ruthless enemy with a deep hatred of the Federation, leaving Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew stranded on a remote planet with no means of communication. With the crew separated and the villains’ true intentions only slowly coming to light, their mission becomes a fight for survival that could result in countless dead. The supplemental material adds deleted scenes; a gag reel; and the featurettes, “Beyond the Darkness,” “Enterprise Takedown,” “Divided and Conquered,” “A Warped Sense of Revenge,” “Trekking in the Desert,” “Exploring Strange New Worlds,” “New Life, New Civilizations,” “To Live Long and Prosper,” “For Leonard and Anton.”
The commemoration of “ST50” continues with the release of the Smithsonian Channel documentary, “Building Star Trek,” set against the backdrop of two projects: rebuilding the bridge and restoring the original USS Enterprise model. Astronauts, engineers and writers, as well as the series’ stars, come together to explore the visionary universe of “Star Trek.” It serves as a companion DVD to History Channel’s “50 Years of Star Trek,” released last month.
Philip Roth has written 31 books, of which 8 have been adapted for the big screen and another for television. Compared to Stephen King or William Shakespeare – there, I mentioned their names in the same breath – that’s not a terribly impressive number. There’s no telling how many times the rights to his other novels have been purchased, without being turned into feature films, but it’s probably a sizable number. Comedies Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint probably did OK at the box office, at a time when adults who read books also went to the movies, if only to see what the Philistines in Hollywood did to them. Far less successful were The Human Stain; Elegy, which was adapted from “The Dying Animal”; The Humbling; American Pastoral and, new to video, Indignation. With the exception of the 1984 “American Playhouse” presentation of “The Ghost Writer,” it wasn’t until 2003 that anyone attempted another film adaptation. The Human Stain underperformed, despite a list of credits that included director Robert Benton, screenwriter Nicholas Meyer and actors Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Anna Deavere Smith, Kerry Washington and Margo Martindale. It received several very positive reviews, but was deemed a hard slog for mainstream audiences. In Elegy, Ben Kingsley is terrific as a professor of literature and a student of American hedonism, who falls hard for a 22-year-old student, Consuela (Penelope Cruz), who doesn’t understand the toll jealousy takes older men. Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Sarsgaard are also very good in it. Even with Al Pacino, Greta Gerwig and Nina Arlanda working at the top of their game, Barry Levinson’s The Humbling could only be found at festivals and on DVD. A Pulitzer Prize for Fiction probably won’t be enough encouragement for anything more than a limited run of Ewan McGregor’s recent adaptation of American Pastoral.
New to DVD/Blu-ray this week, Indignation is based on Roth’s 29th novel of the same title. It is set in 1951, a period in American history when a student deferment could mean the difference between staying alive and being killed in the Korean War. Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), the son of a kosher butcher and not atypical Jewish mother, is about to make the jump from Newark to Ohio’s Winesburg College – yes, named after the novel — which is far enough from New Jersey to keep his overprotective parents from moving into the dorm with him. Instead, he’ll be rooming with the only two Jewish underclassmen who’ve decided not to join the fraternity where most Jewish students congregate. Marcus is a conscientious student and confirmed atheist who bristles at the mandated chapel services and overall conservativism of the WASP-y administrators, who spy on the students and make snap judgments based on race and religion, not that there are any black students. (After graduating from high school in Newark, Roth attended college at Bucknell, in central Pennsylvania.) Marcus is thrown for a loop, when on his first date with an alluring shiksa goddess, Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), he unexpectedly receives his first blow job. He doesn’t know quite how to handle the gesture or Olivia’s blasé attitude to an act some young men consider to be a hard-earned stepping stone to adulthood. (“This will come as a great shock to young people,” Roth has quipped, “but, in 1951, you could make it through college unscathed by oral sex.”) When Marcus makes the mistake of taking his roommates’ sexist comments to heart, it sets off a series of events that is the opposite of comedy. Also very good here are Tracy Letts, as the uptight Dean Caudwell, and Linda Emond, as Marcus’ unconsciously toxic mother. Featurettes include “Timeless: Connecting the Past to the Present” and “Perceptions: Bringing Philip Roth to the Screen.”
Private Property: Blu-ray
How can a movie just disappear … not just from view, but everywhere? That’s the story behind Private Property, a deliciously pulpy crime drama that was released in 1960 and vanished very soon thereafter, thanks, in large part, to the condemnation of the Legion of Decency and lack of a Production Code seal. Television specialist Leslie Stevens’ directorial debut – he had adapted Gore Vidal’s play, “The Left Handed Gun,” for Arthur Penn and Paul Newman – could hardly be confused with …And God Created Woman or Baby Doll. It describes the actions of a matched pair of a vagabond criminals, when tested by nearly irresistible temptation, in a way that’s explicit, without being lurid, and cruel, without being gratuitous. Even as crime fiction, Private Property leans closer to the paperback prose of Jim Thompson’s “After Dark, My Sweet” and “The Killer Inside Me” than Raymond Chandler’s intricately plotted storytelling in “The Big Sleep” or James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity.” Fact is, if Thompson had been asked to adapt “Of Mice and Men” and set it in southern California, it would look a lot like Private Property. Two drifters, Duke and Boots (Corey Allen, Warren Oates), wander off the beach somewhere near Malibu – far less crowded and expensive than it is today – to a gas station, where the owner senses they’re trouble. It’s there that the boyos first lay eyes on the bleach-blond bombshell, Ann Carlyle (Kate Manx), and hit up a traveling salesman for ride into town, following her all the way to in her swank Beverly Hills home.
It isn’t difficult to see how Boots is Steinbeck’s Lennie Small to Duke’s George Milton. As the alpha male, Boots desperately hopes to ingratiate himself into the arms of Ann, pretending to be a gardener in need of a few bucks. She’s nice enough to set him up with a little work and the kind of increasingly personal conversation that he hopes will lead to something intimate. Ann loves her salesman husband, but he pays more attention to his job than his lovely wife, even in bed. The intruders hole up in the unoccupied home next-door, which provides a grandstand view of her swimming pool. Duke has promised Boots that the next desperate woman they find will be his, but he’ll have to be patient. A lummox and likely sexual deviant, Boots is played to a T by Warren Oates, who, in 1960, was on the brink of becoming one of the leading character actors of his generation. Watching him, you can almost see the molten lava rising to the surface of his twisted psyche. In Allen’s hands, Duke is all sublimated rage and Playboy-sanctioned lust. Stevens, a protégé of Orson Welles, was married to Manx at the time and the film was shot in and around their home. Shooting was completed in around a week’s time, for just under $60,000. Private Property has been given a fresh 4K restoration from previously lost film elements rediscovered and preserved by UCLA Film and Television Archive. It adds a new video interview with still photographer and technical consultant Alex Singer and essay by Don Malcolm.
Morris From America: Blu-ray
Here’s a movie I didn’t see coming. Writer-director Chad Hartigan surprised me before, with the minimalist drama, This Is Martin Bonner, about two very different adult men desperate to make a mid-life correction before it’s too late. It didn’t get much attention outside the festival circuit, but, then, what does these days? In Morris From America, Hartigan manages to avoid all the ways in which a movie about a precocious 13-year-old African-American boy and wannabe gangsta rapper (YouTube star Markees Christmas) can go wrong, especially if the filmmaker is white and the story is set in Germany. Morris’ father, Curtis (Craig Robinson), has taken a job as a soccer coach in Heidelberg, where his son’s classmates expect him to play basketball (he doesn’t) and kowtow to their not-so-understated racism. Curtis is as hip a dad as any motherless child could want, but his job interferes with his ability to monitor Morris’ journey through puberty. Sensing the boy’s vulnerability, the slightly older Katrin (Lina Keller) adopts him as a younger brother, protective one minute and cruel the next. He also gets advice from his German-language tutor, played by Carla Juri (so good in Wetlands), who also has trouble deciding what insights about the boy she should share with Curtis and what are best left unmentioned. Every minute the movie goes on, Morris feels less and less like a fish out of water. Katrin encourages her older boyfriend, a deejay, to put the boy on stage with him for an improvised number, while also introducing him to some of the same bad habits he might have gotten into if they’d stayed in New York. It’s where Morris From America approaches the coming-of-age crossroads, but pulls back before the protagonist finds himself at childhood’s end. Robinson is terrific as Curtis, who, at first, wants to be his son’s best friend and confidante, but also learns a thing or two about parenting as the movie reaches its satisfying conclusion. Aside from raunchy R-rated hip-hop poetics and underage partying, Morris From America probably could have found an enthusiastic audience among kids in their mid-teens. I wonder if anyone tried very hard to find it. The package adds commentary, a deleted scene, audition footage, bloopers and a backgrounder.
Band of Robbers
Like Jeff Nichols’ Indie Spirit-winning adventure, Mud, Adam and Aaron Nee’s ambitious crime-caper, Band of Robbers, borrows freely from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” It even goes so far as to name its principle characters after those invented by Twain, albeit1,500 miles from the Mississippi River, in the American Southwest of today. Kyle Gallner and Adam Nee, play adult versions of childhood friends, Huck and Tom. Huck’s just been released from prison and would prefer going straight to joining Tom and some of their doofus buddies in a heist so improbable that it could have only been inspired by an author whose imagination knew no limits. While Huck was cooling his heels in stir, Tom was very slowly climbing the latter in his local police department. His real dream, though, is to reunite the gang and finally uncover the path that leads to a treasure in gold. Just as they’re about to hit the safe in a pawn shop, Tom is assigned a pretty young partner, Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist), who’s destined to gum up the works. The Nees have also found a spot for Injun Joe (Stephen Lang) in the narrative, building some clever gags about his Native American roots, such as they are. As promising as the conceit is, however, Band of Robbers could have benefitted from a larger production budget and a bit more time to think things through. Still I wouldn’t deny it an “A” for effort.
The Hospital 2
A horror-movie distributor knows it’s struck gold when a supermarket chain bans the film from its stores or, even better, a relatively obscure country bans it out of hand. That’s precisely what happened to the sleazy torture-porn vehicle, The Hospital, in the UK and Bulgaria, respectively. Three years later, the sequel has arrived to test the ethical stance of purveyors of DVDs that wear their exploitative hearts on their sleeves for the world to see. The Hospital 2 only makes passing reference to the abandoned facility whose haunting had less to do with the pissed-off ghosts of former patients than the obese psycho-killer-in-residence, Stanley Creech, who prompted the spirits’ anger. Here, the action moves to a shelter, run by some truly sick individuals who torture the abused women and stream the sessions around the world on the Internet. It’s almost as if co-writer/directors Jim O’Rear and Daniel Emery Taylor made a quick study of the earlier film’s fans and declared, “If it’s sadism, fake blood, sexual perversity and overweight actors they want, let’s give it to them, again.” There is one actor, Betsy Rue, who is in tip-top shape, but, she, too, spends a great deal of time running around the house is blood-covered underwear. To borrow a tired phrase that could be used to describe most low-budget atrocities, “It is what it is.” The DVD adds interviews, bloopers, a video diary and featurette on the historic house – haunted, too – in which The Hospital 2 was filmed.
The Almost Man
Of all the god-forsaken places one could find themselves in the decade before the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Bulgaria was right up there with Albania and East Germany as places where the sunshine of freedom went to die. Judging from the characters we meet in Maya Vitkova’s emotionally wrenching debut feature, Viktoria, Bulgaria hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs since then, either. The film is divided into three distinct segments, with one of three related women put on center stage in each part. In a nearly affectless performance, Irmena Chichikova plays a young woman, Boryana, whose dream of escaping the oppressive country and traveling to Venice is thwarted by news of her pregnancy. Boryana tries every conceivable way to force a miscarriage, but her bureaucrat husband, Ivan (Dimo Dimov), wants the baby to arrive on Mother Nature’s timetable and keeps a close eye on her. In a conceit that some viewers might consider to be overripe with symbolism, baby Viktoria arrives without a belly button or umbilical cord. Communist Party functionaries latch on to the event with far more enthusiasm and wonder than poor Boryana, who sees the government declaration of Viktoria being the Baby of the Decade as just one more lock on the door of her prison. Fortunately for the baby, Ivan and Boryana’s chronically dour mother, Dima (Mariana Krumova), happily take advantage of the government’s gifts of a new apartment and better jobs within the Communist Party. Flash-forward nine years and Boryana’s more alienated from her family than ever. Viktoria (Daria Vitkova), on the other hand, has formed a weirdly paternal relationship with the party chief, who soon could be out of a job. Since she isn’t tethered to the old system, symbolically or otherwise, the girl wrings the miracle-child game for all it’s worth. Another flash-forward brings Viktoria (Kalina Vitkova) closer to the age of her mother when she became pregnant. The fact that Viktoria’s beloved grandmother is likely to die soon raises the rare maternal spark in Boryana, who no longer can keep her daughter from exploring horizons of her own … or provide any realistic excuse for not realizing her own dream. Like so many other movies from Eastern European filmmakers, Vitkova isn’t reluctant to throw in the kind of fantastical touches that will keep westerners, at least, guessing as to their deeper meaning. As the picture nears the 155-minute mark, Viktoria’s audience may be looking for something other than symbolism – milk, blood and distant lights, among them – to get them closer to the finish line. Still, an auspicious debut from a promising new filmmaker.
Also from Big World Pictures comes The Almost Man, a Norwegian dramedy that feels very much like the kind of American picture in which you might find Adam Sandler, Vince Vaughn or Jason Segel in the protagonist’s role. The title character is a rapidly aging man-boy, Henrik (Henrik Rafaelsen), who knows that he’ll have to grow up someday, but keeps on delaying the inevitable. His redheaded girlfriend, Mia, is pregnant with a baby who will be more mature at birth than her daddy is at 35. Henrik and Mia’s relationship appears to be based on acting like horny teenagers whenever the mood strikes, which, recently, has been less and less often. She’s grown tired of sharing his affections with his similarly dopey pals, whose idea of a good time is snapping towels at each other’s penises in the shower room. Finally feeling the paternal urge, Henrik takes a new job and moves into a prefab duplex with Mia. Even at a brisk 75 minutes, writer/director Martin Lund keeps us guessing as to whether Henrik’s experiment will work.
Saving Mes Aynak
Timothy Leary’s Dead
One Nation Under Trump
As if there isn’t enough bad news coming out of Afghanistan, along comes Brent E. Huffman’s eye-opening documentary, Saving Mes Aynak, another sad tale of exploitation versus preservation. Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori is in a race against time to save a 5,000-year-old archaeological site from imminent demolition by Chinese mining interests. The last time such a cultural catastrophe occurred in the region, the Taliban regime destroyed the majestic Buddhas of Bamiyan in an act of religious fanaticism. This time, however, the atrocity is being financed by state-owned China Metallurgical Group, which bought mineral rights for the equivalent of a paltry $3 billion. It is believed that $100 billion worth of copper is sitting under Mes Aynak, a Bronze Age community that was a stop on the Silk Road before it became an outpost for early Buddhist thought and culture. There’s no way that Temori and an international team of archaeologists will be able to salvage even a quarter of the ruins and artifacts before they’re rendered into dust by giant earth-moving machines. Nothing they uncover that is not portable will be preserved. It’s assumed that current and future Afghan leaders have already been sufficiently bribed and the U.S. isn’t about to intercede in another losing cause there. Saving Mes Aynak, a co-production of Kartemquin Films and German Camera Productions, is being used in an information campaign timed to coincide with the release on DVD – through Icarus Films here — and free public screenings in Afghanistan. The mine also is likely to produce an environmental disaster and become an easy target for Taliban terrorists who reside in the eastern mountains. During the production, the team was protected by 200 armed guards. That number has been reduced as the government has turned the screws on the mission. The DVD adds more interviews, deleted scenes and featurettes on the digs and the early discoveries.
Twenty years after his death, Timothy Leary remains one of the most interesting and influential figures of his time. That, he also was one of the century’s most self-indulgent and self-promoting goofballs – unable to stay out of the spotlight for more than a few days – worked against his earlier scholarship and investigations into the role psychedelic drugs could play in curing some of society’s more troublesome ills. The title of Paul Davids’ wide ranging documentary, Timothy Leary’s Dead, is, of course, taken from the Moody Blues’ song, “Legend of a Mind.” In between the release of that song and his actual death, attributed to prostate cancer, in 1996, Leary became the object of nearly constant surveillance and harassment by various police agencies. In a very real sense, he also became the poster boy for the non-clinical abuse of LSD as a recreational drug, something he argued against since the mid-1960s. If there was a more delusional group of radicals than Leary and his celebrity entourage, it was the Weather Underground. The domestic terrorists convinced themselves that breaking him out of prison would convince dopers and other flower children that blowing up buildings might be as much fun as attending a Grateful Dead concert. Once he found refuge in Algeria with the Black Panther Party-in-exile, however, it became abundantly clear that acid and revolution didn’t mix very well. Everything in Timothy Leary’s Dead leads to the death-bed scene. Leary had come to grips with his death sentence by suggesting that he would merely be traveling to the next frontier. He asked that his final moments be made available over the Internet and his brain waves be monitored, for as long as possible. Towards the end, he also became obsessed with cryogenics. While he asked that his body be cremated, friends pitched in to have his ashes jettisoned into space, along with the those of Gene Roddenberry and a couple dozen other final frontiersmen. I don’t normally hand out Spoiler Alerts, but, in this case, it should be noted that Davids borrows a notion, possibly from Re-Animator, that Leary demanded that his head be removed immediately after death and saved in a box filled with ice. It’s plenty creepy, especially considering that it’s possible to imagine the face springing to life with a final, “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!” The DVD adds commentary and indecipherable charts.
Given the outcome of the presidential election, it’s entirely possible that you’ll see a DVD titled One Nation Under Trump on a VOD menu. For some reason, this clip job’s street date was Tuesday, November 8, Election Day. Maybe someone thought Jim Gufferson and BC Furtney’s so-called documentary might have undue influence on the American electorate. In fact, there’s nothing revealed in the film that you haven’t already seen at one point or a thousand over the last two years on the campaign trail.
For his debut feature, Adam Garnet Jones, a Canadian of Cree and Métis ancestry, has elected to take on issues that would test the limits of filmmakers with far more experience. If being gay weren’t still an issue in tight-knit First Nation communities, Fire Song could have been marketed as a drama about the difficulties of a rural youth leaving home and getting a leg up on adulthood in a place where the challenges don’t involve overcoming a sibling’s suicide, getting his distraught mother’s life back in order, breaking a cycle of alcohol and poverty, and avoiding the bad decisions of his peers. The film’s protagonist, Shane (Andrew Martin), is an Anishinaabe teenager in northern Ontario, who wants to keep his girlfriend (Mary Galloway) happy without having to commit to having sex with her. That’s something he’s reserved for his boyfriend, David (Harley Legarde-Beacham), the semi-closeted grandson of a tribal leader. His mother’s family wants to take the money he’s set aside for college and use it to fix a leaky roof, something his uncle is too lazy to do on his own. There’s more, but why pile on? It says a lot about Jones’ innate filmmaking skills that the story moves as fluidly as it does and doesn’t get bogged down in the most difficult throughlines. Indeed, the boys’ gay dilemma almost comes off as a red herring, at times. Fire Song benefits greatly from being shot in the alternately gorgeous and gritty Anishinaabe community, which sits on the banks of a large lake and marshes with plenty of places for “two spirit” (masculine/feminine) lovers to get lost. The cast is comprised exclusively of First Nations actors and, I suspect, the crew was similarly populated. When paired alongside Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s docu-drama, The Seventh Fire, set on a poverty-stricken Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota, you might be excused for thinking that Native American filmmakers finally are laying claim to their own stories.
Henry Alberto’s debut feature, Hara Kiri, is another film that straddles the categories typically reserved for LGBT and indie audiences. SoCal skate punks August (Jesse Pimentel) and Beto (Mojean Aria) are united by a distinct lack of direction in life and willingness to push the envelope on anti-social behavior. They fit right into the Venice Beach scene, but, apart from a missing gear or two between their ears, have brains that someday could be used for something other than mischief. It’s possible that they’re lovers, too, but we’re given reasons to believe they aren’t exclusive to any single gender. After giving the subject some thought, they’ve decided to kill themselves in a suicide pact. We’re invited to go along for the ride, which takes them from the morning of their penultimate day on Earth to the next sunrise, which they’ve set aside for the final act. That, of course, presupposes that they’ll be able to pull it off, alone or together. In Alberto’s debut picture, the climax is always in doubt. The DVD adds alternate and deleted scenes, audition clips and a Q&A with Alberto and Pimentel.
The Initiation: Special Edition: Blu-ray
The natural audience for Arrow Films’ resurrection of the underwhelming 1984 slasher flick, The Initiation – besides Daphne Zuniga fetishists – is the one dedicated to collecting every coeds-in-jeopardy and sorority-bloodbath title extant. The nudity has already been accorded Mr. Skin Hall of Fame Nudity status, which, based on the new Blu-ray release, makes it time for an update. Zuniga plays a college freshman, who, as a girl, witnessed “the beast with two backs” gyrating on her mom’s bed and decided to stab the one didn’t belong to her dad. Flash-forward a dozen years, or so, and Kelly is about to be initiated into a sorority known for kinky swearing-in rituals. Coincidentally, we learn, a riot has broken out at a mental hospital near the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex. Not surprisingly, one or more of the patients will find their way to the post-initiation party being held in her family’s multi-story department store, whose doors are locked from the outside by a devious sorority sister. Chaos ensues. If you’re guessing that Zuniga will wind up being the “final girl,” you’d only be half right. The Initiation has been given an excellent hi-def restoration from original film elements, as well as new audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues; fresh interviews with actor Christopher Bradley and Joy Jones; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn; and a collector’s booklet, featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver.
The first thing some folks are likely to notice on the cover of the end-of-an-era Western, Boonville Redemption, is the almost bizarre juxtaposition of two of the names over the title. They belong to Christian conservative and Gospel Hall of Fame member, Pat Boone, and the outspoken liberal political activist and former president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ed Asner. The last time these two octogenarians agreed on anything more controversial than the time of day, it probably had to do with … well, it’s hard to imagine them seeing eye to eye on anything. Eighty-year-old Diane Ladd, who’s been honored for her work in such disparate entertainments as Wild at Heart, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, “Touched by an Angel” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” fits easily between her polarly opposed co-stars. I’m not sure how much time Boone and Asner shared on the straight-to-DVD/VOD film’s Western-town set at the Paramount Ranch, in Agoura. One plays a country doctor who dispenses bromides, as well as pills, while the other is a grumpy judge, riding a circuit in northern California, in 1906. You can probably guess which one plays which. In fact, though, the faith-based Boonville Redemption has something in it to appeal to most viewers, even liberals. (The Dove Foundation reviewers recommend it ti audiences 12 and above.)
At the center of the drama is 13-year-old Melinda (is Emily Hoffman), a hard-luck kid who was born out of wedlock and is scorned by the old farts in town for her non-WASPy features. She’s especially despised by her step-father, Mason (Richard Tyson), who’s managed to intimidate all the other men in town with his willingness to engage in violence and exploit the political clout of his father. He also boasts of forcing Boonville’s younger women to engage in sex with him. Melinda’s mother, Alice (Shari Rigby), appears to have married the bully to escape the stain attributed to her lover, who disappeared years earlier. No one dares tell Malinda what “really happened” to her father and, so, she’s left to investigate the circumstances on her own, or in the company of her only friend, an orphan boy nicknamed “Shakespeare,” for reasons that will become evident. It isn’t until they embrace prayer that the truth slowly begins to emerge. Even then, however, it seems almost as common a recommendation as someone suggesting aspirin for a headache. As isn’t the case in most faith-based movies, the “Redemption” in the title reveals itself in a largely organic and satisfying manner. Director Don Schroeder (“No Greater Love”) and freshman writer Judy Belshe-Toernblom deserve credit for dealing with issues not typically addressed in faith-based movies in such straight-forward ways.
Snowtime!: Blu-ray 3D
Here are a pair of holiday-themed movies for kids, whose animation is more sophisticated than that usually reserved for such seasonal fare and whose stories can be enjoyed by cross-generational audiences. From Quebec comes Snowtime!, a remake of La Guerre des Tuques (“The Dog Who Stopped the War”), a live-action French-Canadian kids’ pic that topped Canada’s box office in 1984. During Christmas holidays, the children of a small village split themselves into two groups, build a huge snow fort and begin preparing for a week-long snowball war. The youthful rivalry reveals lingering tensions among some group members, while also helping members see each other differently than they had before. This is particularly true for the leaders of the two groups, Luc (voiced by Angela Galuppo) and Sophie (Lucinda Davis), who find themselves torn between admiring each other from a distance, yet leading their own group to victory. Snowtime!’s allegorical isn’t deeply buried under a snowbank: peace is tough and tedious; war is the easy solution. Other voices are supplied by Sandra Oh and Disney Channel star Ross Lynch. The song, “L’hymme,” is performed by Céline Dion and Fred Pellerin. The film is available in DVD, Blu-ray 2D and 3D.
“Stick Man” is adapted from British author Julia Donaldson and artist Axel Scheffler’s children’s book of the same title. In it, an anthropomorphic twig becomes separated from his family in spring and is required to embark on an Odyssean adventure to return home in time for Christmas. If he is to be reunited with his family, Stick Man will require the assistance of all sorts of interesting characters, including Father Christmas. The 27-minute animated film was directed by Jeroen Jaspaert and Daniel Snaddon, and produced by the team responsible for the Oscar-nominated shorts, The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. It features the voice talents of Martin Freeman, Jennifer Saunders and Rob Brydon.
Nurse Diary: Beast Afternoon
42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection Vol. 18
It’s been a good while since Synapse released its last entry in the Nikkatsu Roman Porno series, which, besides kinky soft-core porn, is distinguished by titles that defy easy description or comprehension. The new DVD entry, Nurse Diary: Beast Afternoon, arrives in the wake of news that the venerable Japanese studio has re-booted the series and is sending out five new films, to be shown in theaters and cable TV before being introduced into DVD. They will be made according to the traditional Nikkatsu recipe, which may have been dictated by Roger Corman: low budgets, seven-day shooting schedules and a sex scene every 10 minutes – but it’s too early to say whether the formidable pubic-hair ban of yore will be honored … not that contemporary actresses have any left after bush trimming. Between 1971 and 1988, Nikkatsu released 1,133 films in the genre, some launching the careers of mainstream directors and stars. Yojiro Takita, who won a best foreign-language Oscar in 2009 for Departures, directed several Roman Porno and Shintoho-pink productions in the 1980s, including Molester’s School Infirmary and Groper Train: Wedding Capriccio. Released two years after his 1980 debut with Zoom In: Rape Apartments, Naosuke Kurosawa’s Nurse Diary: Beast Afternoon is interesting primarily for demonstrating an active imagination at work within the strict confines of the Roman Porno formula.
Here, a doctor develops a new scientific breakthrough in female psychotherapy with the discovery of the “Dream Ring,” a device that is inserted into a woman to record her thoughts and dreams. One night, the doctor and his assistant end up dead, hanging by ropes from the rafters of their lab. Later, a woman suffering from “genophobia” (the fear of sexual intercourse) is admitted to the Tachibana Clinic for observation. Another group of doctors, led by the horny lesbian researcher, Ayako (Maiko Kazama), have the “Dream Ring” device implanted inside Reiko (Jun Miho). The ring of a jingle bell triggers wildly erotic and violent dreams and nightmares. The clinic doctors have more sinister reasons to test this device on Reiko, however. A stranger, dressed all in black, follows her around, as well. It lends the film an air of science-fiction and early J-horror. The DVD arrives with notes by Jasper Sharp.
Ironically, the same technology that caused the demise of soft-core Nikkatsu products also pushed hard-core peep shows to the wayside here. In Japan, VCRs and cassettes opened the floodgates to harder material, while, in the U.S., the same hardware allowed consumers to enjoy erotica at home. Impulse Pictures doesn’t waste much time releasing new entries in its “42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection” series, which has just reached “Volume 18.” This collection of 8mm loops features 15 “classic” shorts, with non-ambiguous titles like “Partners,” “Dutch Treat,” “Silky Tongues” and “Twice is Nice.” Among the adult film stars represented in No. 18 are Linda Lovelace, Seka and Linda Shaw. Liner notes are provided by “porn archaeologist,” Dimitrios Otis.
AMC: Into the Badlands: Season 1: Blu-ray
PBS: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
PBS: BBQ With Franklin
Apparently, AMC’s loyal viewers were looking for some martial-arts action to fill the gap left when the dead stop walking and its other hit mini-series are on hiatus. After a six-episode inaugural run on the cable network, Into the Badlands has been renewed for a second 10-episode season, set for 2017. Loosely based on the Chinese tale Journey to the West, it describes the journey of a warrior, Sunny (Daniel Wu), and a boy, M.K. (Aramis Knight), who must overcome several obstacles each week on their way to enlightenment. Sometime in the distant future, civilization as we know it has ceased to exist. Billions perished in wars and nations collapsed before a feudal society emerged, where the strongest rose to wealth and power. This area is known as the Badlands. It is uneasily divided among seven rival Barons, who control the resources necessary to sustain daily life, including opium poppies. Each Baron has armies of trained assassins, known as Clippers, at their disposal … literally. And, to make things even more fun for martial-arts junkies, guns have been banished. For once, women and minority actors have been accorded key roles, even those requiring combat. Veteran bad-asses Stephen Lang and Lance Henriksen are prominent in Season One, as well. Being on basic cable, nudity and profanity are taboo. The set adds featurettes on various aspects of the show’s mythology and action sequences, and a digital comic.
Unbeknownst to me, L.M. Montgomery’s 1908 children’s classic “Anne of Green Gables,” and subsequent books featuring the adventures of Anne Shirley, have been adapted for movies, radio, television, the stage and Internet dozens of times in the last 100 years. Fans of the series flock to Canada’s Prince Edward Island, where the Green Gables farmhouse is located, in Cavendish, and Bala’s Museum, in Ontario. Canada Post has issued two separate sets of stamps commemorating Montgomery’s work. The latest typically charming iteration stars Ella Ballentine, as Anne, and Sara Botsford, and Martin Sheen as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. The late-middle-aged brother and sister live on a farm they have named Green Gables. They are expecting an orphan boy to help with the chores, but, when Anne arrives, they have to reassess their plans. Meanwhile, the little red-haired girl with the irrepressible personality and temper makes an impact on everyone she meets.
Who doesn’t love a great meal of barbecued meat? OK, there are some vegetarians who haven’t jumped on the chuck wagon, but anyone with a predilection for cooking it themselves will want to join pit master and James Beard Award-winner Aaron Franklin for the mouth-watering PBS series, “BBQ With Franklin.” In it, he visits BBQ joints large and small, each with their own secret formula for perfection. The great thing about BBQ is seeing how many different ways it can be prepared and the fierce regional loyalty they inspire. The 10 episodes include “Brisket,” “Sausage.” “Whole Hog,” “The Pits,” “Fire & Smoke,” “Poultry & Sauce,” “Direct Heat & Mesquite,” “Competition,” “Pickin’ Beef” and “Leftovers.”