By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: Deepwater Horizon, My King, Hickey, Fritz Bauer, Murderlust, Brad Paisley, Since MLK, Broad City … More
Deepwater Horizon: Blu-ray/4K Ultra HD/DVD
Typically, I don’t enjoy reliving disasters on film, whether they’re of the natural variety or manmade. By the time a movie gets released, we’ve absorbed enough actual reporting on the event to make most dramatizations superfluous, if not downright exploitative. Judging from largely unimpressive box-office numbers for recent movies based on such tragedies, I’m pretty sure that the public has grown weary of the instant-replay approach, as well. The producers of Deepwater Horizon had their work cut out for them, because the manmade catastrophe played out in three distinct stages, all extremely well-covered in visual and print media: 1) the explosion and inferno that leveled the oil rig and left 11 workers dead; 2) the ecological and economic calamity caused by the 87-day leak; and 3) the legal wrangling that began even before the spill was capped. The producers decided to focus directly on the series of events that led to and immediately followed the blowout, as well as the courage and fates of the oil workers. Because we’re already aware of the huge financial penalties and settlements agreed to by BP, Transocean and other corporate entities, director Peter Berg and screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand were able to build toward the dramatic struggle to escape the disaster by, first, making sure we’re able to distinguish the heroes from the villains, when the shit hits the fan. Instead of relying on courtroom testimony and source reporting from the New York Times, as credited, the filmmakers elected to frame the day’s events around Mark Wahlberg’s character, chief electronic technician Michael “Mike” Williams. Hours before he steps onto the doomed off-shore platform, 41 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana, the amiable engineer has already demonstrated his dedication to his family and job, along with a willingness to help a fellow employee (Gina Rodriguez) figure out what’s wrong with her vintage Mustang. The guessing game will be recalled throughout the length of the movie, even as their ability to escape the inextinguishable blaze is most gravely tested. (Wahlberg and Berg previously collaborated on Lone Survivor.)
A brief exchange with a worker departing the platform by helicopter raises the first red flag for Williams. He’s told that a key test to ascertain whether the semi-submersible rig would be able to begin extracting oil from a depth of 5,000 feet below sea level, on schedule, had been bypassed on the orders of company supervisors. His concern is shared by Transocean rig supervisor James “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell), who’s portrayed as having forgotten more about drilling than anyone on board the Deepwater Horizon would ever know. That includes BP managers Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza (John Malkovich, Brad Leland), and Transocean’s Captain Curt Kutcha (Dave Maldonado), who, as the first indications of trouble begin bubbling up far below them, was escorting company executives to the control room. Williams is conversing with his wife (Kate Hudson), via Skype, when the first explosion shut down communications. Harrell, who’s just reluctantly OK’d some crucial test results, is taking shower when the blast occurred. For the next hour, or so, it won’t matter who’s at fault for the disaster, because all that counts is reaching the lifeboats. The explosions and fires are re-created with such verisimilitude that at-home viewers will almost be able to feel the heat radiating from their television screens. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack and audio effects complement the visual presentation. While the rancorous legal battles that followed the disaster are merely alluded to in Deepwater Horizon’s opening and closing segments, it’s fair to say that the audience’s mind will already be predisposed to despise the cost-conscious oil companies, whose on-board representatives escaped the jail time we’re sure they deserve. The corresponding ecological disaster is represented in a frantic cameo by an oil-drenched pelican that manages to fly into a control booth and scare the crap out of the computer team … us, too. Even so, the massive oil spill and its residual damage to beaches, sea life and local businesses remains fresh in our minds and would take a completely different movie to dramatize. The Blu-ray/4K Ultra HD/DVD adds the 51-minute featurette “Beyond the Horizon”; 27-minute, “The Fury of the Rig”; 18-minute “Deepwater Surveillance”; and Berg’s shout-out to oil and construction workers, “Work Like an American.”
In relationship dramas, screenwriters frequently allow viewers to detect fissures in a marriage long before their characters acknowledge that something has gone horribly wrong and divorce may be the only solution. The clues don’t necessarily have to be as blatant as infidelity or a growing lack of interest in intimate relations. Sometimes, it’s as subtle as a look of skepticism or alarm captured on the face of a supporting character, when a sour note is struck in a dinner conversation or stroll in the park. Typically, viewers are instinctually drawn to pull for the doomed marriage to succeed — the couple is played by actors we gladly paid to see, after all — right up to the moment when the rug is pulled out from under them. A good story demands we take sides or hope against all hope for reconciliation. French filmmakers don’t always make it easy for viewers to come to easy conclusions. Maïwenn Le Besco, who simply goes by her first name when directing, convolutes the disintegration process even further in My King by mixing flashbacks and flash-forwards as a narrative conceit. We’re first introduced to Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) on a ski run, moments before she suffers an injury that will require surgery and months of rehabilitation. What we don’t know is whether the fall was accidental or a cry for help. Soon enough, Maïwenn turns back the clock to the time when Tony makes a play for the narcissistic Georgio (Vincent Cassel), a restaurateur with a taste for models and cocaine. She’s coming off a bad first marriage and he’s game for a woman with something more to offer than a mirror to his own neuroses.
Georgio’s impetuous behavior is balanced in Tony’s mind by his passion for her. Their wedding may be a barrel of laughs, but her brother, Solal (Louis Garrel), and sister-in-law, Babeth (Isild Le Besco), can’t disguise their suspicions. Maïwenn keeps us off-balance by then flashing ahead to the rehabilitation hospital, situated on a beautiful lake, where she endures the daily ritual of intense physical therapy and trying to overcome a tendency to feel sorry for herself. The flashbacks return to critical points in the marriage – including the first discovery of infidelity and birth of their son, Simbad – where one, or both, of them could have acknowledged what we’ve known for more than an hour and bailed out of it. As one character shrewdly points out, “You leave people for the same reason that attracted you in the first place.” Georgio can be a real dick, but we like Cassel too much to want to see an early exit. Tony’s descent into depression and addiction to pharmaceuticals is difficult to watch, but the flash-forwards suggest she’ll turn out OK. Maybe not, though, if she continues to succumb to Georgio’s charms. There are times when Maïwenn (Polisse) appears to be channeling John Cassevetes, and other confrontational artists, and the French concept of amour fou begins to wears you down. By the end of My King, however, we know Tony and Georgio as well as we’ve known any movie couple. The actors are that good. The challenge is to stick with them long enough to forge a relationship of our own with these occasionally very disagreeable people. The package adds an outtakes/blooper reel; deleted scenes; and a short film, directed by Maïwenn, “I’m an actrice.”
The People vs. Fritz Bauer: Blu-ray
Almost a half-century after his death, German judge and prosecutor Fritz Bauer has become something of a celebrity. Lars Kraume’s The People vs. Fritz Bauer is the third dramatized account in three years of how the Stuttgart-born Jew fought the East and West German judicial bureaucracies – at the time, largely populated with former Nazis — to bring war criminals to justice and make the citizenry aware of the scope of the Shoah. His work has also been chronicled in recent documentaries. Why now? Beyond the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, which Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) helped initiate, it probably has something to do with the now common knowledge that the he risked prosecution, himself, for being homosexual. Although he was arrested in 1933, as a member of the anti-Nazi Social Democratic Party, and sent to Heuberg concentration camp, his stay there could have been much longer if it were known that he was gay. Two years later, after Bauer was released, he emigrated to Denmark and then, in 1943, moved to Sweden after the former was occupied by German troops. Bauer returned to Germany in 1949, as the postwar Federal Republic was being established, and once more entered civil service in the justice system. When, in the mid-1950s, he became District Attorney of Hessen, his efforts to prosecute former SS officials and camp guards intensified. It put him in direct conflict with some of the same government officials in a position to protect such individuals, including Adolf Eichmann. In The People vs. Fritz Bauer, we’re shown how his staff’s inability – or unwillingness – to locate known war criminals – weighed on him. He knew that government officials had evidence of his dalliances with young men, while on vacation in Denmark, and were willing to use it to discredit him if he put too much pressure on them. They also hoped he would admit to attempting suicide, when he was found unconscious in his bathtub by his chauffeur. “I have a pistol,” Bauer argues. “If I want to kill myself, there won’t be any rumors.”
It was about this time when he received a letter from a German man, living in Argentina, informing him that his daughter was dating Eichmann’s son. Capturing one of the architects of the Final Solution was Bauer’s goal, but he was afraid that his superiors in German intelligence, Interpol or the CIA would alert Eichmann ahead of any attempt to capture him, causing him to disappear, again. He also knew that Eichmann, if put on trial, would be able to blackmail ex-Nazis in positions of power in Konrad Adenauer’s government, thus jeopardizing judicial prosecution. Bauer decided to risk arrest on charges of treason by dealing directly with Israel’s Mossad, which demanded secondary evidence of Eichmann’s location before acting. (His contributions to the capture of Eichmann were kept under wraps for many years after his death, in 1968.) As exciting as the race for justice is, Kraume damages his story by inventing a composite character, Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld), in whom Bauer confides information on the Eichmann letter. The younger, married attorney is emerging from his own personal closet at a most inopportune time, ignoring sound advice from his mentor. (Apparently, wearing the same unusually patterned socks was an indicator of one’s homosexuality.) Because everything else in the movie is fact-based, it’s difficult not to fall for the dramatic conceit involving Angermann. Its clumsiness detracts from the rest of the story. If Bauer’s story is of interest to you, I suggest that you also check out Giulio Ricciarelli’s 2014 drama, Labyrinth of Lies, and the 2000 documentary Paragraph 175, in which historian Klaus Müller interviews survivors of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.
University of Michigan graduate Alex Grossman’s theatrical follow-up to the video short, “Urban Meyer Spoof” is the coming-of-age comedy, Hickey. In it, a college-bound senior must choose between attending MIT, where he could dream of someday winning a Nobel Prize, or a southern California university closer to the co-worker he dreams of someday dating. Some teenagers would kill to be accepted by U.S.C. or U.C.L.A. – pretty good fallback schools — but not our boy, Ryan (Troy Doherty). It’s the kind of knotty dilemma typically associated with hopeless romantics who take their cues from movies like The Graduate and Say Anything … Ryan also is convinced that his mother (Janie Haddad Tompkins) wouldn’t survive a week without having him around to pamper. Carly Alvarez (Flavia Watson), the almost impossibly cute apple of his eye, doesn’t play coy games or act remote around Ryan. It’s just that she’s an aspiring musician with her sights set on pop stardom. Carly also appears to be holding out for a shot at the company’s devious district manager, Brady Krane (Alex Ashbaugh), who’s been conspiring to close the underperforming electronics shop. Brady gives the sales team a day to turn things around, which, while impossible, is just enough time for Ryan to save the store and win Carly’s heart. As unlikely as it sounds, he lures customers from a nearby medical-marijuana dispensary to Cy’s with the promise of free pizza. A more logical plan would be to dig up the kind of muck scumbags like Brady enjoying wallowing in when no one’s looking. And, guess what happens. If Hickey sounds as if it were written for a much younger John Cusack type — circa, High Fidelity, Tapeheads or Say Anything … – you’d be on the same wavelength as everyone else who’s likely to see it. Unfortunately, Doherty hasn’t quite reached that point in his acting career and Grossman would have needed a much larger budget and a bit more experience to lure an actor in the same league as Cusack, who was 23 when we played the boombox-hoisting senior, Lloyd Dobler. Nonetheless, Hickey offers plenty of bright moments and the cast is nothing, if not enthusiastic. And, besides, any movie that finds a prominent role for Tommy “Tiny” Lister can’t be all bad.
Apart from the tantalizingly pulpy cover art, the most entertaining thing about this newly resurrected serial-killer thriller is writer/producer/composer/actor/shooter James C. Lane’s commentary track. In it, he describes just how challenging it was to make a D.I.Y. thriller in the waning days of the analog age on a chicken-scratch budget. Among other things, he admits to using an ASC handbook as a primer in amateur cinematography and applying guerrilla tactics to location scouting. And, for the most part, he succeeded beyond all expectations. The unintentionally straight-to-VHS Murderlust lists Donald Jones (Schoolgirls in Chains, The Forest) as the director, but Lane’s testimony makes it sound as if it’s his baby and nothing short of an undiscovered gem. It isn’t, but that’s not really the point. Largely unseen since its VHS release in 1987, Intervision Pictures has accorded Murderlust the kind of digital facelift usually reserved for vintage horror flicks making their debut in Blu-ray. As such, it’s safe to say that more money was invested in restoring the picture than Lane spent making it. This suggests that the collector’s market may be faring better than any other segment of the DVD marketplace.
The movie’s antagonist, Steve Belmont (Eli Rich), is employed at a SoCal race track as a security guard, but is always on the verge of being fired for being late and insubordinate. He rarely pays his rent on time and treats his landlord/cousin like a doormat. Even so, Belmont is a well-respected member of his church, where he teaches Sunday School and hopes to be put in charge of its Adolescent Crisis Center. Once a month, Belmont is driven by misogynistic urges – due, in large part, to women ridiculing his impotency – to pick up a prostitute or unsuspecting date and strangle her. Afterwards, he drives his victims into the desert and dumps them into hole. When the bodies are discovered, the press dubs Belmont, “The Mojave Murderer,” a moniker he doesn’t seem to mind. In his commentary, Lane boasts of researching the known habits and personalities of serial killers, and that part of the story rings true, at least. Blessedly, we’re largely spared the blood and gore that typically accompanies violence against women in the slasher genre. I suspect that the money Lane might have spent on special makeup effects was invested, instead, on aerial shots provided by a leased helicopter. That works pretty well, too.
By sacrificing the ugly stuff, however, Murderlust became far less valuable to distributors of drive-in and grindhouse fare. Thus, the delayed straight-to-video release. The package arrives with a second Jones/Lane collaboration, Project Nightmare, a sci-fi affair involving two men who find themselves lost in the wilderness, absent a single clue as to how they got there and why they’re being stalked by a paranormal force. Here, the relatively primitive special effects merely serve to distract us from a plot Rod Serling would have immediately rejected for “The Twilight Zone.” It also is accompanied by Lane’s commentary.
Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy
It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss Spanish documentarian Danny Garcia’s Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy as redundant, as it might reflect poorly on his previous, very good rockumentaries, The Rise and Fall of the Clash and Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders. The story of the untimely, if entirely predictable demise of former Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious and his domineering co-dependent lover, Nancy Spungen, has been told several times over the past quarter-century. They were centerpiece characters in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy; Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury; an episode of the cable series, “Final 24”; Lech Kowalski’s D.O.A.; Alan Parker’s Who Killed Nancy?; and Phil Strongman’s book, “Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk.” (In 1977, Roger Ebert wrote a screenplay for an ill-fated movie about the Sex Pistols, with Russ Meyer, Malcolm McLaren, Johnny Rotten and Vicious as co-conspirators. That, I would have gladly paid to see. The script can be found at rogerebert.com.)
Although Spungen might have purposely committed hare-kiri or accidentally fallen on Sid’s recently purchased knife, she most likely was killed by her barely conscious lover or their heroin dealer, the pear-shaped actor (Trees Lounge) and raconteur Rockets Redglare. Vicious, already charged with her murder, which occurred on October 12, 1978, died of an overdose on the night he was granted bail, four months later. The heroin, it’s been reported, was procured by his mother and longtime enabler, Anne Beverley, who may have thought she was granting his final wish by assisting in his suicide. Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy mostly benefits from being shot in and around New York’s famously seedy Chelsea Hotel, where the doomed couple lived in squalor after Vicious left the Sex Pistols. Spungen’s troubled path through life – she died at 20 — probably was etched in stone when, at 3 months, she was prescribed a liquid barbiturate by a pediatrician asked to quell her screaming fits. Her first unsuccessful suicide attempt came when she was 14 and had run away from her private high school.
By 15, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Two years later, she moved from Pennsylvania to New York City, where she worked as a stripper and prostitute, and hung out with rock musicians. Nancy met Vicious in London, where she was pursuing a different punk rocker. After he left the Pistols, she took over the reins as manager, girlfriend and junk buddy. Spungen has been compared to John Lennon’s Beatles-busting muse, Yoko Ono, it never stuck. The best thing any of the witnesses interviewed by Garcia could say was that she sometimes was funny. Among them are insiders, roadies, friends and members of other bands, such as Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls), Walter Lure (The Heatbreakers), Kenny Gordon (Pure Hell) and Cynthia Ross (The B-Girls). The movie is sufficiently sordid to be of momentary interest, but, unlike Garcia’s profile of the late rock guitarist Thunders – another drug casualty — nothing much is revealed.
Brad Paisley: Life Amplified World Tour, Live at WVU
There’s no one hotter in the world of country music than Brad Paisley. Starting with his 1999 debut album, “Who Needs Pictures,” the West Virginia native has released 10 studio albums and a Christmas compilation, all of them certified “gold” or higher by the RIAA. He has scored 32 top-10 singles on Billboard’s country-airplay chart, 19 of which have reached the top spot. Paisley’s sold over 12 million albums and won three Grammy Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, 14 Country Music Association Awards and two American Music Awards. Not for nothing, he’s also a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At the ripe old age of 44, Paisley appears to be as popular with college-age fans as those who have followed him for most of the last 16 years. That much is obvious in Brad Paisley: Life Amplified World Tour, Live at WVU, his first live-concert DVD, which was shot in front of more than 30,000 people at a West Virginia University “pep rally.”
Frankly, I’m more a fan of old-school country music and Americana than the high-octane country-rock on display here. Considering the hyper-enthusiastic reception that he received in his home state, however, I’ll concede I’m in the minority on that count. His showmanship and guitar chops are on full display on such songs as “Crushin’ It,” “American Saturday Night,” “Water,” “Online,” “Perfect Storm,” “Celebrity,” “Letter to Me,” “This Is Country Music,” “Mama Tried,” “I’m Still a Guy” (with Chris Young), “She’s Everything,” “Mountain Music” and, of course, a spirited sing-along version of John Denver’s “Country Roads.” When he isn’t playing, he might be autographing a young fan’s guitar or a screaming girl’s hat. The DVD was impeccably shot by director Daniel E. Catullo III (Rush, Rage Against the Machine, Dave Matthews Band), using 20 cameras, and recorded on Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. The package includes a separate CD recording, with only 13 of the 20 songs on the DVD.
PBS: Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise: Blu-ray
Fifty years ago, you probably could count on one hand the number of colleges that offered majors in African-American history or related studies. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968, black students at many public and private schools demanded that such courses be established, diplomas awarded and efforts be made to recruit many more students and teachers of color. West Virginia-born Henry Louis Gates Jr. was one of the students – others are interviewed here — who took advantage of Affirmative Action directives and completed his BA degree in history at Yale University, summa cum laude. It isn’t difficult to imagine what King would have to say about recent demands for “ethnocultural” dorms and “safe spaces,” where the advancing of opposing viewpoints is forbidden. Gates’ four-part PBS documentary series, “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” recognizes the sudden shift away from integration, but doesn’t dwell on it.
The series does, however, suggest that early hopes raised by the election of Barak Obama were effectively dashed by widespread frustrations caused by political and judicial intransigence, the militarization of police departments and an economy whose recent upswing hasn’t made a dent in eliminating the African-American “underclass.” Gates isn’t reluctant to incorporate personal experience into discussions with leading scholars, celebrities, politicians, athletes and other people of color, who’ve shaped the past 50 years. Neither does he ignore the role street-generated music, art and dance played in the uniting of black communities negatively impacted by Reagan administration policies, police brutality and the crack-cocaine epidemic. His take on controversies surrounding the Clarence Thomas appointment and first O.J. Simpson verdict are almost maddeningly even-handed. While viewers who’ve been paying attention to such things over the past 50 years may not discover anything new in “And Still I Rise,” their children and grandchildren surely will find something new and enlightening here to savor.
Nickelodeon: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir: Be Miraculous
Comedy Central: Broad City: Season 3
NBC: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny And Friends Featuring Jerry Seinfeld
History: Swamp People: Season 7
PBS: American Experience: Command & Control
PBS: NOVA: Treasures of the Earth
PBS Kids: Super Why!: Puppy Power
If women and girls have largely been reduced to subordinate roles in comic-book-inspired movies and video games, they’ve found a home in CGI-animated TV series featuring mixed-gender superheroes and villains. This is especially true in anime- and manga-informed shows targeted specifically at the “Hello Kitty” and post-“My Little Pony” demographic. Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir: Be Miraculous is a French action/adventure series produced by Zagtoon and Method Animation. It features two Parisian teenagers, Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Adrien Agreste, who transform into the superheroes Ladybug and Cat Noir, respectively, to protect the city from such supervillains as Hawkmoth and his evil butterflies. Besides compilations of televised episodes, the international franchise now includes plush toys, action/fashion dolls, backpacks, wigs, clothing, jewelry, accessories, interactive toys and books. The Shout! Kids DVD includes seven episodes from the Nickelodeon series, bonus features and a French language track.
“Broad City” began its life in 2009 as an Internet series, inspired by the real-life friendship of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Their slacker characters, Ilana and Abbi, struggle to make a living in New York City, juggling menial jobs, underappreciated boyfriends, dope runs, clubbing and crashing parties. The gal pals not only excel in being rude, lewd and obscene, they’re also scatologically incorrect. They’re frequently shown conversing by telephone, while sitting on the toilet, or comparing their menstrual cycles. The men in their lives tend to be social outcasts, as well. The post-feminist vibe is enhanced by wardrobe choices that run the gamut from unapologetically trashy to thrift-shop chic. In Ilana and Abbi’s minds, at least, they look divine. Exec-produced by Amy Poehler, “Broad City” debuted on Comedy Central on January 22, 2014, and has since expanded its fan base from niche to borderline mainstream. A fourth season begins later this year. The third-season package adds expanded and deleted scenes and background material. The girls capped the season with a two-episode story that finds them on an El Al flight to Israel. It’s filled with Jewish singles, who are expected to pair off, get married and have many children. (Someone has to fill those disputed settlements on the West Bank.) By the time the plane lands, they’re duct-taped to the fold-down seats used by flight attendants, to be handed over to security police as possible terrorists.
Anyone young enough to believe that Jerry Seinfeld emerged fully formed as a sitcom actor – “Seinfeld” has been in reruns since the late 1990s, after all – might be interested in checking out Time Life/WEA’s “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny And Friends Featuring Jerry Seinfeld.” It contains three appearances on the late-night mainstay by the up-and-coming standup comedian, several years before anyone thought he had a future in prime-time. In the mid-1980s, only a few standups had made the transition from stage to screen in something other than guest appearances. The show-about-nothing concept wouldn’t have lasted a minute in a pitch meeting, if Jerry hadn’t established an on-stage persona as the consummate observer, by then. That he was invited to sit alongside Carson after his bits only solidified Seinfeld’s status as a rising star. Three episodes may not sound very generous, but the DVD has been cannibalized from longer complete-series sets and other packages. For around $10, you also get full shows, with other noteworthy guests (Arnold Schwarzenegger, an 18-year-old Andre Agassi, Shelley Winters) and optional commercials.
How the History Channel has been able to mine seven seasons’ worth of episodes from its “Swamp People” franchise is well beyond my ability to predict success or failure on cable TV. From my easy chair, it makes “Duck Dynasty” look like “Dallas.” I don’t have anything against the annual “culling” of alligators from the swamps of southern Louisiana or the Cajun hunters, whose families, we’re reminded at the start of each new episode, have been making a living from it for most of the last 300 years. Alligators aren’t in the same league with Bambi, when it comes to irresistibly cute critters, at least, and their population continues to grow, even after being protected by the Endangered Species Act from 1973 to 1987. I’ve eaten alligator stew and owned wallets made from the scaly skin. Fact is, though, except for a about five minutes of explosive activity each show, this is pretty boring stuff. And, if it weren’t for their elaborate tattoos, the hunters would be as devoid of charisma as the carcasses being tagged and measured at the end of each day’s search. Still, seven seasons and counting ain’t chickenfeed. The new season features new cast members and flooded bayous, which give the gators more room to hide and feed during the 30-day season. Do we pity the hunters? Not much. Still, the swamps of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River Basin are as beautiful in their way as any other wilderness setting featured on cable reality shows. There’s also an abundance of wildlife, from which the Cajuns profit during the remaining 11 months of the year. Now, if they ever decide to build a show around “noodling” for gators … that truly would be entertainment.
It’s amazing to learn some of the alarming things that can happen when you aren’t paying attention. Watching the “American Experience” presentation, “Command & Control,” I was made aware of a near calamitous explosion that occurred in 1980, inside a missile silo situated on a military base in central Arkansas. The “accident” claimed the life of a serviceman, but tens of thousands of people living downwind of the Damascus facility could have died or been exposed to near-fatal doses of radiation. Based on Eric Schlosser’s 2013 book, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” the PBS report is as frightening as any other political thriller adapted from a NYT best-seller. That’s because the control-room panic that resulted from a simple accident – an errant socket punctured a fuel cell after being dropped 80 feet during a maintenance drill – revealed serious deficiencies in our nuclear-safety network and an inability to determine if the Titan II’s warhead could be triggered by a fire or fall. The military’s standard cover-your-ass response to the near-tragedy proved to be as disheartening – and disingenuous — as anything else revealed in the follow-up investigations. In fact, dozens of other “Broken Arrow” accidents have been recorded before and since Damascus, without being reported to overseers and the press. The disc adds an extended theatrical version and a report on a terrifying 1961 incident, when a B-52 bomber carrying two powerful hydrogen bombs caught fire and disintegrated in midair.
Once again, PBS’ “NOVA” goes to great lengths and, here, depths, to explain how our planet was formed and the ways humans have profited from unlocking clues to the mysteries set in stone during the act of creation … or, if you will, Creation. “Treasures of Earth: Gems, Metals and Power” is a three-part primer on the ways extraordinary circumstances, which took place deep below the Earth’s crust, conspired to elevate humanity from the Stone Age to the stars. In the segment dedicated to gems, we not only learn how various treasures were formed, but also some uses beyond the embellishment of jewelry. It also tackles questions surrounding the depletion of resources and unintended consequences that bring new perils and demand enlightened solutions.
The action in PBS Kids’ “Super Why!: Puppy Power” centers around a dog-adoption fair in Storybrook Village. When the Super Readers discover that Whyatt’s new friend, Woofster, needs a new home, they take it upon themselves to find a family to adopt the orphan and make him part of the team. The collection is comprised of four puppy-packed stories and “tons of new furry friends.”