MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Loving, American Pastoral, Eagle Huntress, Come What May, Blush, Leonard Cohen and more

Loving: Blu-ray
The horrifying story told in Loving may have been revelatory to many viewers, whose only knowledge of this footnote in history derived from feature articles and reviews that accompanied its Cannes debut and release last November. For others, such reminders of American apartheid are as fresh as yesterday’s news. The anti-miscegenation laws that allowed authorities to punish Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga) for being married in Washington, D.C., while living in Virginia, were shockingly common in Southern and Western states, even as late as 1967. If their home had been raided while the lawfully married couple was engaged in an act deemed sexual, they could have been imprisoned for that “crime,” as well. Instead, the Lovings were prohibited from cohabiting or traveling together in a state whose trademark slogan proclaims, however ironically, “Virginia is for lovers.” As unlikely as that sounds in 2017, it was the norm in the Jim Crow South, where racist judges based their rulings on such biblical wisdom as, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon M. Bazile’s judgment was dated January 22, 1965, six years after the Lovings’ first conviction and two years before the U.S. Supreme would overrule his decision and other miscegenation laws still in effect. In fact, such statutes also forbade marriages, cohabitation and sex between whites and Native Americans, Filipinos, Asians and Hispanics. Ministers were prohibited from officiating such ceremonies. The ruling did not, however, eliminate racism in the United States.

Nancy Buirski, whose 2011 documentary on the case, The Loving Story, received a producer’s credit for Loving, which relies heavily on her research. To inform her Peabody Award-winning project, she unearthed archival footage, from the 1960s, which captured details of the Lovings’ personal lives, and interviewed the Lovings’ only surviving child, Peggy. (Richard died in 1975, at 41, when a drunk driver struck his car in Caroline County, Virginia. Mildred, who lost her right eye in the same accident, died of pneumonia in 2008, at 68.) Sometimes, when a theatrical film is adapted from a documentary, the results either distort or embellish the truth. Of Richard Friedenberg’s 1996 made-for-Showtime dramatization, “Mr. & Mrs. Loving,” Mildred Loving observed, “not much of it was very true. The only part of it right was I had three children.” Here, writer/director Jeff Nichols (Mud) based most of the dialogue on Buirski’s doc and cast actors who are dead-ringers for the Lovings. The sting of racism discrimination, even a half-century removed from their ordeal, is palpable throughout Loving. (Yet another version is in the works, “The Price of Love,” is in production, although I can’t imagine what new it could bring to the story.) Clearly, the State of Virginia wants to put the case as far back in its rear-view mirror as possible. Principal photography for Loving took place in Richmond, with location shoots in King and Queen County, Caroline County, Central Point and Bowling Green, where the actual jail and courtrooms still are in use. The Blu-ray adds Nichols’ commentary and featurettes “Making Loving,” “A Loving Ensemble,” “Loving v. Virginia” and “Virginia: A Loving Backdrop.”

American Pastoral
For some of us, coverage of the mass protests prompted by the inauguration of President Trump and his executive orders triggered memories of the political turmoil and violence that rocked the 1960s and early ’70s. Although the vast majority of demonstrators and activists were peaceful, a handful of self-declared anarchists decided to vent their anger on plate-glass windows, dumpsters and any graffiti-free wall they encountered. The 1969 Days of Rage confrontations, organized by the then-Weatherman faction of the SDS, may have attracted more media attention than the “black bloc” radicals who engaged police in Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Berkeley, but the similarities were obvious to anyone who cared to look for them. (Thank goodness, President Nixon didn’t have the benefit of tweets to voice his displeasure of radical youths.) Based on Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title, American Pastoral puts an unsettling twist on stories already told in Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty, Paul Schrader’s Patty Hearst and such documentaries as Berkeley in the SixtiesThe War at Home, Underground and Weather Underground. In some ways, American Pastoral also resembles Uli Edel’s powerful drama, The Baader Meinhof Complex, which chronicled the rise and fall of West Germany’s Red Army Faction. By and large, the most violent radicals were children of privilege, whose motivations were as Freudian as they were political. Much of director/star Ewan McGregor and writer John Romano’s American Pastoral takes place on an idyllic dairy farm outside blue-collar Newark, where Seymour “Swede” Levov also runs the glove-manufacturing business built by his father (Peter Riegert). Despite his nickname, Seymour is the archetypal Jewish prince and star athlete, who ignored his parents’ wishes and advice by marrying the Roman Catholic beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). With their newborn daughter, Merry, the family settled in the rural hamlet of Old Rimrock. By all rights, Merry (Dakota Fanning) should have grown into her teenage years as happy and contented as any of her privileged classmates.

Instead, she’s burdened by a severe stutter, which throttles her ability to express her political beliefs and growing disdain for the status quo, which she takes out on everyone in authority, including her parents. By the time she turns 16, Merry is spending her free time in New York City, ostensibly hanging out with students in the SDS. Her parents can’t control her outbursts or understand what’s made her so hostile to them. Soon enough, the town’s dual-purpose post office and gas station is rocked by a bomb that kills the owner after he raises the American flag. As the only logical suspect, Merry decides to go underground, effectively disappearing from the narrative for several years. The bomb was ignited as a statement decrying a foreign war and inequalities at home. Instead, it effectively altered the futures of two Old Rimrock families with no ties to the government beyond handing the mail and paying taxes. Roth laid most of the emotional baggage on the shoulders of his all-American son/husband/father, who spends the rest of his life in search of rational explanations for Merry’s decisions, where none exist. Coincidentally, his factory is situated at ground zero of the Newark riots, which threaten the livelihood of black and Hispanic employees the Levovs have treated as if they’re part of a larger family. Dawn eventually will write off both her daughter and husband, deciding that a facelift and lover will relieve her anguish. After a surprise meeting with Jerry Levov at a high school reunion, which coincides with his brother’s funeral, Roth’s alter-ego, frequent protagonist and narrator, Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn), is able to fill us in on the details of Swede and Merry’s demise. (It occurs in the film’s opening moments, so no need for a spoiler alert.) Fans of “American Pastoral,” the novel, may feel as if too many liberties were taken in Romano’s adaptation. I found McGregor’s portrayal of a seemingly blameless parent at wit’s end to be extremely moving. I wonder how many parents, today, will lose Merrys of their own to outrage over decisions they feel powerless to change, except through violence. The extras include commentary by McGregor and the featurettes, “American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic” and “Making the American Dream.”

The Eagle Huntress: Blu-ray
While Mongolia may seem as if it’s the end of the world, even for experienced travelers, it’s actually been fairly well represented in films and documentaries. Most of the credit for that belongs to the ever-fascinating legend of Genghis Kahn, of course, which has been re-enacted numerous times on the big screen. (Howard Hughes’ famously cursed The Conqueror, starring John Wayne as the powerful warrior, should never be confused with any Mongolian production after 1990.) The sparsely populated country’s great natural beauty, unique culture and its rich history have been shown to their best effect in such modern co-productions as Sergei Bodrov’s Oscar-nominated Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan, Andrei Borissov’s By the Will of Chingis Khan, Shin’ichirô Sawai’s The Blue Wolf: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea, Ken Annakin and Antonio Margheriti’s Genghis Khan: The Story of a Lifetime and Zolbayar Dorj and  U. Shagdarsuren’s Genghis: The Legend of the Ten. Roko Belic’s cross-cultural Genghis Blues was nominated for Best Documentary, while Luigi Falorni and Byambasuren Davaa’s The Story of the Weeping Camel was entered as the country’s Best Foreign Language candidate. Davaa’s critically lauded The Cave of the Yellow Dog didn’t make the finals, but is well worth the effort to find. An episode of National Geographic Television’s “Monster Fish,” “Mining Mongolia,” probably lured a few anglers to the isolated Lake Baikal watershed, where the world’s largest trout species, the taimen, lurks. Like “Weeping Camel” and “Yellow Dog,” Otto Bell’s adventure/documentary, The Eagle Huntress, should remind Boomer parents of Disney’s “True-Life Adventures.”

It follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in 12 generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. In Mongolia, men traditionally have trained golden eagles to hunt for animals that provide food, pelts and clothing to family members, as well as meals for the birds. After seven years in service, the eagles are freed into the wild. Bell’s first instinct was to shape The Eagle Huntress as a classic father/daughter bonding story. It would, however, evolve into a movie about female empowerment and breaking down traditional borders. Because Aisholpan had grown up around eagles and the rewards of hunting, it seemed perfectly natural for her to follow her father in the family business. If the elders frowned upon her pursuit, Aisholpan’s father took it seriously enough to introduce her to the hazards, as well as the joys, of training birds and hunting prey. At one point, the girl is lowered down the face of a steep cliff in the Altai Mountains, by rope, to remove a chick from its nest. She impresses her father by using hypnotic gestures to make the task painless for her and the eagle. The crowning point of the story – besides training an eagle to capture a fox – is the annual competition for eagle hunters. The scenery captured on the Steppes and mountains is nothing short of spectacular, enhanced by long crane shots and drones able to follow the eagles on their dizzying dives and swoops. Daisy Ridley supplies narration in spots, but the dialogue is largely in the native Kazakh tongue. The Blu-ray adds Bell’s commentary and a worthwhile making-of featurette.

Burn Country
Although documentaries frequently provide the inspiration for narrative films, it isn’t often that the same person who made the doc writes and directs the adaptation for its theatrical run. Switch-hitting works far better on the baseball diamond than in feature films. Ian Olds’ curiously uneven thriller, Burn Country, is a perfect example of a movie so full of good and bad ideas, several prompted by his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, that they stumble over each other trying to get out. Olds’ prize-winning docs, Occupation: Dreamland (2005) and Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (2009) told stories about life during wartime that were, at once, deeply chilling and painstakingly intimate. “Fixer” explores the 2007 kidnapping of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, along with the highly regarded Afghan guide and interpreter, Ajmal Naqshbandi, and their driver, Sayed Agha, by Taliban insurgents. Mastrogiacomo was released after five high-ranking Taliban were released, but his Afghan companions were beheaded when other demands weren’t met. Olds modeled the protagonist of Burn Country (a.k.a., “The Fixer”) after Naqshbandi. After being exiled from Afghanistan, Osman (Dominic Rains) is offered a place to stay in the northern California home of an American journalist’s mother, Gloria (Melissa Leo). She is a cop in the scenic rural hamlet, which alternately resembles a refuge for unreconstructed hippies and a hideout for Manson Family diehards.

After Osman accepts an entry-level job at the local paper, writing the police-blotter report, he becomes entangled in a web spun to entrap outsiders who stick their noses too deep into the residents’ business. His first mistake is to hook up with a freaked-out longhair, Lindsay (James Franco), who appears to straddle the seemingly opposing camps, but currently is persona non grata in both of them. Osman’s time in war zones has convinced him that, in the aftermath of horror, “a hole has opened in the earth” that can sometimes expose truths not seen in daily life. Even so, he’s a fish out of water when it comes to fringe-dwelling Americans drawn to free love, majestic scenery, unlimited supplies of dope, open-air stages for experimental theater and an off-brand mysticism reminiscent of rites practiced in The Wicker Man. Olds has previously collaborated with Franco on such diverse projects as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Saturday Night, Francophrenia (Or Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is) and the upcoming Zeroville. He likes to work free-form, so it’s hard to say how much of Burn Country was scripted or improvised. As messy as it gets sometimes, the central mystery is pretty compelling, especially when Leo’s on-screen.

Nerdland: Blu-ray
Fans of the outrageous animated comedy, Sausage Party, should find something to like in Chris Prynoski and Andrew Kevin Walker’s equally raunchy Nerdland. It follows the exploits of Hollywood wannabes, screenwriter Elliot (voiced by Patton Oswalt) and actor John (Paul Rudd), who, as they approach their 30th birthdays, know that their days are numbered in Tinseltown. They appear not to notice that they’re living in squalor and their sex lives are limited to late-night dates with a duct-taped inflatable doll. Their pursuit of fame, however fleeting, leads to a nightmare vision of SoCal consumerism at its most sordid. Ironically, Elliot and John’s 15 minutes in the fickle spotlight of fame arrives completely by accident, when they witness a robbery being committed by a very wanted criminal and everyone wants a piece of them. That includes Sally (Kate Micucci) and Linda (Riki Lindhome), the buxom mall-workers who serve as the lads’ objects of lust. Other voices are provided by Hannibal Buress, Reid Scott, Mike Judge, Sally Kirkland, Laraine Newman and Molly Shannon. Nerdland isn’t as consistently funny as Sausage Party, but admirers of Rudd and Oswalt will already know where to find the laughs.

Life on the Line: Blu-ray
There was a time when the studios churned out workplace melodramas, in which natural and manmade emergencies inspire heroic actions by otherwise ordinary individuals. No matter the calamity, the star could be counted on to stick his thumb in the leaky dam, keep the dynamos humming and wheels of commerce greased. Typically, a love interest would be thrown into the mix to keep folks interested between lightning flashes and bridge collapses, but mostly the women were there to support the male protagonist and add some spice to the trailers and posters. By contrast, in Raoul Walsh’s hard-boiled truck-driver meller, They Drive by Night, there isn’t a token character or extraneous storyline. As such, it represents the high-end of the working-class-hero subgenre. Freelance long-haul drivers Humphrey Bogart and George Raft face all sorts of obstacles – bad weather, crappy roads, fragile vehicles, impossible deadlines, lack of sleep, corrupt cops and union thugs — while trying to make a buck delivering produce to distributors a night’s drive from California’s agricultural hubs. Ann Sheridan plays a damsel in distress, while Ida Lupino is the femme fatale. If the special visual effects are primitive, it was Jerry Wald and Richard Macaulay’s exciting adaptation of A.I. Bezzerides’ novel and high-profile actors that put butts in the seats. Today, it’s the special effects that sell tickets, not the slapdash screenplays and interchangeable actors. I only bring this up here, because Life on the Line might have been a much better movie if David Hackl (Saw V) and his team of writers had screened They Drive by Night and other blue-collar melodramas from Warner Bros., in the 1940s, and studied the component parts. All the right ingredients for success are there. Not all of them fit where they’re put. John Travolta, who’s excelled at playing such characters throughout his career, plays the foreman of a crew of electrical-line workers hired to upgrade the equipment on a section of the nation’s increasingly fragile power grid. We watch in shock, early on, when Beau’s brother is burnt to a crisp while attempting to fix a snapped high-voltage transmission wire. Without saying as much, the terrible accident alerts viewers to the fact that the job is among the 10 most dangerous in America.

Beau’s team is on call day and night, especially in anticipation of severe meteorological events, and Hackl has no trouble conveying such perils of the job as lightning, live wires, faulty equipment and terrifying heights. Beau’s biggest problems here are caused by the private company that owns his section of the grid and has decided that fewer, less-experienced men can do the same quality work as before de-regulation changed the way everyone does business. High-line work is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training. Neither does it allow time for refereeing the romantic squabbles of crew members, one of whom, Duncan (Devon Sawa), Beau has forbidden to date his niece, Bailey (Kate Bosworth). Another lineman (Ryan Robbins), who suffers PTSD from his time in the war, is convinced that his wife, Carline (Julie Benz), is cheating on him and the distraction comprises the safety of the team. Sharon Stone even pops up from time to time, as Duncan’s broken and embittered mother. At 97 minutes, Life on the Line simply can’t accommodate the extra baggage, while also preparing the audience for the massive storm that is about to take out a large section of the grid. Only Travolta and crew stand between it and a citizenry that might lose access to the Internet for an hour or so. It doesn’t help that some of the subplots appear to be held together by the screenwriters’ equivalent of Gorilla Glue. Apparently, Life on the Line is the passion project of Chad Dubea, a former utility lineman and now CEO of T&D Solutions, a power-line-maintenance and construction company in Louisiana. In 2013, Dubea spent $250,000 to establish the Fallen Linemen Organization, which helps the families of utility workers killed in the line of duty. Dubea’s financial contribution to the production earned him an executive-producer’s credit. The Blu-ray package adds a music video by Fiona Culley, featuring Darius Rucker, and a behind-the-scenes featurette, with cast and crew interviews.

Come What May: Blu-ray
The release of Christian Carion’s excellent World War II refugee drama, from France, coincided with the influx of Syrians attempting to escape the war in Europe. The difference, of course, is that the distraught characters we meet in Come What May have yet to experience the cruelty of the German invasion, while the Syrian refugees we see on the news have been suffering for quite a while. In both cases, the refugees’ desperation, fear and determination can read on their faces. In May 1940, the German troops have just entered France. With the horrors of World War I still fresh in the minds of the adults in the far northern part of the country, the residents of Pas-de-Calais are faced with the choice of evacuating south, as recommended by civil-defense officials, or roll the dice on the Germans. Each of the villagers must make the decision for themselves, but the mayor and his wife (Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner) have decided that it is their responsibility to lead, rather than follow. The journey south is fraught with danger, even if the enemy is more interested in destroying pockets of resistance than tormenting refugees. Come What May also tells the parallel stories of a Belgian anti-Nazi activist, Hans (August Diehl), who fled his home minutes ahead of a raid by police looking for communists, and a Scottish member of the British Expeditionary Force, Percy (Matthew Rhys), who somehow got separated from his company near Arras and is on the wrong side of the Scarpe River. Able to converse in French, German and English, Hans and his 8-year-old son have been able to assimilate into the farming community Pas-de-Calais. When someone hears Hans speak German with Max, the snitch alerts police to the possibility that he’s a spy. He’s in jail when the first attack comes, separated from his son by a several miles. A young teacher, Suzanne (Alice Isaaz), takes Max under her wing when the caravan leaves the village ahead of Hans. In a clever conceit, the boy vows to leave messages for his dad on school blackboards in the towns they will pass. Hans and Percy’s journey south is considerably more dangerous. The lovely French countryside and a wonderful score by 88-year-old Ennio Morricone help make the nearly two-hour drama pass quickly. The Cohen Media Blu-ray contains commentary with Carion, who was inspired by stories he’d heard growing up; a making-of featurette; a behind-the-scenes piece with Morricone; and video interview with Carion and Richard Pena, former program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Blush
As if being 17 weren’t difficult enough, in Israel or anywhere else, the protagonist of Michal Vinik’s Blush will also spend the next 81 minutes of movie time coming of age and coming out of the closet, almost simultaneously. Bored with school and alienated from her conservative parents, Naama Barash (Sivan Noam Shimon) spends most of her free time drinking, getting high and partying with friends. Moreover, her older sister has decided that this would be the right time in her life to go AWOL from her military duty – again — and move to a predominantly Palestinian village, where her boyfriend lives. Her father (Dvir Benedek) thinks that his daughters are conspiring to bust his balls, but that would be too simple. Naama finds temporary relief in the company of the new girl in school, Dana (Hada Jade Sakori), a bleach-blonde punker who introduces her to Tel Aviv’s nightclub, stronger drugs and a lesbian scene that appears to revolve around a deejay named Dracula. Not surprisingly, Naama falls hard for Dana after their first kiss and orgasm. Finally, when her sister does come home, Naama has someone older who takes her changes seriously and offers sound advice. It’s difficult to predict what’s ahead for the flighty teenager, except for a stint of her own in the army. Several critics have pointed out the similarities between Blush and Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, and Vinik hasn’t denied them. In some ways, Naama also resembles such American teens as Ellen Page’s Juno MacGuff, in Juno; Emma Stone’s Olive, in Easy A; Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine, in The Edge of Seventeen; and Shailene Woodley’s Kat Connors, in White Bird in a Blizzard. Hollywood studios are reluctant, though, to risk an R- or NC-17 rating, when it comes to movies of interest to teens. The package includes Summer Czajak’s short, “This Is You and Me,” a director’s statement and “why we selected it” statement from Film Movement.

Fall
Movies about priests seeking redemption for their sins – real and perceived – aren’t likely to find much of an audience in the U.S. or any other country where Roman Catholics have been shocked and disturbed by accusations of pedophilia, rape and cover-ups in their religious community. Like John Patrick Shanley’s intense 2008 drama, Doubt, Terrance Odette’s Fall leaves questions about a priest’s guilt, innocence and the possibility of resurrection largely up to viewers. That is not the case with such conclusive indictments as Spotlight, Deliver Us from Evil, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Calvary and The Club. They describe crimes of abuse almost too terrible to contemplate, while also condemning the Vatican for its feeble response to accusations. (It’s far more distressed by financial penalties and costly settlements.) The last thing I wanted to watch this week was another story about pedophilia and the clergy. Fall is set in a diocese on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls that’s literally dying before Father Sam’s eyes. He spends far more time conducting funerals and visiting rest homes than officiating over baptisms and First Holy Communions. The young adults left in the parish find it difficult to square their lifestyles and personal beliefs with things they were taught years earlier in Catechism classes. They’re getting weary, waiting for the Pope to wake up one morning and realize that it’s the 21st Century.

Veteran character actor Michael Murphy (Manhattan) was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for his portrayal of the tortuously conflicted Father Sam in Fall. Even in hindsight, it’s difficult to imagine a better choice. Neither could there be a much better location for such downbeat drama than Niagara Falls in winter. Early in the film, Father Sam receives a letter that throws his uneventful life into turmoil. It triggers the murky memory of an encounter, 40 years earlier, with a boy. His inability to recall the nature of the incident troubles him to the point where he visits family members – the boy’s and his own – to get a fix on what may or may not have happened. It doesn’t go well. Even so, he’s able to tend to the flock, with a time-worn Christmas homily that barely reflects the turmoil within himself and the Church. That comes after the funeral of an elderly woman, whose son is gay and bitter over the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuals, in general, and Father Sam’s specific reluctance to confront issues with which he probably doesn’t agree. Writer/director Odette provides some clues as to the mystery surrounding the priest’s past and present predilections, but avoids any firm answers. Thanks to Murphy, he’s able gets away with it. The real question, of course, comes in deciding for ourselves if we could forgive this priest for what in almost any other situation might be considered a redeemable indiscretion or no longer within the statutes of limitation. Special features include behind-the-scenes material, interviews and a CBC Radio panel discussion with cast and crew.

Look at Us Now, Mother
Anyone who’s witnessed the frequently volatile dynamics between teenage girls and their mothers knows that they tend to settle down after the daughter’s graduation from high school and she realizes that mom may not be such a drag, after all. It took filmmaker, television producer and writer Gayle Kirschenbaum a much longer time to make amends with Mildred, the Jewish Mother in extremis. The result can be seen in Look at Us Now, Mother, a frequently tortuous examination of a relationship that is only slightly less unnerving than Christina Crawford’s “Mommie Dearest.” At the core of Gayle’s lifelong frustrations is Mildred’s narcissism. From the age of 5, Mildred was in competition with her daughter for the attention of her husband and anyone with a camera pointed in their direction. She resented Gayle for not being born male and, two decades later, not having to give up her freedom in pursuit of a suitable husband, as she was compelled to do. Instead, Gayle chose to pursue artistic goals. Even as an adult, Gayle was taunted for having unruly hair, inadequate breasts, a “Jewish accent,” not being thin enough and refusing to get a nose job. Mildred, now in her 90s, looks as if she’s had only one or two fewer nips and tucks than Joan Rivers. Her mother’s obsession with her daughter’s proboscis prompted Gayle to make the 2007 documentary short “My Nose,” whose popularity led to the feature-length “Look at Us Now, Mother.” They appear to have buried the hatchet after the death of the family patriarch, during production, but the relationship still appears to be testy. Gayle admits to having problems in personal relationships with men and Mildred still professes not to remember abuses described in Look at Us Now, Mother. Curiously, none of the men in the family have much to say, or weren’t asked for their opinions.

Spirit of the Game
For more than 125 years, basketball and religion have existed side-by-side. Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball as part of his job at the Young Men’s Christian Association. In the early 1900s, he coined the phrase “muscular Christianity” to describe the use of recreation for religious purposes. Roman Catholic schools and the CYO, which was modeled after the YMCA, quickly identified the benefits of organized basketball programs, as well. Even today, it isn’t unusual to find a priest sitting alongside the players in a Big East contest. The entire conference is comprised of Catholic colleges without football programs. Being baptized Catholic is not, however, a prerequisite for being granted a scholarship. The same probably is true at most universities associated with a religious denomination. Spirit of the Game tells the story of the Mormon Yankees, an exhibition hoops team composed of young Mormon missionaries based in Australia, from 1937-1961. During this period missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used basketball to build bridges in various countries and communities. Some of the players had already competed at the collegiate level – Utah State University and Brigham Young competed for the first time in 1906 – and the training would specifically pay off when the Yankees were asked to get Australia’s first Olympic basketball team ready for the 1956 Summer Games, which were to be held in Melbourne. The team also was asked to compete against squads from around the world in their preparations for the Olympics. Darran Scott’s film plays fast and loose with some aspects of the Yankees’ history, but, for the most part, sticks to the essentials. At the heart of the story, is 20-year-old Delyle Condie, a star on the University of Utah squad, who, after his fiancé calls off their engagement, spontaneously decides to quit the team and embark on his missionary commitment.

It’s possible that Condie was specifically assigned to Melbourne to add some sizzle to the Yankees, but Spirit of the Game doesn’t push the point. No sooner does Condie disembark from the ship than he’s coerced into joining a pickup game, with players who history tells us did or would comprise the Yankees. Even though the team had already developed a positive reputation in Australia, the movie missionaries are greeted by the natives as if they were sent there to accumulate wives and kidnap children. The Mormon president in charge of the district is portrayed as being hostile to the basketball team, as he believes practices and games take time away from knocking on doors and convincing folks to commit to being baptized in the LDS tradition. Scott doesn’t share the sales pitch with viewers, probably assuming they’ve already heard it, sold it or rejected it. Another comes in his depictions of the opposition and their trainees. The Aussie hopefuls are portrayed as being oafishly inept and reluctant to subscribe to Mormon codes pertaining to smoking, drinking and staying in shape. The French are drawn to resemble Snidely Whiplash, complete with ridiculous mustaches and an inclination to break the rules when pressed. During the peak of the Mormon Yankees’ popularity, 1955-60, the LDS Church in Australia tripled in size. Something must have clicked, because, during the peak of the Yankees’ popularity, 1955-1960, the LDS Church in Australia tripled in size. Today, the country fields an extremely competitive team and regularly contributes players to the NBA, while, since 1961, missionaries have been prohibited from forming teams. If Spirit of the Game succeeds in reaching its target audience, it will be because viewers are able to able overlook the clumsy presentation and laughable basketball on display. It’s a far cry from Hoosiers.  The only actors I recognized were Aaron Jakubenko (“Spartacus: War of the Damned”), as Elder Condie, and Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”), his supportive father.

Akron
Jonathan
Ever wonder if the sins of a mother are visited on their children, unto the third and the fourth generation, as the bible says of fathers whose sins are an abomination unto the Lord? No, me either. Something like that did arise, however, while watching Sasha King and Brian O’Donnell’s debut feature, Akron. That’s because a terrible incident in the long-ago past of the protagonists’ mothers has come back to possibly destroy their sons’ future together. More than that I cannot say on Akron’s central dilemma, which, for once, has nothing to do with anyone being gay and in love. Benny and Christopher (Matthew Frias, Edmund Donovan) are freshmen at the University of Akron. They meet while playing in a pickup football game and, even in the rain, sparks fly between them. Christopher’s parents are pleased to learn of their son’s good luck and newfound happiness. Benny’s mom invites them to Florida, where she works as a yoga instructor. While lounging in a hot tub, she drops the bombshell that’s been hanging over the narrative since the first scene. Christopher’s devastated not only by the mother’s pronouncement, but also by Benny’s decision not to level with him in the first place. Things don’t get any better when the boys return to Akron. Can this relationship be saved or will it turn to rust, like everything else in the city? What’s nice is that Benny and Christopher’s problem isn’t unique to LGBTQ youths or anyone else. Neither does the red-state background require additional turmoil be visited on them. The DVD adds interviews and background material.

The surprise reveal in Piotr J. Lewandowski’s Jonathan also involves love, longing, guilt and family secrets. This time, the setting is a farm in a forested section of Germany, where handsome blond Jonathan (Jannis Niewöhner) is having a tough time keeping his volatile emotions under control. His terminally ill father, Burghard (Andre Hennicke), has been sabotaging his efforts to care for him or even to die with a modicum of dignity. Jonathan and his elderly aunt already have their hands full, working hard to keep the farm afloat. Finally, they decide to hire a hospice nurse, Anka (Julia Koschitz), whose presence gives Jonathan the time he needs to discover things about the old man he should have known years earlier. It may surprise viewers, who assume Jonathan is the gay character, when he and Anka fall in lust with each other. Things take another surprising turn when an old friend arrives and it serves as a shot of adrenaline to the sick man’s broken body. Jonathan’s best moments come in nature, with rays of sunlight bursting through the trees, and while watching Anka attempting to catch that night’s diner, wading in the stream topless. If nothing else, the movie teaches us that it’s never too late to come out of the closet.

Antibirth: Blu-ray
Wild Beasts: Blu-ray
Blood Mania/Point of Terror: Limited Edition: Blu Ray
There are a lot of things that can go wrong when an experimental or Internet-based artist makes the first big step into the world of feature films. Good things can happen, as well, but sometimes it’s easier to remember the mistakes. Danny Perez’ Antibirth has plenty of both to go around. Presented as a “psychedelic horror film,” it wallows in excessively rude behavior and the ugliness that tends to surround badly behaved characters. It’s difficult to find much to admire in anyone, here. Even so, patience will reward genre buffs in the form of a payoff that combines elements of Rosemary’s Baby, Jacob’s Ladder and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The setting for Antibirth is a god-forsaken city in the upper Midwest, possibly Detroit, which supports a motley community of derelict military veterans, generic stoners, petty criminals and conspiracy theorists. Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny play the self-destructive Lou and Sadie, local losers whose trailer-park sensibilities perfectly mirror the film’s low-rent production values. One night, after blacking out from too much partying, Lou begins to show signs of being pregnant. She doesn’t remember having sex in months, but getting pregnant doesn’t require more than a few minutes of physical intimacy or more than one partner being conscious. If she had been raped, the symptoms would suggest that it was at the hands of an alien.  As the pregnancy progresses, viewers might develop a distinct sense of dread over what might be delivered from Lou’s womb. She, however, appears to be too wasted to care, one way another. As Lou and Sadie kill time eating junk food and getting high in front of the television, the programming goes from cartoon craziness to totally insanity. It includes Teletubbie-like characters, televangelical yogis, gremlins and Vietnam-era soldiers. As Lou’s pregnancy progress, a conspiracy nut played by a shockingly plump Meg Tilly enters the picture, as a harbinger of horror to come.

And, if Antibirth doesn’t sate your appetite for truly bizarre genre fare, the Wild Beasts surely will. The concept is exponentially less complicated than the one that informs Antibirth, as well: when the water supply for a large city zoo becomes contaminated with PCP, the most dangerous animals go crazy and break out of their cages. Wild Beasts was the final film written and directed by Franco E. Prosperi, one of the creators of films in “Mondo” series of Italian shock-docs. At first glance, it looks like just another low-budget addition to the time-honored “nature strikes back” subgenre. As it evolves, however, it appears as if the Humane Society either was asleep at the wheel or simply not invited to the location shoots. Released in 1984, before the use of animatronic stand-ins became standard-practice, Wild Beasts could only have looked as realistic as it does if real animals – from polar bears, cheetahs and elephants, to rats, seeing-eye dogs and cats – were put directly in harm’s way during scenes of rampaging beasts, pyrotechnics and carnage. The idea here is to get the animals back in their cages, before the town’s populace is devoured. What transpires before either of those two things can occur is  just crazy enough to hold the attention of viewers who aren’t disgusted by the likelihood that some of the creatures were sacrificed in the service of schlocky cinema. I suspect that this might have negatively affected Wild Beast’s ability to find distribution here. Fans of Italian genre fare might recognize stars Lorraine De Selle (Cannibal Ferox) and Ugo Bologna (Nightmare City). Digitally remastered in hi-def for the first time, Wild Beasts arrives with featurettes “Altered Beasts,” an interview with director Franco E. Prosperi”; “Wild Tony,” an interview with actor Tony di Leo”; “Cut After Cut,” an interview with editor and “Mondo” filmmaker Mario Morra; “The Circus Is in Town,” an interview with animal wrangler Roberto Tibeti’s son, Carlo Tiberti; and “House of Wild Beasts,” a visit to the home of Franco E. Prosperi.

The common element in the Blood Mania/Point of Terror double-feature from Vinegar Syndrome is writer/producer/singer/star Peter Carpenter, who, the publicity material would have us believe was “one of the most enigmatic leading men of the era,” encompassing 1968-71. In addition to this “lurid double-dose of ’70s sleaze” the multi-hyphenate talent suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died two months after the scheduled, then delayed release of his fourth picture, Point of Terror. If he had survived – who knows? – Carpenter might have gone on to become the David Hasselhoff or Wings Hauser of his day. The advent of the video-cassette revolution was still several years away, so Carpenter’s reputation pretty much was limited to edited-for-television versions of these films. (They’re included in the limited-edition pressing, as well.) Carpenter, who may still be best known for playing Mountie in Russ Meyers’ Vixen, plays Craig Cooper who’s taken over the clinic founded by the bed-ridden pain-in-the-ass Dr. Ridgeley Waterman (Eric Allison). Cooper is being blackmailed over performing illegal abortions while a student in med school, so he considers accepting an offer made by Westerman’s amyl-snorting, nymphomaniac daughter, Victoria (Maria De Aragon), who would benefit financially from his assisted death. What she doesn’t know is that her father’s will bestows the bulk of his estate to her younger sister (Playmate Vicki Peters). When Cooper makes a play for Gail, Victoria comes down with a bad case of blood mania.

In Crown International’s Point of Terror, Carpenter headlines as Tony Trelos, a lounge singer whose act resembles a bargain-basement Tom Jones. One morning, after a show, Trelos wakes up on the private beach belonging to Andrea Hillard (Dyanne Thorne) and her wheelchair-bound husband, a record-label executive. After some chitchat with the Lana Turner-wannbe, Trelos convinces her to check out a set at the Lobster House. While he hopes for possible record contract, Andrea appears to be more interested in the bulge in his jeans and someone to help her get rid of her embittered spouse. She feels betrayed when the singer hooks up with her lovely stepdaughter Helayne (Lory Hansen) and decides to do something about it. The best thing about Point of Terror is the set design – or, what passes for it – which provides a lesson in tacky, post-Eisenhower Era modernism and middle-age-crazy fashion statements. Director Robert Vincent O’Neill’s color palette is more startling than anything in the movie. Both pictures have been newly restored from their original 35mm negatives. The package includes a commentary track with Blood Mania’s director Robert Vincent O’Neill, actresses Leslie Simms (both films) and Vicki Peters; a video interview and introduction with O’Neill; an interview with Simms; promotional galleries for both films; and reverse cover artwork.

The 9th Life of Louis Drax: Blu-ray
The Survivor: Blu-ray
Not even the presence of “Fifty Shades” hunk, James Dornan, Emmy-winner Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”), Indie Spirit and Emmy-nominee Molly Parker, Emmy nominee Oliver Platt, Oscar- and Emmy nominee Barbara Hershey and the (Max) Minghella imprint on the screenplay could ensure more than a limited release for The 9th Life of Louis Drax. Before taking on the task of adapting Liz Jensen’s best-selling novel of the same title, director Alexandre Aja had just come off the offbeat hybrid fantasy Horns, with Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple, and goofy international hit, Piranha 3D. If M. Night Shyamalan had affixed his name to the project somewhere, more viewers might have been attracted to the picture’s intricate blend of supernatural intrigue, eerie special effects and head-scratching mystery. The story begins on Louis Drax’s 9th birthday, when a lifetime of curious mishaps culminated in the boy’s near-fatal fall from the ledge of a steep cliff, into the Pacific Ocean. After being pulled from the water, Louis expires on an operating table. As he’s being wheeled into the morgue, however, the boy startles hospital workers by rising from the dead … literally. Being alive and being alert enough to recognize his surroundings are two different things, though.

Even when he was fully conscious, Louis tended to drift in and out of a dream state, while also acting out some dangerous fantasies. Platt plays the psychiatrist entrusted with discovering what makes him tick. Their sessions are confrontational and freakishly candid, as if there was a much older sociopath controlling Louis’ every response. Without giving anything away, I can safely say that the rest of movie alternates between what’s happening in Louis’ subconscious, as he recalls the events leading up to the fateful day, and the efforts of the adults around him to fix or elude blame for the accident. Meanwhile, his father (Paul) has disappeared, his mother (Sarah Gadon) fears for her life and the boy’s neurologist (Dornan) steps into a web being spun by a black-widow spider. Parker plays a dogged police detective, who suspects everyone involved of being guilty for something or other, while Hershey plays Louis’ paternal grandmother, who swoops in towards the end of the movie to unravel the threads leading to common wisdom. One way to determine beforehand whether or not you’ll enjoy The 9th Life of Louis Drax would be to recall your feelings toward Shyamalan’s film, especially those released between Signs and Split.

Although David Hemmings’ 1981 supernatural thriller, The Survivor, can be found on most lists of Ozploitation titles, it differs from the car chase and slasher flicks in a couple of significant ways. It was one of the first Australian films whose budget was allowed to pass the million-dollar barrier and a cerebral approach to the mayhem that was less in tune with Mad Max than The Last Wave and Walkabout, which also starred Jenny Agutter. The inferno ignited by the crash leaves everyone on board dead, except the pilot (Robert Powell), who walks away from the wreckage unscathed. Soon thereafter, a local psychic named Hobbs (Agutter) begins to communicate with the spirits of the doomed passengers. Hobbs helps the pilot recreate the horrifying event, while a priest played by Joseph Cotton – in his final film performance – has other reasons to follow the investigation. The Blu-ray adds extended interviews with producer Antony I. Ginnane (Patrick) and cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient); “The Legacy of James Herbert,” author of the source novel; “Robert Powell on James Herbert,” an on-location TV special with stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner; archived interview with Hemmings and Powell; and Antony I. Ginnane trailer reel.

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man: Blu-ray
Leonard Cohen: Live Broadcast Sessions, 1985-1993
If Bob Dylan hadn’t sent Patti Smith to accept the Noble Prize for literature in his place, there might have been a clamor for Leonard Cohen to be awarded it in a posthumous ceremony. Proof of his greatness can be found on the many DVDs and Blu-rays flooding the market, most only vaguely authorized, if at all. Lionsgate has done his international fandom a great favor of re-releasing Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, a beautifully rendered documentary, during which several musicians he has influenced pay homage to him in song. There have been three tribute CDs dedicated to his work, at least, but, in “I’m Your Man,” it’s possible to see love and heartfelt gratitude in the faces of musicians Linda and Teddy Thompson, the Handsome Family, Perla Batalla, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Bono and the Edge, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton, Julie Christensen, Antony, Kate and Anna McGarrigle. The songs are sometimes interrupted by chats with Cohen and artists represented here, but not so often that it becomes a nuisance. The Blu-ray adds commentary with director Lian Lunson; a brief “conversation” with Cohen; and four additional performances.

I don’t know anything about how copyright laws work outside the United States, except what the MPAA tells me, but I suspect that they’re rather lax when it comes to material broadcast on television. Leonard Cohen: Live Broadcast Sessions, 1985-1993 features 18 live versions of Cohen classics, recorded in Norway in 1985, and again in 1988, and a further selection from Barcelona, Spain, in 1993. This represented an extremely productive period in Cohen’s career, with the release of “Various Positions,” “I’m Your Man” and “The Future.” The audio/visual quality is better here than in most of the concert videos I’ve seen from unauthorized sources. The songs are rendered in full-length versions, as well.

Dirty Dancing: 30th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Even if Dirty Dancing is celebrating its 30th anniversary on film, it’s worth remembering that the universe in which the story exists is 24 years older than that. It seems like an entire lifetime. More things in our culture changed between the summer of 1963 and August, 1987, than in the 30 years since its release into theaters. Some of that change was noted in the movie, itself, when resort owner Max Kellerman alluded to the fact that teenagers were more interested in spending their summers backpacking through Europe, than learning the merengue in the Catskills. Among other things, President Kennedy was still alive, the Vietnam War was still a police action, the Beatles were a blip on the cultural radar, Mary Quant had yet to rock the mini-skirt and LSD was still legal. Ever cautious, Max might have prohibited his dancers from teaching campers the twist, even though it was two years past its peak. Contraceptives wouldn’t be made available to married women in all states until 1965 or 1972 for unmarried women, like Johnny’s dancing partner Penny, in all 50 states. Roe v. Wade wouldn’t be decided until almost a full decade after Dirty Dancing opened. The 1969 moon landing had less impact on society than legalizing a woman’s right to control her own reproductive system.

All those things and more come to mind while watching the movie for the first, tenth or hundredth time. There are now two new 30th Anniversary editions of Dirty Dancing on the market. At a full list price of $64.99, “Dirty Dancing: 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” offers diehard fans – and you know who you are – such groovy bonus features as a Kellerman’s cottage room key chain for Baby’s room; an I-carried-a-watermelon wristlet wallet; a compact mirror; 108-page shooting script, with written notes and a letter signed by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein; vintage Kellerman resort postcards; a Kellerman resort brochure/map; ”Do Not Disturb” door sign; dance-step cards; original theatrical mini one-sheet; and limited and numbered collectible packaging. The $14.99 edition share brand-new special features “Happy Birthday, Dirty Dancing,” with celebrity testimony; “Patrick Swayze: In His Own Words” and “Patrick Swayze Uncut”; and Eleanor Bergstein’s “Thoughts on a Lifetime of Dirty Dancing.” The vintage supplemental material adds outtakes/deleted/alternate/extended scenes; music videos; “The Dirty Dancing Phenomenon” and “The Rhythm of the Dancing”; original screen tests; interviews with Jennifer Grey, Eleanor Bergstein, Miranda Garrison and Kenny Ortega; and separate commentary tracks with Eleanor Bergstein, and with Kenny Ortega, Miranda Garrison, Jeff Jur, Hilary Rosenfeld and David Chapman.

Life, Animated
Even if this Oscar-nominated documentary has been in general release for a few months now, street dates are practically irrelevant when it comes to films that aren’t destined for a can’t-miss posting atop the new-releases listings. For non-fiction films, any publicity — any time — could be good for business. When Life, Animated made the cut in the Best Documentary Feature category, it gave publicists another excuse to call reviewers and pitch their product. Roger Ross Williams’ deeply affecting film must be considered a longshot for the top prize, but stranger things have happened. For one thing, Williams has already won an Academy Award, in 2009, in the Best Documentary Short Subject category, for “Music by Prudence.” For another, Life, Animated demonstrates the almost miraculously therapeutic power of movies. It tells the story of Owen Suskind, a chatty and energetic 3-year-old, who, one day, stopped speaking and sank into autism.

No developmental disorder renders parents more powerless than autism, which betrays few signs of its advance and offers even fewer avenues for recovery. It wasn’t until Owen reached 7 that he showed any signs of improvement. The only things that held his attention for any length of time were the animated Disney movies that he stared at for hours at a time. One day, his father, Ron, picked up one of Owen’s puppets — Iago, the wisecracking parrot from Aladdin — and asked, “What’s it like to be you?” Out of the blue, the boy responded using dialogue from the movie. It represented the first step toward a life that would include becoming a highly proficient artist and mimic, meeting the voice actors behind his favorite characters, addressing a conference in France and moving into an assistant-living complex. There would be setbacks, some almost too sad to bear, but the high points make for exhilarating viewing. In charting Owens’ journey, Williams combines vintage home-movie footage, with his own animations and short segments from his favorite Disney movies.

TV to DVD
Epix: Graves: Season One
El Rey Network: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series: Season Three
History: Frankenstein: The Real Story/The Real Wolfman Double Feature
PBS: Moveable Feast: Season 4
Nickelodeon: Shimmer and Shine: Friendship Divine
PBS Kids: Caillou: Playtime With Caillou
PBS/Nick Jr.: Teletubbies: Big Hugs
Who better than Nick Nolte to play an irascible former president, commonly dismissed as the worst to have ever occupied the Oval Office? Larry David? Perhaps, but he’s otherwise engaged, preparing for a ninth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Nope, Nolte is perfect as President Richard Graves, a right-wing extremist who was elected (twice), in large part, because he was a cowboy. Now, 20 years after leaving the White House, the protagonist of Epix’s frequently spot-on comedy, “Graves,” has seen the liberal light and has decided to right the wrongs inflicted on 99 percent of the American populace by his administration and retool his legacy. Clearly, Graves is modeled on former presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, both of whom had cowboy credentials, but the policies he shaped might have been lifted from Donald Trump’s campaign playbook. Lately, though, he’s gone so far as to invite illegal immigrants to take advantage of the sanctuary being provided at his Santa Fe compound. He’s also advocated diverting tax dollars to cancer research, instead of carrying Republican 1-percenters on the federal dole. The show, which takes full advantage of its splendid New Mexico location, also benefits from a terrific supporting cast. It includes Sela Ward as a former First Lady with political ambitions of her own; Heléne Yorke, as his debauched daughter; Chris Lowell, as his alienated son, home from the war; Skylar Astin, as Graves’ adoring assistant; Callie Hernandez, as his multi-tattooed hippie muse; and Ernie Hudson and Nia Vardalos, as political advisors. The early episodes were larded with real-life political nerds – including the unctuous Rudy Giuliani – but that novelty wore out its welcome rather quickly. A second season is expected later this year.

Season Three of the El Rey Network original, “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series,” continues to expand on the saga of the highly excitable Gecko brothers, the vampire goddess Santánico Pandemonium and the Fuller family. As it opens, Seth and Richie’s organization is infiltrated by an enemy fixated on destroying the Geckos, the Lords and all culebras. They attempt to persuade Santanico to help them fight various demons who have escaped from the ancient labyrinth of the Titty Twister. She, however, is being targeted by the ancient Xibalban queen, Amaru, who has taken on a familiar form of Kate Fuller. Meanwhile, Freddie and Ximena follow a trail of massacres to a deadly confrontation with Xibalban demon Brasa, who’s Amaru’s right-hand man. This is one show that demands of newcomers that they do their homework before jumping in feet first.

From the History Channel comes the double-feature package, “Frankenstein: The Real Story” and “The Real Wolfman,” both of which use historical, scientific and forensic data to trace the origins of these enduing legends. Doctor Frankenstein’s monster may have sprung from the brow of Mary Shelley, but efforts to raise the dead using spare body parts and electricity weren’t at all unusual in her time. “The Real Wolfman” examines the same legend of the Beast of Gévaudan that informed the French horror/thriller, The Brotherhood of Wolf, in 2001. As the story goes, a wolf-like creature prowled the Auvergne and South Dordogne regions of France during the years 1764 to 1767, killing about 100 people, often in bizarre circumstances.

In Season Four of PBS’s tantalizing “Moveable Feast,” we follow celebrity chef Pete Evans on a culinary journey across America, as he teams up with some of the country’s most innovative chefs — Curtis Stone, Sean Brock, Andrea Reusing and Brian Malarkey — to source the finest regional ingredients and create a multicourse feast for friends. The destinations include a majestic redwood grove, river oyster farm, a ranch in the foothills of Montana and the deck of the USS Midway. Learn cooking tips and techniques from chefs at Fine Cooking magazine. Special features include printable recipes for Thai-style deviled eggs, rye-berry succotash, low-country fish stew, honey-chipotle lamb ribs and Smith Island cake.

In the third DVD release for Nickelodeon’s hit animated preschool series, “Shimmer and Shine,” the genies-in-training encounter some fantastical new friends, including spunky mermaid Nila, Ice Genie Layla and Crystal Queen Empress Caliana. The episodes in “Friendship Divine” include “Zoom Zahramay,” “Mermaid Mayhem,” “A Tree-Mendous Rescue!,” “Freeze-Amay Falls,” “Lightning in a Bottle,” “All Bottled Up,” and “The Crystal Queen And Bling, Bling.”

In PBS Kids’ “Caillou: Playtime With Caillou,” the emphasis is on playing games and being active with family and friends. The episodes include “Caillou’s New Game,” “Caillou’s Leaf Pile,” “Rainy Day at the Beach,” “Soccer Trouble,” “Daddy’s Puzzles,” “What’s Ringette?” and “Sarah’s Kite.”

Big Hugs” is part of the popular “Teletubbies” series, which gives some parents the creeps, but kids love. (Facsimiles even showed up in an acid trip in the horror flick Antibirth, mentioned above.) The children’s show features whimsical characters who explore and learn amazing things about life, while on their adventures. In this collection, some of the show’s best loved characters find a magic door that leads them into a special world where a Big Hug awaits each of them. Join Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po as they splash in puddles, ride the Custard Train and watch Tummy Tales.

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“Hollywood executives can rattle off the rules for getting a movie approved by Chinese censors: no sex (too unseemly); no ghosts (too spiritual). Among 10 prohibited plot elements are “disrupts the social order” and “jeopardizes social morality.” Time travel is frowned upon because of its premise that individuals can change history. U.S. filmmakers sometimes anticipate Chinese censors and alter movies before their release. The Oscar-winning alien-invasion drama “Arrival” was edited to make a Chinese general appear less antagonistic before the film’s debut in China this year. For “Passengers,” the space adventure starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, a scene showing Mr. Pratt’s bare backside was removed, and a scene of Mr. Pratt chatting in Mandarin with a robot bartender was added.”
~ “Hollywood’s New Script”

The race stuff blew up first. The second night we aired was the first time I met my boyfriend; we were on a blind date. I had been metabolizing the criticism all week, and I made a really, really dumb joke that I’m perfectly fine to repeat now ’cause I was fuckin’ 25. I said, ‘No one would be calling me a racist if they knew how badly I wanted to fuck Drake.’ He said, ‘Don’t say that in public; that’s not going to help you.’ I just didn’t get it. I was like, ‘I have the three most annoying white friends, and I’m making a TV show about it.'”
~ Lena Dunham