MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Fifty Shades Darker, Things to Come, Chef’s Wife, Alena, Kiju Yoshida, Streets of Fire, Beaches and more

Fifty Shades Darker: Unrated Edition: Blu-ray
The thing that fans of E. L. James’ fabulously successful “Fifty Shades Trilogy” already know, but some people anticipating the Blu-ray release of James Foley and Niall Leonard’s Fifty Shades Darker may not, is that it’s essentially a two-hour trailer for next year’s Fifty Shades Freed. Ominous characters are introduced into dramatic throughlines that inevitably turn into cliffhangers, leaving those of us who haven’t read the books hanging in midair, with too many questions on our mind, not the least of them concerning the lack of sexual gratification in a series about hardcore S&M… or, even, pubic hair. Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson have swell bodies, as far as they go, but so do Barbie and Ken. While there were a few micro-flashes of waxed pubes in Fifty Shades of Grey, they’ve been culled from both the sequel and its “unrated edition.” Admittedly, the pre-Valentine’s Day openings of both films were intended to attract couples — women in search of romance, men hoping for an after-party at home — but isn’t it possible that a few female viewers, at least, might want to know if Christian Grey’s newly acquired three-day stubble was balanced by some “manscaping” below. As Fifty Shades Darker opens, Christian and Anastasia are estranged. She’s an executive assistant at a high-profile publishing house, while Christian is carrying a torch for his errant plaything. In less time than it takes for most folks to decide between fake butter and plain popcorn, they reconnect and he’s agreed to Anastasia’s list of demands. In another blink of the eye, she’s peeling off her britches in elevators and restaurants, and submitting to the tortuous pleasure of inserting beads into her hoohah for a night out on the town. (I would have preferred to see the look on his face if she demanded he stick a necklace of jawbreaker-sized beads up his butt… but, alas, Christian’s still the boss.)

To keep things from getting too monotonous for viewers, several shadowy figures from Christian’s dark past — including her piggy boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), sex-crazed stalker (Bella Heathcote) and his personal Mrs. Robinson, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger) — have been added to the cast of characters. They have no intentions of allowing the blessed couple to live happily ever after, but, again, the details will only be revealed in 2018. (At least the producers had the decency not to divide the final installment into two parts, as was the case with the Twilight saga.) With the able assistance of cinematographer John Schwartzman and composer Danny Elfman, Foley does a good job keeping things sparkly, posh and tastefully erotic, but the holes in Leonard’s screenplay — or, more likely author-producer James’ novels — give new meaning to the concept of “half-baked.” A helicopter crash in the wilderness surrounding the Mount St. Helens has the same emotional payoff as a fender-bender on Santa Monica Boulevard. The unrated-edition adds 13 minutes of new and extended material, including a pool-room scene and some bumping and grinding that probably concerned the ratings board. If “Darker” didn’t do nearly as well as the blockbuster original at the domestic and worldwide box office, it still made enough money for investors to anticipate next Valentine’s Day’s release. Also included in the 4K UHD and Blu-ray versions are the featurettes, “Darker Direction,” in which Foley explains how he intended to address fans’ unresolved expectations from Part I; “New Threats,” on characters Jack Hyde, Leila and Elena Lincoln; “The Masquerade,” on the gala masquerade benefit event at Grey Mansion; “Intimate With Darker,” a discussion about the “sensual and provocative world of Fifty Shades Darker, including a visit to the Red Room and Christian’s new toys”; “Writing Darker,” with James and Leonard; “Dark Reunion,” with the filmmakers and cast members, who returned for the sequel; deleted scenes; and a tease to Fifty Shades Freed.

Things to Come: Blu-ray
The Chef’s Wife
The attention paid to Isabelle Huppert for her Oscar-nominated, Globe- and Indie Spirit-winning performance in Elle not only was well deserved, but also long overdue. The brilliant French actor has been a finalist for Cesar awards in the top acting categories 16 times, winning twice, for Elle and La ceremonie (1995). The first of two Best Actress nods, at Cannes, came in a unanimous vote for her work in La pianiste (2001). Her 132 credits on IMDB.com include a 2010 guest appearance on “Law & Order: SVU,” three features still awaiting distribution here and six more either completed, announced or in post-production. At 64, Huppert shows no signs of slowing down or begging for scraps from tables reserved for flavor-of-the-month ingenues. Her latest import, Things to Come (“L’avenir”), is exactly the kind of drama American studios should be offering to the cream of our acting crop, but no longer do… except as Oscar bait. In it, Huppert plays a woman — yes, of a certain age — whose world is about to come crashing down on her. Nathalie is a philosophy teacher, who’s popular with her students and has seen her work published and assigned throughout France. She and her husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), have been married for 25 years and their nearly adult children seem reasonably well-adjusted. Her actress mother (Edith Scob) looks as if she could die at any moment, but, at least, it allows for steady work as a corpse or murder victim on TV crime shows. Things begin to go sideways when students block access to her classroom during one of France’s many strikes, for God knows what reason. Then, at their daughter’s insistence, Heinz reveals to Nathalie that he’s been having an affair with one of his students and is leaving her. Her publisher decides to cut back on the number of manuscripts he’ll need from her and Mom goes completely off her rocker, calling paramedics for imagined ailments and refusing to eat when she’s taken to a nursing home. She even is required to take care of her mother’s lazy black cat, Pandora.

For the first time in memory, Nathalie finds herself adrift. She attempts to make the best of her newly rediscovered sense of liberation, but things keep getting her way. In an American adaptation of writer-director Mia Hansen Love’s fifth feature, Nathalie would be given a more grin-and-bear-it personality and openness toward trying such contemporary cure-alls as Match.com, medical marijuana, samba lessons or a recovery group for women who have “Shit Happens” tattooed above their broken hearts. Here, Love allows her protagonist — modeled after her own mother — the dignity of maintaining a stiff upper lip in public, while saving her weeping for private moments, in the company of Pandora. Heinz turns out to be a selfish and insensitive dick, who boxes up his wife’s books, along with his own, when he collects his property, and looks astonished when Nathalie boots him out of the house before Christmas dinner. (His girlfriend’s in Spain, so he’s lonely. Tough shit.) Love also gives her the opportunity to renew a friendship with a handsome former student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), who’s decided to leave teaching and join a group of like-minded young intellectuals in the Alps. They publish philosophical tracts, pretend to be anarchists and make cheese. Again, it would have been easy for Love to design a May-September romance for the two platonic friends, but Nathalie seems more concerned with how her fat Parisian cat might adjust to the mountain greenery, if transplanted and left unbound. In another actress’ hands, Nathalie’s troubles might not amount to a hill of beans in our minds. Huppert is so recognizable as someone we might know — or have met somewhere down the line — that we are perfectly willing to stick around to see how things work out for her. And, that’s no small trick.

Like Huppert, Emmanuelle Devos (Kings & Queen) and Karin Viard (Polisse) are actresses — again, of a certain age — who don’t appear to have much trouble finding identifiable characters to play or fulfilling roles in worthwhile movies. Their names may not be instantly recognizable here, but anyone who’s seen more than a handful of French films in the last 10-15 years is well aware of their talent. Seeing them together, in even as bittersweet a comedy as Anne Le Ny’s The Chef’s Wife, is something of a special treat. Devos plays Carole, the wife of a successful chef, Sam (Roschdy Zem), but someone who feels undernourished in her role as dining-room hostess at the high-end restaurant. She consults a career counselor, Marithe (Viard), who is herself dissatisfied by her useful but mundane place within the bureaucracy. Almost by accident, the women become fast friends, making excuses for each other and finding reasons to go on treks in the country. When Marithe meets Sam, she’s immediately struck by something in him that Carole no longer feels. From this point forward, Marithe’s interest in finding her friend a job away from her husband’s dining room becomes an ethically questionable, if romantically strategic conflict of interest. When Sam begins to show an interest in Marithe, his work begins to slip. Things do get a little too crazy as the comedy turns more ironic, but in a pleasant enough sort of way. Besides the acting talent on display, the lovely Orleans settings weave a spell of their own. (The same is true for the Alpine and Brittany locations in Things to Come.)

Alena
Based on an award-winning graphic novel from Sweden — distributed here by Dark Horse Comics — Alena is a revenge thriller, based in the kind of posh all-girls school in which members of the popular clique get away with being mean and nasty to new kids in school. Said to be inspired thematically by Carrie and tonally by Let the Right One In, Daniel di Grado’s debut feature demonstrates once again that girls can be just as nasty as boys, especially when their position in their Stockholm school’s pecking order is threatened. A year earlier, something caused the title character (Amalia Holm) to be expelled from the public school she was attending. The academy’s reigning blond goddess, Filippa (Molly Nutley), takes an instant disliking to the deeply introverted Alena, especially when she demonstrates her unexpected prowess at lacrosse. As captain, Filippa mistakenly believes that she holds veto power over the coach’s decisions as to who makes the team, even if the rookie would be an asset to the squad. After picking on Alena unmercifully, Filippa forces the coach’s hand by going over his head to the school’s easily buffaloed administration. The queen bee’s icy exterior begins to melt when Alena’s talent wins the support of teammates. Before that happens, though, the mean girls order a presumably lesbian teammate to assault Alena in a vicious shower-room attack. It kicks the narrative into a completely different gear. By now, Alena not only has befriended the bohemian, down-to-earth Fabienne (Felice Jankell), but also is reacquainted with a darkly sinister girl from her previous school, Josefin (Rebecka Nyman). One is warmly sympathetic and supportive, while the other will act as her avenging angel. Di Grado sometimes loses his grip on the throttle here, especially when it comes to balancing the horror, violence and exposition. With a mere 83 minutes at his disposable, though, he’s able to recover quickly and get Alena back on track.

Apprentice
Justice Served
It takes a lot for the execution of a convicted murderer to make the front page of a newspaper, anymore. That’s happened twice, since February, when Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced his decision to go ahead with plan to set a new American record by executing 8 condemned men in a 10-day span. The reason it had to be done in such a hurry, he said, was because the state’s supply of a controversial lethal-injection drug was about to expire and the suppliers weren’t happy about having their products mixed together, as a deadly cocktail. The second time came after media witnesses reported that Kenneth Williams continued “coughing, convulsing, lurching, jerking” for a several minutes after being injected with the first drug, midazolam. Hutchinson disputed the reports out of hand, but probably was unhappier that stays of execution for some of the men were announced before he could set the record, probably held by the death-mongers in neighboring Texas. In Singapore, where Boo Junfeng’s gripping drama Apprentice is set, chief executioner Darshan Singh claims to have executed 18 people on one day, using three ropes at a time. Singh also boasted of hanging seven people within 90 minutes, without having to rely on any namby-pamby injections to speed the process. If it seems impossible that the city-state could harbor so many hard-boiled killers within its compact borders, it’s worth noting that its Death Row population isn’t limited to murderers, but also those convicted of drug trafficking, treason, abetting the suicide of a minor, piracy and gun-related offenses. Instead of lethal injections — somehow considered humane in the U.S. — Singapore culls its prison population in the old-fashioned way, inherited by the Brits: long-drop hanging. It’s unscientific, but generally effective.

In Apprentice, an ambitious young correctional officer, Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), is assigned a position under Aiman (Fir Rahman), a veteran executioner at the 80-year-old Changi Prison. Aiman may be a tough taskmaster, but he respects the job and treats the condemned men with something resembling compassion. Like Aiman, we wonder what would possess a former soldier to take a job that most people would consider to be a punishment for doing something wrong. Boo takes his time peeling away the layers of mystery surrounding the personalities of these two men, who, we soon learn, are joined by a macabre coincidence. Aiman probably was the only person to be close enough to hear the final thoughts of Rahim’s father, a convicted serial killer, before the the door on the killing-floor was released. Apprentice doesn’t play out like a revenge thriller, though. Yes, the lives of Rahim and his sister were forever marked by the execution, but, so, too, were those of the families of the victims. As a former gang-banger, he understands that he could have shared the same fate as his father. The more he learns from Aiman, the more he comes to appreciate the man’s insistence on performing his grisly task with an obsessive desire to avoid grisly missteps. The condemned men already know exactly when they’re going to die — alone — and that no call from the governor or a Supreme Court justice is likely to save them for more than a few hours. What the executioner learns from his prized student is also important to the flow of the story. It’s said that Apprentice received an eight-minute standing ovation after its premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. If shown in Arkansas, the governor probably wouldn’t recognize the irony in Boo’s portrayal of a system whose methodology seems less barbaric than the one in place within the sterile confines of his state’s execution chamber. Bonus features include commentary with the filmmaker; a short film, “The Casuariana Cove”; a directors’ statement; and a why-we-selected statement from Film Movement.

In Justice Served, Marvin Young (a.k.a., Young MC) approaches the same subject from a decidedly different direction. In it, three individuals, whose loved ones were victims of heinous crimes, are given the opportunity to confront the men most likely responsible for the deaths, but who avoided prison due to a technicality in the law. The trials, such as they are, take place in a compartmentalized warehouse somewhere in Arizona. The victims’ representatives, who were kidnaped and drugged to prevent them from knowing where they’re going, sit at a desk in a room divided by a glass wall. The “defendants” sit across from them, one by one, handcuffed to an electrified chair. Before either of them can figure out what’s happening, an ominous voice comes over a loudspeaker, saying, “My name is Justice. You are here to retry the case of (insert names and crimes here). The defendant’s chair is electrified. The electricity is controlled by the red button. Feel free to use it.” The survivors aren’t given much choice as to when to push the button, really, but it gives the loved ones a dubious sense of control. Things don’t go precisely according to plan, but close enough for a micro-budget production, supported by the efforts of film students. The DVD adds behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Young and cast members Lance Henriksen, Gail O’Grady, Denyce Lawton, Christina Rose, Lochlyn Munro and Chase Coleman, about their experiences working with the students and a first-time director.

VHS Massacre: Blu-ray
Beyond the Gates: Blu-ray
The Greasy Strangler 
While watching Kenneth Powell and Thomas Edward Seymour’s nostalgic documentary, VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media, I was reminded of the many 20th Century technologies that not only are obsolete, but also virtually unknown to anyone born after 2001. The same thought occurred last month, while watching Rings, F. Javier Gutierrez’ updating of the Ringu series. In it, the famously cursed VHS cassette is inadvertently re-discovered inside a VCR, left abandoned in a thrift shop. The evil contained within the cassette spreads like wildfire only after the film within a film is digitized and goes viral, via social media. Distributed by Troma, VHS Massacre appears, at first glance, to be yet another homage to the weird and wonderful movies that flourished during the first wave of straight-to-video products. The popular acceptance of the then-new Beta and VHS platforms basically opened the door for distributors to forgo traditional routes and release movies shot on 16mm or 35mm film in cassette form. Although the doc focuses on low-budget horror, slasher and sci-fi fare, the straight-to-video business was kickstarted by cartoons and movies made for children and, of course, hard-core porn. In addition to the increased amount of footage stored on VHS cassettes, producers used the format to do an end run around stiff licensing fees demanded by Sony for its Beta products. Eventually, the technically superior format succumbed to the demands of the marketplace. The larger message delivered in VHS Massacre, however, concerns the adaptability of savvy young filmmakers to not only take advantage of the financial benefits of video, but also the insatiable appetite for intriguing new titles by mom-and-pop stores across the country.

The doc then describes how studios conspired with Blockbuster and other large chains to control the flow, prices and placement of newly released theatrical features at retail. With Pandora’s Box already opened, however, niche production studios and distributors began delivering exploitation, grindhouse and other sensational cross-genre material to premium-cable services — hence the straight-to-cable label — especially for the late-night crowd whose needs were filled by soft-core T&A and strategically edited porn. When the analog era gave way to digital, an entirely new paradigm was introduced. Technically superior and far more compact DVD players and products took off like a rocket, all but killing off VHS cassettes. Streaming allowed for the distribution of DIY and micro-budget fare, via the Internet and YouTube. And, once again, much to the chagrin of the studios, audience acceptance for these frequently outrageous products exploded, creating new economic models and younger audiences. Naturally, VHS Massacre benefits mightily from lots of clips and interviews. Among the witnesses called are Joe Bob Briggs (MonsterVision), Lloyd Kaufman (Toxic Avenger), Greg Sestero (The Room), Debbie Rochon (Return to Nuke ‘Em High), Deborah Reed (Troll 2), Mark Frazer (Samurai Cop) and James Nguyen (Birdemic). It also is fun to watch collectors scour the shelves of old video stores and warehouses for titles, some which have yet to be transferred to DVD. The doc adds an inciteful intro by Troma czar Lloyd Kaufman; commentary by the directors; deleted scenes; “Troma Now! Extreme Edition”; a full episode of “Monster Kill: Merminators from Space,” the new Web series by Powell and Seymour; and Troma trailers.

Jackson Stewart wasn’t even born when the straight-to-video movement began to take shape. Even so, his retro-horror thriller Beyond the Gates looks as if it might have been made for drive-in audiences in the mid- to late-1980s. (The higher resolution afforded by DVD and Blu-ray reveals its true date of origin: June 2016.) In a horror trope almost as old as the genre itself, two estranged brothers, Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson), reunite in the wake of their father’s bizarre disappearance to sift through his property for clues to what happened. Their search leads to his video-rental store, staked floor-to-ceiling with vintage VHS tapes, posters and cut-outs. Among the discoveries is an interactive VCR board game that, when synced to the cassette, opens a portal to a nightmarish alternate reality… conveniently located in the basement of the recently haunted family home. The puzzle can’t be solved until four keys are located on the premises, each one leading to another level and the gruesome death of an annoying acquaintance. The most obvious clue to Stewart’s intentions here is the prominent role played by horror legend Barbara Crampton, famous for her skintastic contributions to Stuart Gordon’s Re-AnimatorSpace TruckersCastle Freak and From Beyond, Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall, Brian De Palma’s Body Double and James Frawley’s Fraternity Vacation. The Blu-ray includes commentary track with Stewart, Crampton and other cast and crew members; a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted scenes; and surprise appearance by Gordon, for whom Stewart once apprenticed.

Jim Hosking and Toby Harvard’s The Greasy Strangler is exactly the kind of depraved and disgusting exploitation flick that could have been made for quick-and-dirty exhibition, at any time between 1980 and 2017, but not as inexpensively or with as much clarity. The primitive makeup effects, moth-eaten clothes and threadbare locations suggest that it could have been made for a straight-to-cassette release, as well. Because they used a digital camera and editing equipment, however, the filmmakers were able to capture images — however unappetizing — that might have been lost in the shadows if they had been recorded on film. After an extensive festival run, The Greasy Strangler debuted on the Internet — reaching a potentially huge audience for very little money — and enjoyed an extremely limited theatrical run before that going out on DVD and Blu-ray. The gross-out horror-comedy got an additional boost when it caught the attention of the lofty New York Times. Its summarization of the story’s plot borders on the hilarious, especially considering the paper’s high-end readership. Father and son Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) and Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michael) conduct tours of phony disco-history shrines in down-and-out corners of Los Angeles. Together, they make junk dealers Fred and Lamont Sanford look like Fred Astaire and Edward Everett Horton, in Top Hat. When they aren’t walking around the house in their stained and ill-fitting underpants, Brayton and Ronnie favor outfits that wouldn’t be out of place at a clown convention. The slovenly man-child Brayton dotes on his elderly, foul-mouthed father, while also suspecting him of being the Greasy Strangler. The infamous serial killer is so-named, because he covers himself (and his prosthetic mega-penis) in layers of grease and animal fat. Before returning home from a kill, the Strangler visits local a car wash to shed the trademark disguise. After Brayden falls for Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), a chubby gal he meets on the disco tour, Ronnie makes it his business to convince her of his son’s unsuitability and impress her with his giant cock. Obviously, The Greasy Strangler isn’t for everyone… or, maybe, anyone without a pre-disposition for such midnight-madness fare as EraserheadBasket CaseEl Topo or Pink Flamingos.

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Lately, the good news surrounding re-releases of vintage Japanese films on Blu-ray focuses on genre titles, anime and obscure cult favorites, and bonus packages that add plenty of value to the presentation. For a long time, Criterion has pretty much cornered the market on the acknowledged classics of the Japanese cinema, which it’s now upgrading to Blu-ray. Any number of niche and mainstream distributors have sprung up, as well, to picking up the slack on new releases and novelty items. Arrow Films and its Arrow Academy subsidiary handle titles from both ends of the spectrum. Its latest contribution to the high side is the seven-disc “Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism: Limited Edition,” which includes Heroic PurgatoryCoup d’etat and two versions of Eros + Massacre, a loose trilogy of films from the late 1960s and early 1970s, united by their takes on radical politics and cinematography that recalls the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Goddard and Alain Resnais. A contemporary of Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses) and Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower), Yoshida started out as an assistant to Keisuke Kinoshita (The Ballad of Narayama) before making his directorial debut at age 27. Not many of his 20-plus features and documentaries have found a DVD home on this side of the Pacific. All three films collected here concern events in pre- and post-World War II Japanese history that few Americans, even college graduates, are familiar. As such, I don’t recommend tackling them without first listening to the introductions provided by Yoshida and David Desser. It’s well worth the extra effort.

Eros + Massacre is presented in both its 169-minute theatrical version and the full-length 220-minute director’s cut. It tells the parallel stories of early 20th Century anarchist Sakae Osugi and a pair of student activists from the 1960s studying his radical stances on politics and the free love movement. On September 16, 1923, in the chaos immediately following the Great Kanto Earthquake, Osugi and his lover-partner, Noe Ito, and his 6-year-old nephew, were arrested, beaten to death and thrown into a well by a squad of military police. The killing of such high-profile anarchists, along with a child, became known as the Amakasu Incident. It sparked surprise and anger throughout Japan, reverberating for many decades afterward, when left-wing violence was at its most extreme. One of the reasons for the severe shortening of the movie was the threat of a lawsuit over an invasion of privacy by a woman who was involved with Osugi and went on to become a prominent Japanese politician. Heroic Purgatory pushes the challenging cinematic language of Eros + Massacre even further, presenting a bleak dreamlike investigation into the political discourses taking place in the period. It focuses on an engineer, Shoda, and his wife, Kanako, whose lives are disrupted by the appearance of a young woman, Ayu, who claims that Shoda is one of the men who could be her father. The event causes Shoda to reflect on his past as a militant youth and the mysterious “Plan D,” which involved the abduction of “Ambassador J.” Eleven years in the future, Shoda and his wife will become the subject of a media frenzy.

Coup d’etat (a.k.a., “Martial Law”) takes a more mainstream approach to its subject: Ikki Kita, a right-wing intellectual, who, in the 1920-30s, advocated the dissolution of the Emperor system and Meiji Constitution. The picture begins with a young radical murdering an elderly gentleman out for a stroll in his quiet neighborhood. The victim is Yasuda Zenjiro, head of the Yasuda financial cartel. Shortly after, revolutionary writer Kita receives a communique from the assassin, Asahi, in which he claims to have acted on ideas presented in his “Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan.” Another disciple of Kita, Nishida Mitsuki, coordinates an uprising of military and naval officers, all determined to assassinate the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. While Kita has no direct involvement in the plot, he is arrested and executed, anyway. The implementation of martial law led to Japan’s pre-war militarism. Released two years after the ritual suicide of the celebrated writer and prominent nationalist Yukio Mishima, Coup d’etat may have been informed by his sensational death and aborted coup attempt. It may also have influenced Paul Schrader’s approach to Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985). The Arrow Academy edition features meticulously restored versions of each film; background material; commentary; interviews; introductions; limited edition packaging, featuring newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm; and an illustrated 80-page book, with new writing on the films by Desser, Isolde Standish (“Politics, Porn and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s”) and Dick Stegewerns (“Kiju Yoshida: 50 Years of Avant-Garde Filmmaking in Post-War Japan”).

Chicago Cubs: 2016 World Series: The Complete Game 7: Ultimate Edition
Cubs fans waited 108 years for an opportunity to win the World Series and it took a victory for the ages to bring one home. Chicago overcame a 3-games-to-1 deficit to conquer the Cleveland Indians in an extra-inning seventh game, delayed by rain, as if to ratchet up the drama. The Indians, after all, hadn’t tasted victory in the Fall Classic, themselves, for more than a half-century. In the eighth inning, the Indians tied the Cubs on a home run by Rajai Davis. Then came the rains and a 17-minute wait for series MVP Ben Zobrist to smack an RBI double for the lead and Miguel Montero to single in Anthony Rizzo for a 2-run cushion, forcing Cleveland to the end of its tether. Chicago Cubs: 2016 World Series: The Complete Game 7 is presented by MLB and Shout!Factory in its entirety, preserving the complete, unedited footage of the four-and-a-half-hour event. A couple of other Blu-ray editions have already been released — covering the season, playoffs and previous World Series games — so, it’s worth reading the fine print to see if the so-called Ultimate Edition is the ideal choice.

Streets of Fire: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
In 1984, Walter Hill was as hot a director of action films as anyone in the business. The string included Hard TimesThe DriverThe WarriorsThe Long RidersSouthern Comfort and his first blockbuster, 48 Hrs., which rewrote the book on buddy films, salt-and-pepper teams and comic-straight-man pairings. Although popular music had always played a role in his pictures, Hill had yet to shoot an in-concert performance. It required some on-the-job training and off-the-cuff improvisation, in addition to prepping the stylized fight scenes and aggressive-driving sequences that were more his purview. Some of his discomfort with the musical format is evident in Streets of Fire, but, so, too, are the innovative solutions he and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo devised for combining disparate visual elements from existing rock musicals with ideas borrowed from the brilliant color scheme of Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart and neo-noir shadings in graphic novels. We’re told in the introduction that Streets of Fire is a “rock & roll fable… from another time, another place.” Hill and co-writer Larry Gross (48 Hrs.) were directly influenced, as well, by The SearchersMad MaxEscape From New YorkGrand Theft AutoThe Wild One and a song from Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album that didn’t appear on the soundtrack. According to Hill, he wanted Streets of Fire to remind him of what, as a teenager, he thought would make a good movie: custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor.” It takes place in an urban environment that combines Chicago’s otherworldly Lower Wacker Drive, a Detroit in decay and Paramount’s almost surrealistically phony backlot, which was covered over by a giant tarp to facilitate day-for-night shoots. The production lucked out when an abandoned borax factory was located nearby and it had yet to be stripped of its salvageable parts. The overall creative strategy didn’t pay dividends at the box office, at the time, causing the studio to drop plans for sequels. Since then, however, Streets of Fire has gained cult status, at least, and remains extremely watchable in hi-def.

As a crowd of bobbysoxers and bebop boys gathers for a concert by rock diva Ellen Aim (Diane Lane, then 18), members of the Bombers motorcycle gang, led by the vicious Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe), prepare to storm the auditorium and kidnap the well-before-her-time singing sensation. In the madness that ensues, the bikers create enough of a distraction for Raven to get safely away with Ellen. We assume that his intentions are dishonorable, but, because the studio insisted on a PG delivery, it isn’t clear what evil things Raven has in mind. Even before the smoke has cleared, newly returned soldier Tom Cody (Michael Pare) rides into town on an empty subway car — not unlike Randolph Scott, sitting the tall-in-the-saddle — and agrees to his sister’s request to rescue Ellen, with whom he has a romantic history. In a surprisingly effective casting decision, suggested by Amy Madigan, he chooses the two-fisted, beer-guzzling McCoy as his sidekick. Joined by Ellen’s weaselly manager, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), they come to Ellen’s rescue. Once again, however, because of concerns over ratings, the violence is less disturbing than anything in West Side Story. This cult favorite features a razor-sharp cast and original songs written by Jim Steinman, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and Benmont Tench, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Ry Cooder and Jim Dickinson, and Dave Allen, and performed by the Blasters, the Fixx, Maria McKee, Marilyn Martin and Dan Hartman. For Ellen Aim’s singing voice, record-producer Jimmy Iovine combined the voices of Laurie Sargent and Holly Sherwood, billing them as “Fire Incorporated.” Her backup group, the Attackers, was comprised of members of Sargent’s Face to Face band. Not surprisingly, Steinmen’s anthems, “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young” and “Nowhere Fast,” sound as if they might have been intended for Meatloaf or Bonnie Tyler. The splendid Blu-ray package contains a separate disc devoted to new and vintage bonus material, including two feature-length making-of docs, interviews, music videos and promotional material.

The Godfather-Godfather II-Godfather Part III: Blu-ray
On April 29th, Francis Ford Coppola and stars of The Godfather gathered in New York’s Radio City Music Hall for a 45th anniversary reunion, marking the release of the first installment in the universally acclaimed trilogy… the first two segments, anyway. Coppola was joined by Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Talia Shire, Robert Duvall and an audience of 6,000 fans, as they watched back-to-back screenings of The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II (1974) on the closing night of the Tribeca Film Festival. Considering that most of the people in the audience had already seen the films multiple times and some had even memorized the dialogue, the highlight of the evening was a panel discussion, in which the participants recalled highlights and lowlights of the production, as well as personal anecdotes and memories of dearly departed cast members. I wish that Paramount had waited a few weeks to release its commemorative repackagings of all three titles, including The Godfather: Part III, an economically driven sequel that still splits critics and audiences. It would have been interesting for those of us who missed the reunion to see it included as a fresh featurette.

Savannah Sunrise
Shawnee Smith and Pamela Reed, who’ve both done excellent work in far better pictures than Savannah Sunrise, play polar-opposites confined to a car, traveling from Louisville to Georgia, on a firm deadline. Their road trip is prompted by the forced relocation of Loraine, whose pastor husband died several years earlier, but is only now exiting the home provided by church. Joy is a stereotypically harried modern woman, struggling to maintain a balance between responsibilities at home and work. That equilibrium is disturbed when Joy is handed a last-minute assignment with a deadline that conflicts with the long-scheduled road trip. Not wishing to display any signs of weakness to her uncaring boss, she insists that she can hit both targets simultaneously, and without breaking much of a sweat. Obviously, Joy hasn’t rented Planes, Trains & Automobiles, lately. It’s just as likely that sophomore director Randall Stevens (My Dad’s a Soccer Mom) and writers James Mitchell, Thomas Torrey and Gary Wheeler == two writers too many, by my count, for such a weak screenplay — haven’t studied the John Hughes classic, either. It doesn’t take long for the good-natured, if increasingly forgetful Loraine to throw Joy’s intricately timed itinerary into disarray. And, therein lies the problem. The G-rated distractions are so unlikely — a stowaway alligator, anyone? — as to defy credulity. The overriding message being delivered here is that women from dissimilar backgrounds can learn a lot from each other, especially when forced to do so by circumstances. For the sake of their mental and spiritual health, women with A-type personalities also are encouraged to get back to the basics of family life. Welcome to the world of faith-based entertainment, Joy. The Walmart exclusive DVD adds interviews and a making-of featurette.

Holy Hell
Although the aphorism, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” is most frequently attributed to the great American showman P. T. Barnum, its true origin is less certain. That doesn’t make it any less accurate or meaningful, today. Take the most recent presidential campaign… please. The disturbing CNN Films documentary, Holy Hell, not only confirms the modern applicability of the phrase, but it also suggests that some of us were born with the word, “damaged,” tattooed on our foreheads in invisible ink. In 1985, film school graduate Will Allen joined what, at the time, he considered to be a loving, spiritual community in West Hollywood, centered on the enigmatic spiritual leader they called Michel. Then 22, Allen was forced to leave home after his mother learned he was gay and his sister invited him to join the nearby alternative community and meditation group she had been attending. Fortuitously, Allen ingratiated himself with the onetime ballet aspirant and failed Hollywood actor — gay porn, too — by immersing himself in the documentation of Michel’s every move and thought. It took a while for Michel’s true colors to reveal themselves, but, when they did, Allen’s camera was there, too. With 22 years’ worth of footage at Allen’s disposal, Holy Hell could just has easily become just another ugly indictment of a religious conman addicted to narcissism, avarice and other people’s gullibility. Among the things that struck me about the film are the good intentions of the “community” of souls gathered under Michelâ’s umbrella and his ability to hypnotize these well-educated men and women into believing he was their rock and gateway to God.

Cult tragedies could hardly have come as news to these people, after all. They clearly enjoyed participating in his elaborately staged pageants and there’s no evidence presented that he appropriated their savings for personal gain. On film, Buddhafield (“pure land”) resembles a Club Med for the Prozac Generation. The problem only came to the fore when Michel’s misogynistic behavior became too obvious to conceal and the code of silence surrounding his extortion of sexual favors from the youngest male disciples began to crack. It was only then that Michel, like Jim Jones and David Koresh before him, put his followers’ loyalty to the test, picking favorites and pitting them against each other. Holy Hell mixes footage of the good times in California, Hawaii and Texas with interviews conducted among people who left the cult and reveal of full range of emotions. Allen also went back to places they lived as a community, but abandoned when the heat was turned on Michel. The scariest thing, perhaps, is the overwhelming visual evidence of Michel’s malevolent charisma — imagine a particularly evil looking Nureyev, in Speedos — that would frighten most children and pets. The bonus material adds unused footage, extended interviews and surreptitiously captured footage of Michel — now, Reyji — and his current followers, once again in Hawaii. As penetrating an experience as Holy Hell is, it’s possible to wonder why some members stayed with Michel and how he’s been able to finance the operation for more than 30 years.

TV-to-DVD
Lifetime: Beaches
Discovery: Shark Week: Shark & Awe Collection
Netflix: Orange Is the New Black: Season Four
Comedy Central: Inside Amy Schumer: Season 4
PBS: Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City
PBS: Plants Behaving Badly
PBS: NOVA: The Origami Revolution
PBS Kids: All About Allergies
In the 30 years since the release of Garry Marshall’s adaptation of Iris Rainer Dart’s novel, “Beaches,” it’s been a property ripe for sequelization, re-adaptation and diversification. A sequel, based on Dart’s 1991 novel, “Beaches II: I’ll Be There,” was planned with Barbara Eden attached to it but never filmed. A Broadway-bound version made it as far as Chicago’s Drury Lane Theater, in 2014, before going into hibernation. Allison Anders’ recent remake, for Lifetime, covers two of the three bases, at least, by updating the protagonists’ WASP-Jew dynamic – Barbara Hershey-Bette Midler — to one that allows for a more au courant black-white vibe, with Nia Long and Idina Menzel (a.k.a., Adele Dazeem) in the lead roles. Here, Long’s spoiled rich girl, Hillary Whitney, first encounters Menzel’s artistically precocious CC Bloom at the street circus that borders Venice Beach. They go on to become lifelong friends, through thick and thin, even though they’re separated by beaches a continent apart from each other. (Or, in made-for-TV geography, different locations outside Vancouver.) Hillary, a single mom, struggles to make a mark of her own in her father’s law firm, while CC is scratching her way up the show-biz food chain. Their friendship is tested by a shared affection for a director (Antonio Cupo), but, they’re reunited by a more sinister force and the bonds of love. Lifetime’s “Beaches” doesn’t reveal the sure touch of Marshall’s hand at the wheel or the narrative edge of Anders’ previous successes, Sugar Town (1999), Grace of My Heart (1995), Mi vida loca (1993), Gas Food Lodging (1992) and Border Radio (1987). Apart from the dynamism of Menzel’s singing voice, Beaches is just another made-for-TV movie. For a while, anyway, it’s a Walmart exclusive.

Also available at the giant retail chain is “Shark Week: Shark Awe Collection,” a compilation of recent episodes from the programming concept that put Discovery Channel on the map, almost 30 years ago. Originally devoted to conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks, “Shark Week” eventually succumbed to the lure of demographic slumming with more exploitative material. In January, 2015, Discovery’s new president Rich Ross told reporters that shows like “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives” had “run their course.” An uproar raised by regular viewers and shark experts probably had more of an impact on programmers. The proof is in the pudding, however, and the episodes included in “Shark &Awe Collection” demonstrate a return to form. Indeed, they prove that when it comes to sharks, the truth is every bit as fascinating as fiction. Advances in DNA mapping now allows for the tracking of killer beasts, while deep-water technology has allowed for the discovery of new species and some considered extinct. The 22½ hours of material included in this collection, culled from the best episodes from 2015 and 2016, also serves as an anticipation-builder for the 2017 season, starting in July.

Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black: Season Four” picks up where Season Three left off, with the inmates splashing about in the nearby lake after the mass escape and Alex (Laura Prepon) facing a menacing prison guard in the greenhouse. Once those strings are tied up, administrators, guards and prisoners, alike, are required to deal with a substantial increase in the population, which threatens to change the balances of power in the facility. Piper also finds herself facing difficulties with the Dominicans, who, after she rebuffs them, launch their own mail-order-panty business, while also becoming de facto leader of a white-power group. Taystee becomes Caputo’s personal assistant and celebrity chef Judy King (Blair Brown), also finds ways to shake things up across the board. Everything leads to a confrontation between hunger-striking inmates and the prison’s newly militarized security staff. The shocking ending built anticipation for the Season Five opener, on June 9. Needless to say, it will be worth the wait. Special features on the three-disc Blu-ray release include a gag reel, a tour of the set and commentaries with cast and crew.

If the “Inside Amy Schumer: Season 4” package feels a tad lighter than previous compilations, it’s because the hostess with the mostest decided to cut back her load from 10 episodes to 9. More than a year ago, the most hilariously irreverent show since Dave Chappelle quit was renewed for a fifth season. Since then, Schumer revealed that while a fifth season would happen at some point, there were no plans for it to begin production in the near future. Based on the critical and commercial success of Trainwreck, she has turned her attention to movies, including this weekend’s Snatched, with Goldie Hawn, as well as the occasional comedy special, such as Netflix’s recent “Amy Schumer: The Leather Special.” Among other places she takes us in Season Four are a gun show, the set of “Game of Thrones,” the White House, a blimp, her gynecologist’s office and a clip show hosted by Andy Cohen. Guest stars include F. Murray Abraham, Sarah Chalke, Liam Neeson, Anthony Bourdain, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Harvey Keitel and Ralphie May. The DVD adds behind-the-scenes material and interviews.

One of PBS’ most consistently intriguing series is “Secrets of the Dead” and the episode, “Nero’s Sunken City,” is particularly interesting. Anyone who’s traveled to Italy and passed through Naples can’t help but be aware of the still shaking Mt. Vesuvius and ruins of Pompeii. Far less known are the ruins of Baiae, an ancient Roman city lost to the same volcanoes that entombed Pompeii, but buried by the waters of the Bay of Naples. Nearly 2,000 years ago, from the first to the third century AD, Baiae provided Rome’s rich and powerful with the same comforts as the Hamptons offer Manhattan’s elite. It’s known today, if at all, as an underwater archeology site. For the first time, an international team of scientists, archaeologists and historians is meticulously mapping the underwater ruins and piecing together evidence that could lead to a better understanding of Baiae’s importance to Roman culture.

PBS’ two-part series, “Plants Behaving Badly,” examines how two groups of plants — orchids and carnivores plants — continue to exhibit the same fascinating behavior that attracted the attention of Charles Darwin 150 years ago. “Sex & Lies” allows viewers to revel in the ethereal beauty of orchids, while explaining how their exotic flowers are shaped for one purpose: to attract pollinators. Many use sex as a lure, impersonating a female bee or wasp. “Murder & Mayhem” examines the extraordinary behavior of carnivorous plants, which have fascinated scientists, curious children and filmmakers for decades. The reality is as interesting as fiction.

The unexpected “NOVA” presentation “The Origami Revolution” explores how researchers are using the centuries-old tradition of folding two-dimensional paper into three-dimensional shapes to spark a scientific revolution. The rules of folding are at the heart of many natural phenomena, we’re told, from how leaves blossom to how beetles fly. Now, however, engineers and designers are applying its principles to reshape the world around us and, even, within us, designing new drugs, micro-robots and future space missions. They are discovering how folding can be employed as a powerful tool to explore the limits of science.

Too often, parents don’t become aware of their children’s allergies until they display symptoms of distress, ranging from heavy sweating and running noses, to experiencing anaphylactic shock from an aversion to foods they didn’t know they had. Of course, kids are even more surprised — and frightened — to learn that something might be wrong with them. As part of Food Allergy Awareness Month, PBS Kids is releasing “All About Allergies,” a collection of episodes from its most popular series in which allergies play a key role, including those involving food and pets.

Digimon Adventure Tri.: Reunion
Frankly, the machinations of Digimon characters and their place in the anime universe bewilder me. I do know that Digimon Adventure Tri.: Reunion is the first entry in a trilogy — followed by “Decision” and “Confession” — celebrating the franchise’s 15th anniversary. The six-part series, streamed by several different services, serves as a direct sequel to the first two television series, Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02. It’s been six years since that summer adventure when Taichi and the rest of the DigiDestined crossed over to the Digital World and nearly three years since the final battle between Hikari’s group and Belial Vamdemon. Or, so I’ve learned. And, at some point, while the peaceful days went by, the gate to the Digital World mysteriously closed. When a Kuwagamon suddenly appears in Odaiba, its rampage leaves the town in ruins, and the people there in turmoil.

Alpha and Omega: Journey to Bear Kingdom
Otherwise known as “Alpha and Omega 8,” Journey to Bear Kingdom is a new computer-animated adventure-comedy produced by Splash Entertainment (Norm of the North) and distributed by Lionsgate. Apparently, the family-friendly series may be coming to an end, but who knows? Eight chapters is a long time in video years. Here, in a plot that sounds as if it might have inspired by the latest Underworld, all of the animals in the Eastern Forest are excited because Queen Bear and Princess Canue are coming to visit. But when evil Rogue Wolves threaten the royal bears, wolf pups Stinky, Runt, and Claudette leap into action. With courage, wits, and plenty of help from their wild and wonderful friends, the Alpha and Omega wolves rise to protect the queen and princess and save their forest home.

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“When Bay keeps these absurd plot-gears spinning, he’s displaying his skill as a slick, professional entertainer. But then there are the images of motion—I hesitate to say, of things in motion, because it’s not clear how many things there are in the movie, instead of mere digital simulations of things. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a car chase through London, seen from the level of tires, that could have gone on for an hour, um, tirelessly. What matters is that the defenestrated Cade saves himself by leaping from drone to drone in midair like a frog skipping among lotus pads; that he and Vivian slide along the colossal, polished expanses of sharply tilting age-old fields of metal like luge Olympians. What matters is that, when this heroic duo find themselves thrust out into the void of inner space from a collapsing planet, it has a terrifyingly vast emptiness that Bay doesn’t dare hold for more than an instant lest he become the nightmare-master. What matters is that the enormous thing hurtling toward Earth is composed in a fanatical detail that would repay slow-motion viewing with near-geological patience. Bay has an authentic sense of the gigantic; beside the playful enormity of his Transformerized universe, the ostensibly heroic dimensions of Ridley Scott’s and Christopher Nolan’s massive visions seem like petulant vanities.”
~ Michael Bay Gives Richard Brody A Tingle

How do you see film evolving in this age of Netflix?

I thought the swing would be quicker and more violent. There have been two landmark moments in the history of French film. First in 1946, with the creation of the CNC under the aegis of Malraux. He saved French cinema by establishing the advance on receipts and support fund mechanisms. We’re all children of this political invention. Americans think that the State gives money to French films, but they’re wrong. Through this system, films fund themselves!

The other great turning point came by the hand of Jack Lang in the 1980s, after the creation of Canal+. While television was getting ready to become the nemesis of film, he created the decoder, and a specific broadcasting space between film and television, using new investments for film. That once again saved French film.

These political decisions are important. We’re once again facing big change. If our political masters don’t take control of the situation and new stakeholders like Netflix, Google and Amazon, we’re headed for disaster. We need to create obligations for Internet service providers. They can’t always be against film. They used to allow piracy, but now that they’ve become producers themselves, they’re starting to see things in a different light. This is a moment of transition, a strong political act needs to be put forward. And it can’t just be at national level, it has to happen at European level.

Filmmaker Cédric Klapisch