MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: World Cinema Project 2, Obsession, Pelle the Conqueror, Jacques Rivette, Dark Angel and more

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project: No. 2: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
It would be difficult for most of us to sustain the level of affection and enthusiasm Martin Scorsese displays in his introductions to the half-dozen films collected in World Cinema Project: No. 2. They are his godchildren. Scorsese has always been a key player in the film preservation movement and this is the second batch of movies the World Cinema Project has rescued for future generations to enjoy. Established in 2007 under the auspices of the Film Foundation, which, in 1990, Scorsese founded and now chairs, the project has thus far restored 30 marginalized, infrequently screened films from 21 regions generally unequipped to preserve their own cinema history. They have been made available for exhibition on various platforms. For its part, the foundation has helped restore more than 750 films, accessible to the public through programming at festivals, museums and educational institutions around the world. It easily qualifies as God’s work and Scorsese has a right to be expect a few plenary indulgences. The films collected in the second volume, one made as recently as 2000, not only look better than they have in years, but, along with being historically significant, they’re also genuinely entertaining. Some are more challenging than others, however. The six titles collected in 2013 were Touki bouki (Senegal), Redes (Mexico), A River Called Titas (India and Bangladesh), Dry Summer (Turkey), Trances (Morocco) and The Housemaid (South Korea). Each has benefited from a 2K or 4K digital restoration, courtesy of the World Cinema Project, in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays. The second collector’s set of nine DVD and Blu-ray discs, contains a booklet featuring essays by Phillip Lopate, Dennis Lim, Kent Jones, Fábio Andrade, Bilge Ebiri and Andrew Chan; Scorsese’s brief introductions; and a half-dozen informative video interviews with the directors, historians or collaborators.

Lino Brocka’s uncompromising 1976 melodrama Insiang describes one Philippine girl’s desperate efforts to escape the degradations of urban poverty, while exacting revenge on everyone who’s taken advantage of her subservience and fears. Among them are Insiang’s wicked mother, her much younger lover and a boyfriend who seduces her with lies and peer pressure. Set in the Manila slums, it was the first Philippine film ever to play at Cannes (Director’s Fortnight).

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s uncategorizable 2000 debut feature, Mysterious Object at Noon, combines visual experimentation, fantasy and documentary portraiture as the film crew travels from the Thai countryside to Bangkok, asking the people they encounter to contribute to a game of Exquisite Corpse, beginning with a story about a handicapped boy and his teacher. Since 2000, Weerasethakul has been nominated for five major awards at Cannes, winning three, for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours.

Mario Peixoto’s 1931 silent film, Limite, was inspired by a hypnotic André Kertész photograph the 22-year-old Brazilian poet/filmmaker saw on the cover of a French magazine. Rarely seen, it been compared to the notorious first Buñuel-Dali collaboration, Un Chien Andalou, praised by Sergei Eisenstein (allegedly), hailed for its visual experimentation and artistry, and enhanced by the music of Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel and Sergei Prokofiev. It’s the only film Peixoto ever made and, although digitally preserved, still shows signs of extreme degradation. In short, it’s amazing.

Kazakh director Ermek Shinarbaev and Russian-Kazakh-Korean novelist Anatoli Kim collaborated on the 1989 historical drama, Revenge, a spiraling meditation on the way trauma is passed down through generations, like toxic DNA. In this decades-spanning tale of obsession and violence, a child is raised in Korea to avenge the death of his father’s first son. The cycle of hate extends from the feudal period into the 20th Century. Revenge was the first Soviet film to look at the Korean diaspora in central Asia.

Lutfi Aka’s 1966 Turkish Western Law of the Border describes a border war between government troops and outlaws whose only source of income involves working both sides of the Turkish/Syrian border. This includes clearing a minefield and wrangling a flock of sheep from one country into the other. Another storyline involves the son of the outlaw leader, who must decide between attending school or maintaining the family tradition. An unlikely alliance between adversaries also plays into a time-honored Western trope. Erol Tas, the “most famous villain in Turkish cinema,” co-stars in Law of the Border and Dry Summer, restored in 2013.

Edward Yang’s mournful 1985 drama Taipei Story reveals a city – and an entire generation of young adults — trapped between the past and present. As one yuppie couple’s dreams of marriage and emigration begin to unravel, Yang’s gaze illuminates the precariousness of domestic life and the desperation of Taiwan’s globalized modernity. It was made in collaboration with Yang’s fellow New Taiwan Cinema master and future Cannes sensation, Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Puppetmaster, The Assassin).

Obsessions: Blu-ray
The obscure Dutch-German exploitation film, Obsessions (a.k.a., “A Hole in the Wall”), is more noteworthy for its back story than almost anything that happens in the movie. That much is obvious from the promotion of Martin Scorsese and Bernard Herrmann’s names on the cover of the Blu-ray package. For once, it isn’t a case of bait-and-switch advertising. They contributed to Pim de la Parra’s Hitchcockian-by-way-of-giallo thriller, set in Amsterdam, if not as vigorously as the highlighted type suggests. As it so happens, Scorsese was in Holland for location work on Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) and agreed to provide notes on Parra and Wim Verstappen’s script. It’s what filmmakers did for each other, back in the day. Parra hoped that Herrmann would take pity on a fan of his work with the great Alfred Hitchcock and contribute music at a tenth, or less, of his last paycheck. Instead, he offered a few snippets from soundtracks he’d discarded or were in the works. Cool. Even so, Obsessions was never released in the U.S., despite the fact that it was shot in English, with some dubbing to support the dialogue of supporting actors.

When a painting of Vincent van Gogh shaving off his ear with a safety razor falls from a wall and exposes a makeshift peephole, med school Nils Janssen (Dieter Geissler) becomes an unwitting witness to a gruesome sex crime in the room next-door. When his young fiancée, Marina (Alexandra Stewart), an enterprising journalist, tells him about a report of a murder that she is writing, he naturally wonders if it’s the very same killing. He will, in turn, witness other violent acts, which he decides not to report to police. Nils and Marina will soon find themselves over their heads in intrigue and violence. Blessedly, there’s plenty of world-class nudity here, as well, to keep exploitation fans interested. This is no schlocky production, though. It looks good and displays an attention to Hitchcockian detail. The bonus features should also be considered must-viewing, especially a recent interview, by phone, with Scorsese, who was happily surprised by Obsessions’ unlikely journey to restoration and recounted the events leading up to his participation in the project. The new high-def transfer also is enhanced by fresh introductions and interviews with Parra and Geissler, a featurette on Holland’s influential Scorpio Films, Scorsese’s original script notes and a photo/video gallery.

On the Way to School
This inspiring French documentary provides parents with the perfect response to their children’s complaints about having to walk more than two blocks to school or being forced to stay home and study more than one or two nights a week. Pascal Plisson’s On the Way to School describes the lengths to which some impoverished kids will go to get an education and improve their lives. The camera follows 11-year-old Kenyan, Jackson, and his sister, as they walk 9 miles to school, through a savannah populated by wild and potentially dangerous animals; 11-year-old Argentine, Carlito, 11, and his sister, who traverse 11miles of rocky plateau on the back of a single horse; 12-year-old Moroccan, Zahira, required to hike four hours through the rugged Atlas Mountains, each week, to reach their boarding school; and 13-year-old Indian paraplegic, Samuel, whose makeshift wheelchair is pushed three miles each day by his two brothers, over riverbeds and soft dirt, and with the occasional flat tire. The 77-minute film doesn’t waste much time lecturing viewers on the students’ courage and determination, against formidable odds, because that much is obvious. It does make great use of the scenic backgrounds, which, are as beautiful as they are intimidating for anyone without a helicopter or Jeep.

Pelle the Conqueror: Blu-ray
Dheepan: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
In 1983, Gregory Nava’s El Norte introduced American viewers – perhaps, for the first time — to the hardships faced by Mexican and Central American peasants in their attempts to escape poverty, war and prejudice, and make a new life in the United States. A dozen years later, Nava’s epic family drama, Mi Familia, would recount the story of the Sanchez clan, whose patriarch walked across the border, from Mexico to Los Angeles in the 1920s, and, three generations later, would include a writer, a nun, an ex-convict, a lawyer, a restaurant owner and a hot-headed son, who would fall victim to the eternal war between gang-bangers and police. Although Hollywood studios would continue to ignore such stories, for as long as they could get away with it, independent artists successfully explored questions and dilemmas raised by our country’s frequently hypocritical stance of illegal immigrants and undocumented workers, not only from Mexico, but also Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Among the disparate movies and documentaries that stand out are A Better Life, Sin Nombre, The Visitor, Crossing Over From the Other Side, Under the Same Moon, A Day Without a Mexican, Spanglish Sangre de mi sangre, 7 soles and Desierto. In 2002, Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things and Michael Winterbottom’s In This World joined the growing list of British films addressing similar issues among African and Middle Eastern refugees seeking refuge there. It’s interesting to contrast what happens in these movies to those documenting the experiences of an earlier generation of immigrants who found their footings in distant lands legally, but not without the same hardships and struggles faced by Spanish-speaking refugees from poverty here.

Newly released in brilliant Blu-ray editions, Billie August’s Pelle the Conqueror (1987) and Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan (2015) are Palme d’Or winners that address the plight of immigrants, but, otherwise, could hardly be more different.  Although released 15 years after Jan Troell’s The Emigrants and The New Land, Pelle feels very much like a prequel to those films. All three star Max von Sydow and chronicle the hidden costs and broken promises of legal immigration, as well as the importance of community in times of happiness and great stress. Troell’s saga began in mid-nineteenth Century Sweden and concludes in Minnesota, with tragic a detour through the gold fields of California to fulfill the American dream. Based on a 1910 novel by Danish writer Martin Andersen Nexo, Pelle opens with two Swedish immigrants — a widow father, Lasse (Von Sydow), and son, Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) – arriving on Denmark’s Baltic island of Bornholm, seeking work and relief from famine and poverty. They’d heard that jobs were plentiful there, but, not that Lasse likely would be considered too old for the heavy lifting required and Pelle too young. Their only offer would come from an overseer who arrived at the port too late to have his pick of the fresh arrivals, but could set the terms of employment as harshly as he wanted. Lasse and Pelle would be paid as one man, a year after their joining the group of men and women already on the farm. The work was difficult, of course, and conditions rough. The farm’s owners left it for the managers and interns to be cruel to the laborers, but the matriarch sees promise in Pelle. As the years pass, all manner of insults and tragedies impact the Swedes living on the farm. Pelle is bullied at school and Lasse strikes up an illicit relationship with the wife of a sailor, who she presumes to be dead, but has yet to be accorded any proof of it. There are weddings to celebrate, as well as moments of great sadness to observe. Ultimately, Pelle will be given reasons both to anticipate a decent life as a gentleman farmer and to turn his eyes toward the new world. The movie ends before the events presented in the novel. In addition to the Palme d’Or, Pelle the Conqueror won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Like Troell’s epic story, it does a spectacular job recording the seasonal changes and period look of the settings – Scandinavia and the Upper Midwest not being all that dissimilar – as well as the courage of the settlers. The superb Film Movement Classics’ Blu-ray offers commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie and a collector’s booklet with an essay by critic Terrence Rafferty.

Contemporary refugee crime drama, Dheepan, opens in a teeming Tamil refugee camp in Sri Lanka, but largely takes place in a violence-wracked housing project outside Paris. Only in his second film appearance, Antonythasan Jesuthasan (a former child soldier, novelist and political activist) stars as a veteran Tamil fighter, who, after the collapse of the nearly 26-year rebellion, decides to forge a more peaceful life in Europe. To accomplish this feat, however, Dheepan must invent a family sufficiently credible to convince French Customs officials that he’s worthy of doing the most demeaning shit work the country has to offer. Newcomers Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby play his “wife” and “daughter”: Yalini and 9-year-old Illayaal. (His real-life family was killed in the war.) While they aren’t thrilled by the arrangement, Yalini and Illayaal find ways to adjust to life among the feral African and Arab drug dealers, if only because Yalini has a cousin in England awaiting her arrival and there’s nothing for them back in Sri Lanka. To help accumulate enough money to afford the last leg of their journey, Yalini takes a job feeding and cleaning up for the invalid uncle of a druglord, who’s confined to the building by an ankle bracelot . Apparently, Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) anticipated combining elements of Montesquieu’s “Persian Letters” with Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 revenge-porn thriller, Straw Dogs. I can’t vouch for the former, but I’m pretty sure Peckinpah would have endorsed the ending, during which the former soldier reverts to his former warrior self to save his “family” from a rival ganglord’s attack. If the genre flavor of the final confrontation divided critics at Cannes, the violence felt warranted and not at all uncharacteristic of a man and woman with survival instincts honed by a faraway war. It’s a trait shared by immigrants around the world. The Criterion Collection includes commentary with Audiard and co-writer Noé Debre; new interviews with Audiard and Jesuthasan; deleted scenes with Audiard and Debre’s commentary and an essay by critic Michael Atkinson.

The Jacques Rivette Collection: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
While many highly regarded critics are confident enough of their opinions that they’ll defend them with the same ferocity as a mama bear protects her cubs from strangers, there must be times when they wonder if their views are so far out of the mainstream as to reveal a momentarily lapse in critical thinking. Those of us who stick to DVDs and Blu-rays not only have the luxury of time – and rewind buttons – on our side, but also the ability to compare our opinions to those of dozens of other writers with proven track records. I tend not to do much research ahead of watching a movie, most of which now come with commentary tracks, making-of featurettes and interviews that aren’t any more trustworthy than the blurbs that appear on ads in the newspapers. And, while I don’t think anyone at Criterion Collection or Arrow Films is ever going to ask me contribute an essay to their bonus packages, I know what I like. While watching the movies included in Arrow Academy’s The Jacques Rivette Collection: Limited Edition there were times when thought I might not be up to the task of passing judgment. Although Rivette isn’t as well-known here as his Cahiers du Cinéma colleagues Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Éric Rohmer, his Paris Belongs to Us (1961) Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), La belle noiseuse (1991) and Va Savoir (Who Knows?) (2001) invite repeat viewings. The films in this collection – Duelle (1976), Noroit (1976), Merry-Go-Round (1981) — are far less easy to recommend without a prior understanding of what Rivette hoped to accomplish.

In 1975, Rivette was approached by producer Stéphane Tchal Gadjieff, with whom he’d collaborated on the 13-hour Out 1, with an idea for a cycle of four interconnected films – “Scenes from a Parallel Life” — none of which represented the same genre, musical stimuli or cinematic references, although several of the same actors appeared in more than one entry. Only one received much of a release outside France, while two others failed to gain distribution. Plans for “Marie et Julien,” starring Albert Finney and Leslie Caron, and a musical-comedy, featuring Anna Karina and Jean Marais, were abandoned completely. Almost everything that could go wrong on a production did go wrong for Rivette, including his emotional stability. I found Duelle to be the most accessible and beguiling of the whole bunch. In the myth-infused fantasy, the Queen of the Sun (Bulle Ogier) and the Queen of the Night (Juliet Berto), converge on Paris in search of a magical gem that will allow one of them to remain in the city. Much of it takes place in a taxi-dance nightclub, which wouldn’t have been out of place for a noir-ish story about disaffected tango aficionados in Argentina. The fanciful costumes are a delight and Ogier and Berto could hardly be any sexier. Imagining Edith Piaf sharing a table with the ghosts of Henry Miller, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, isn’t at all difficult.

In Noroit, the pirate Morag (Geraldine Chaplin) seeks revenge against the pirate Giulia (Bernadette Lafont) for killing her brother. Except for a couple of dashing boy toys, the rest of the swashbuckling crew is comprised of women, wearing colorful leather costumes and then-fashionable bell-bottoms. It is very loosely based on Cyril Tourneur’s 1607 play, “The Revenger’s Tragedy” and Fritz Lang’s 1955 adventure, Moonfleet. If the plot is largely incomprehensible and the depictions of violence risible, there’s nothing not to love in a cast that includes Kika Markham, Anne-Marie Reynaud, Babette Lamy, Danièle Rosencranz, Anne-Marie Fijal and Marie-Christine Moureau-Meynard. The same Brittany coast previously provided locations for The Vikings.

It wasn’t until I looked at the interviews included in the bonus package, as well as some reviews, that I understood why I was so perplexed by Merry-Go-Round. Simply put, the reason it didn’t make any sense to me is that it didn’t make sense to anyone, including Rivette. Blame for that goes to the director’s decision to cast dope fiends Joe Dallesandro (Trash) and Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris) in lead roles and follow a script that was largely written on the fly. Schneider would take a powder after Rivette suffered another breakdown, only to be replaced in mid-stride by another actress who approximated her appearance. At some point, the surviving cast and crew threw up their hands and surrendered to an ending that effectively put everyone out of their misery. It wasn’t accorded a release, either. Dallesandro and Schneider play Ben and Leo, the American lover and French sister of Elisabeth, (Danièle Gégauff), who’s summoned them to her rural Paris home to divvy up their father’s estate. Elisabeth fails to show up at the agreed-upon meeting place, causing everyone involved to believe one of several theories: 1) the old man wasn’t killed in a plane crash, after all, and his cemetery plot is empty; 2) his fortune is hidden in a safe – or safety-deposit box – somewhere in Switzerland, but the key and combination are missing; 3) a sniper is targeting Elisabeth; and 4) someone in a suit of honor, atop a white steed, wants to kill Ben. A year after the film shoot was completed, Rivette decided to insert footage of the film’s composers, Barre Phillips and John Surman, on cello and clarinet, at logical chapter breaks in the narrative.

And, for once, the mess wasn’t a figment of my imagination or untrained mind. The bonus material includes “Scenes From a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers,” a tellingly bizarre interview with the director, in which he discusses the movies; “Remembering Duelle,” in which Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz recollect their work on the 1976 feature; an interview with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who reported from the sets of both Duelle and Noroit, and has funny observations about Merry-Go-Round; an exclusive perfect-bound book, containing writing on the films by Mary M. Wiles, Brad Stevens and Nick Pinkerton, plus a reprint of four on-set reports from the locations; and reversible sleeves, with original and newly commissioned artwork by Ignatius Fitzpatrick.

Cops vs. Thugs: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Wolf Guy: Special Edition: Blu-ray
His name may not be as familiar to western audiences as Akira Kurosawa or Yasujiro Ozu, but, when it comes to genre films, Kinji Fukasaku’s legacy may be every bit as formidable. Before emerging as one of the leading creators of revisionist yakuza flicks, starting with the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, Fukasaku co-directed the Japanese sections of Tora! Tora! Tora! Thirty years later, he would collaborate with his son, Kenta, on Battle Royale, a dystopian action/horror flick that would directly influence Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and such “teen death game” pictures as The Hunger Games, which neglected to accord Fukasaku a story credit. Kenta replaced his father in director’s chair for the Battle Royale II (2003), after Kinji succumbed to what he knew to be terminal cancer. In the early 1970s, Fukasaku focused his attention on the subset of organized-crime thrillers, known as jitsuroku eiga. In the “Battles Without Honor” series and Cops vs. Thugs, which some consider to be his masterpiece, Fukasaku and such writers as Kazuo Kasahara, Fumio Kônami and Koichi Iiboshi elected not to portray the gangsters as honorable heirs to the samurai code, but as well-oiled hoodlums and leaches on Japan’s booming economy. And, the cops weren’t much better. Fukasaku’s directing style incorporated a “shaky camera technique” that would be widely imitated.  Like other jitsuroku eiga from Toei Studios, the events and characters described in Cops vs. Thugs literally were “ripped from the headlines” and presented like pulp fiction.

It is set in the southern Japanese city of Kurashima, circa 1963, as business and yakuza interests are deciding how to divvy up land that’s ripe for development. Hard-boiled police detective Kuno (Bunta Sugawara) oversees a fragile detente between the warring Kawade and Ohara gangs. The Kawade clan uses its political connections to further their activities, while the Ohara take advantage of their alliance with the local police. When Kuno greases the skids for Ohara acting boss Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata) to usurp a land arranged for the Kawades, a war breaks out. The violence inspires government officials to import a by-the-books lieutenant (Tatsuo Umemiya) to take control of the situation. Kuno must decide where his true alliances lie. The upgraded two-disc Arrow Video package includes “Beyond the Film: Cops vs. Thugs,” a new video appreciation by biographer Sadao Yamane; a visual essay on the chemistry between police and criminals in Fukasaku’s works, by film scholar Tom Mes; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan; and a limited-edition illustrated booklet, with new writing on the film by Patrick Macias.

Arrow Video has also given Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s B-movie thriller, Wolf Guy, a digital facelift. More interesting than anything else in this bizarre horror/action/sci-fi hybrid is the presence of Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, an international martial- arts superhero known best for his “Street Fighter” series. Produced by Japan’s Toei Studio, Wolf Guy is based on a manga by Kazumasa Hirai, whose work also inspired the 1973 prequel Horror of the Wolf, made by Toho Company. Chiba stars here as Akira Inugami, the only survivor of a clan of ancient werewolves, who relies on his supernatural powers to solve mysterious crimes. After a series of bloody killings, in which the victims appeared to be clawed to death by a phantom tiger, Inugami uncovers a conspiracy involving a murdered cabaret singer, corrupt politicians and a plot by the Japanese CIA to harvest his blood for its lycanthropic powers. Meanwhile, Inugami also learns that he may not be the last of his breed. Yamaguchi’s cult classics include Sister Streetfighter, Wandering Ginza Butterfly and Karate Bullfighter. The rarely seen Wolf Guy touches all the bases of the exploitation game, with plenty of violence, karate action, T&A, actual surgical footage and a psychedelic musical score, and Chiba gives viewers their money’s worth. The Blu-ray adds entertaining and informative interviews with Chiba, Yamaguchi and producer Tatsu Yoshida, and an illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a history of Japanese monster-movie mashups by Jasper Sharp.

Malibu High
The High Schooler’s Guide to College Parties: Unrated Edition
One way to ascertain whether an old, vaguely memorable B-movie from the 1970s has attained cult-classic status is when Quentin Tarantino runs into one of the cast members at party and pronounces their film to be one of his favorite pictures. I’ve heard the same praise mentioned in so many DVD featurettes that it makes me wonder how long Tarantino’s list of faves could possibly be. Another sure way to know that a movie makes the grade in his mind is if it’s been granted a special showing at the New Beverly Theater — another Tarantino concern – complete with a Q&A session featuring its director and one or more of its stars. It’s one of the things that make Los Angeles such a great place to be a movie buff.

Released in 1979, Malibu High is just such a guilty pleasure. Made for a song and released by Crown International Pictures during the death throes of the drive-in era, Malibu High features of mix of fresh young talent and seasoned pros, including Russ Meyer-regular Garth Pillsbury (Supervixens), John Harmon (Funny Girl), Wallace Earl Laven (Clambake) and Alex Mann (I Drink Your Blood). In her one and only lead performance, Jill Lansing was momentarily plucked from obscurity to portray a troubled teenager who’s just lost her father to suicide and boyfriend to a spoiled rich girl, Annette, played by Tammy Taylor (“Days of Our Lives”). Lansing is surprisingly good as bad-girl Kim, whose grades are so low she’s in danger of not graduating. Instead of picking up a book, she uses her kittenish wiles to coax her male teachers into trading sex for passing grades. Actually, she blackmails them, but who’s keeping score? Her pursuit of good grades evolves into a lust for fancy cars, cocaine and avenging Annette’s capturing of her fair-haired ex-boyfriend. Naturally, instead of taking a job at the Gap, she turns to prostitution. Such bad behavior can be tolerated for only so long, even in the teen-hooker genre, and, as the 90-minute mark approaches, Kim gets her just desserts. Malibu High may have it supporters, but, in my opinion, rarely extends itself beyond the borders of drive-in exploitation fare. Even so, the Vinegar Syndrome rehab job befits a movie of much greater stature. The bonus material includes commentary with Taylor and producer Lawrence Foldes; an amusing and comprehensive 26-minute making-of piece, “Making Malibu High,” in which Foldes describes how he, a 19-year-old college dropout, was able to put together the $56,000 necessary to make the movie; “Playing Annette,” with Taylor describing the trials of working alongside a delusional diva and family members’ reactions to her topless debut; “Playing the Boss,” with co-star Garth Pillsbury, who’s slightly bewildered by the feature’s lasting appeal; a 27-minute “New Beverly Q&A,”  which reunites Foldes, Taylor and Mann for a pre- and post-screening conversation (recorded in 2006); and Foldes’ student films, “Struggle for Israel” and “Grandpa & Marika” One story that’s repeated is how Lansing’s decision to hold out for more money cost her the exposure and publicity that came to the Playboy model who stood in for her in the poster, which became famous for being stolen out of display cases.

The High Schooler’s Guide to College Parties is an enticing title for a teen exploitation picture. The “Unrated Edition” makes it sound even juicier. The problem is that there’s hardly anything here that qualifies as exploitative, unless the target demographic is comprised of white suburban males on the cusp of adolescence. Despite a Parents’ Guide listing on IMDB.com that argues, “This movie makes American Pie look like The Sound of Music,” and an entry at the authoritative Mr. Skin website that only contains images of lingerie and pasties, the DVD hardly warrants “unrated” status. I doubt that MPAA approval was in anyone’s best interests. In any case, Nate Rubin (Wuss) plays a white kid named Shaquille, who’s afraid that he doesn’t have what it takes to make an impression at a top college. To prove that he isn’t just another run-of-the-mill dweeb, he decides to throw a “college party,” whatever that is, just like the one in Risky Business. He fears being stuck in a stereotypical middle-class world, like his father, but lacks the money and influence to attain his goals. Shaq thinks that his smart, popular and athletic cousin, Brett (Zach Rose), may be is his best chance at getting into the school and social circle he so desires. Brett is on the scholarship committee for the private university he attends and is highly connected to a sponsoring alumnus. Thus, the need to throw a party sufficiently wild and cool to impress him. It didn’t even impress me.

Blackenstein: Blu-ray
The Blackcoat’s Daughter: Blu-ray
The Hearse: Blu-ray
Dark Harvest/Escapes
What director William A. Levey and wannabe mogul Frank R. Saletri’s Blackenstein lacks in production values, acting and narrative coherence, it more than makes up for in a backstory that, itself is worthy of a movie. The first thing to know, however, is that this reimagining of the “Frankenstein” legend not only was made at the height of the blaxploitation craze, but also in the direct wake of William Crain’s infinitely better, Blacula. In it, a critically wounded Vietnam veteran is transferred from a substandard VA hospital, where he’s abused by an orderly, to the laboratory in the castle-like home of Dr. Stein (John Hart), in the Hollywood Hills. And, yes, he’s black. Stein, we’re told, recently was awarded the Nobel Prize for deciphering the genetic code. Not quite mad, but certainly possessed, the doctor specializes in the reconstruction of damaged bodies through infusions of chemically altered DNA and the “laser beam fusion” of limbs borrowed from patients who no longer need them. (Somehow, writer/director Saletri was able to borrow items from Universal’s original Frankenstein set.) The soldier’s physicist girlfriend and, coincidentally, an admirer of Stein’s work, convinces her mentor to treat the quadruple amputee, knowing that he might die in the process. While all this is going on, Stein’s devious assistant takes a shine to Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) and sabotages the soldier’s treatment. An overdose of the DNA cocktail causes Eddie (Joe DeSue) to turn into a brutish creature with a blockish forehead even Dr. Frankenstein’s monster might find hideous. After the Blackenstein monster escapes from the lab, he wanders through the streets of L.A., alternately rescuing damsels in distress and killing everyone else who gets in his way. Genre historian Michael Weldon, author of “The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film,” described Blackenstein as “a totally inept mixture of the worst horror and blaxploitation films,” as if that were a bad thing.

A perusal of the bonus features provides a different, far more intriguing side of the story. Turns out, Seletri not only wrote, produced and created special effects for exploitation flicks – only one of which was completed – he was a lawyer whose client list was largely comprised of unsavory characters, some of whom he cheated. The Clark Gable-lookalike also was fascinated with all things related to horror and the occult, going so far as to buy Bela Lugosi’s totally cool, purposefully spooky home. Almost a decade later, Seletri would be murdered gangland-style in a crime that remains debated and unsolved to this day. If that weren’t enough, the Blackenstein cast includes a former TV Lone Ranger (Hart); a genuine 1940s Hollywood starlet, Andrea King (The Beast With Five Fingers); a one-time legal client (DeSue); and platinum-haired Liz Renay, who, in 1959, served two years in prison for refusing to testify against mobster Mickey Cohen, performed in what was believed to be the first mother-and-daughter striptease act and became the first grandmother to streak down Hollywood Boulevard. Renay was married seven times, but allegedly also found room for flings with Joe DiMaggio, Regis Philbin, and Cary Grant, among many other male celebrities. She appeared in John Waters’ Desperate Living (1977), as Muffy St. Jacques. It’s why I strongly suggest checking out the bonus features: “Monster Kid,” interviews Saletri’s sister, June Kirk, and veteran actors Ken Osborne and Robert Dix; an archived local L.A. news report on the one-year anniversary of the murder investigation; and a discussion with creature-designer Bill Munns. The set also offers the theatrical (78 minutes) and video-release version (87 Minutes).

Completed in 2015, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (a.k.a., “February”) is a nifty teens-with-cutlery thriller that oozes with atmosphere and throws in an exorcism, for good measure. It made the rounds of fantasy and horror festivals, garnering some excellent reviews, before inexplicitly opening on Internet VOD platforms a few months ago. Of all the movies I’ve seen lately that were denied a theatrical release, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is the one I think would have benefitted most by being seen on the big screen with master-blaster speakers. Exquisitely paced, beautifully photographed and wonderfully acted by such hot young talents as Emma Roberts (“Scream Queens”), Kiernan Shipka (“Mad Men”), Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) and Emma Holzer (Spring Breakers), it represents Osgood “Oz” Perkins’ debut at the helm, after acting in several movies and TV shows and co-writing a couple of features. If the name rings a bell, it should be noted here that he is the 43-year-old son of the late Anthony Perkins (Psycho) and Berry Berenson, who was on board the hijacked American Airlines’ Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center. His brother, Elvis Perkins, composed the nerve-tingling musical score and songs recorded by the actors. Filmed at the coldest point in an Ontario winter, The Blackcoat’s Daughter largely takes place at an all-girls Catholic boarding school, just before parents are expected to arrive to retrieve them for a seasonal break. When two of the girls’ parents don’t arrive on time, they’re stuck inside the same abandoned dormitory, with only a pair of spinster nurses to watch over them. A slightly older woman (Roberts) is headed toward the school, after being picked up at a chilly bus stop by a middle-aged couple (James Remar, Lauren Holly), who, we can tell just by looking at them, are bad news. How bad will quickly become apparent in the tightly knit, 93-minute thriller. The Blu-ray includes commentary and a making-of featurette.

When The Hearse opened theatrically in June, 1980, it was greeted with a review by Roger Ebert, in which he declared it to be that summer’s best example of an “idiot plot.” It was his way of pointing out that only an idiot – here, a recently divorced teacher who inherits a home at the end of a dark, secluded lane – would remain in a place so clearly haunted and a distinct threat to one’s sanity. Moreover, everyone in town knows the place is haunted and keeps the newcomer, Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere), at arm’s length. Her claims of being stalked by a reckless driver behind the wheel of a long, black hearse also fall on deaf ears. We know better. William Bleich’s debut script appears to have been cobbled together from a dozen other movies about ghosts and haunted houses – especially those of the European-gothic strain, favored in the 1960s – and ideas borrowed from a shelf full of Stephen King books. Director George Bowers (My Tutor) cut his teeth as an editor, so it isn’t surprising he would fill the narrative with enough jump-scares – audio and visual – to choke a Trojan horse. Admittedly, while some are effective, they’re telegraphed by heavy percussive cues and the sound of a dozen screeching violins. For some buffs, the best reason to watch The Hearse will be a decent performance by Joseph Cotton, who would retire only a year later, as an obnoxious lawyer. The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray has been newly scanned and restored in 2k from 35mm original camera negative. It adds “Satan Get Behind Thee,” a video interview with lead actor, David Gautreaux (“The Young and the Restless”), vintage marketing material and reversible cover artwork by Chris Garofalo.

The archivists at Intervision Picture Corp. decided against pouring a lot of money into restoring Dark Harvest, a 1992 thriller that pits a group of stranded tourists against killer scarecrows in a desert setting that hasn’t seen a harvest since the Anasazi deserted their pueblos and split for points unknown. While killer scarecrows have been employed with great effect in more than a dozen slasher movies, they’re located in places where crops actually are able to grow. Typically, the more malevolent decoys mind the crops from the vantage point of a crucifix, as they are here. A lot of mayhem could have been avoided if the tourists hadn’t been too busy pitching woo to notice that the nearest crucified scarecrow has slipped off his perch and disappeared into the night. Otherwise, David I. Nicholson’s directorial debut is an eminently forgettable excuse for skewering half-naked college kids with pitchforks. The best that can be said for Dark Harvest is that Nicholson does a nice job photographing the rugged Mojave Desert landscapes due east of Los Angeles, even shooting directly to video. As a favor to those considering renting or purchasing the DVD, Intervision has added the Sci-Fi Channel anthology, Escapes, which is comprised of a half-dozen rather decent shorts from 1986, or thereabouts. The show’s host, Vincent Price, appears at the both ends of the anthology, as well as on the cover. The titles include “Something’s Fishy,” “Coffee Break,” “Who’s There,” “Jonah’s Dream,” “Think Twice” and, as a bonus, “Hobgoblin Bridge.” The package contains recent interviews with actors Patti Negri and Dan Weiss, from Dark Harvest, and Escapes distributor Tom Naygrow, who discusses the bizarre artistic demise of writer/director David Steensland.

Shaquille O’Neal Presents All-Star Comedy Jam: Live From Sin City
Shaq may executive-produce this highly popular series of comedy “jams,” but his appearances are pretty much limited to cameos and handing off the hosting duties to comedians more comfortable on a smaller stage than the one bookended by basketball nets. “Shaquille O’Neal Presents All-Star Comedy Jam: Live From Sin City” represents the series’ second visit to Las Vegas, this time filmed live at the Penn & Teller Theater in the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino. The crowd came ready to laugh out loud and, if called upon, be dissed from the stage, which could be brutal. Viewers probably know, by now, to be prepared for a barrage of rough and profane language, politically incorrect humor and sexual material not to be shared around the dinner table. Easily offended viewers may want to stick with Sinbad and J.J. Walker, because this is some hard-core stuff. “Live From Sin City” is hosted by Lavell Crawford (”Breaking Bad”), who may be bigger around than Shaq is tall, and features K-Dubb, Cocoa Brown, Donnell Rawlings and Earthquake. It runs 91 minutes, which is the average for Las Vegas shows.

Rock Dog: Blu-ray
Even if some animated features from the major Hollywood studios are made with massive financial returns in mind, there’s still plenty of room for artists and writers willing to cut the occasional corner, due to significantly tighter budgets, and creating stories that appeal to a more tightly focused audience. In some cases, that’s meant retooling pictures made in Asia for western audiences, hiring familiar actors to dub the dialogue into English and fudging cultural references through Anglicized signage and digitally altered type faces. That’s nothing terribly new or revolutionary, of course, dubbing and selective translations have been a part of the business for decades. What is different, perhaps, is a business model that recognizes how differently the box-office pie is being sliced these days. Worldwide revenues are growing, even as American eyes are turning to smaller and smaller screens. In 1998, Disney executives took a rather large leap of faith by greenlighting a big-budget feature, based on the Chinese poem, “The Song of Fa Mu Lan,” in which the daughter of an aged warrior becomes a hero by impersonating a man in the effort to counter a Hun invasion. The mostly American production team on Mulan had to rethink almost everything they’d learned in the Disney bible about heroes and villains, men and women, as well as the look, texture and sounds of a country previously reduced to clichés and stereotypes. The much smaller-scale Rock Dog purportedly marks the first time the production of a Chinese animation property — an adaptation of Zheng Jun’s graphic novel “Tibetan Rock Dog” – was outsourced to America, where a merging of cultural touchstones was achieved.

Ash Bannon, who’s logged quality time with Disney, Pixar and Sony Animation, was handed the reins of a story that begins in a secluded mountain village, Snow Mountain, where a Tibetan mastiff guards the sheep against a gang of predatory wolves. He dreams of becoming a guitar god after discovering a radio that’s dropped from the sky. A 10-year-old viewer in the U.S. could easily mistake the Himalayan background for the Sierra Nevada, where sheep also are a cash crop and dogs are used to keep them in line. The pursuit of rock stardom has never been as universal as it is today, but Bodi has to leave home to hear the heart of rock ’n’ roll beating out its hypnotic message, because all music is forbidden in the village. If the ending recalls Footloose … well, so be it. Among the performers on the English-language soundtrack, at least, are Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Beck and Adam Friedman. The A-list voicing talent includes J.K. Simmons, as the boss mastiff, Khampa; Luke Wilson, as Bodi, the title character; Lewis Black, as a big, bad wolf; and Eddie Izzard, as Angus Shattergood, the coolest cat in town. Also on board are Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon and Sam Elliott. The featurettes are “Finding the Fire: The Making of Rock Dog,” “Mic Check: Casting the Voices,” “A Rockin’ New World: Animating Rock Dog,” “Rock Dog and Roll: Exploring the Music,” which focuses largely on Friedman, co-writer of “Glorious,” and a music video of same.

The Shack: Blu-ray
The success of Stuart Hazeldine’s adaptation of William P. Young’s runway best-seller, “The Shack,” confirms the depth of the divide that too often separates critics and audiences, when it comes to unabashedly faith-based movies and books. The initially self-published novel, inspired by the author’s real-life test of faith, in 2005, describes how one unfortunate family man comes to believe that God – assuming she exists – has turned her back on mankind, as evidenced by such ungodly events as terrorist attacks, famine, epidemics and, in the protagonist’s case, having to endure an abusive parent and suffer the loss of a child to a sexual predator. It’s as if the oft-repeated bromide, “God moves in a mysterious way/His wonders to perform,” was written with him specifically in mind. (It’s from the hymn “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” written in 1773 by William Cowper, after being institutionalized for insanity and finding refuge in evangelical Christianity.) After receiving a message, delivered either by God or the serial killer, Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) is drawn to the abandoned cabin in the Oregon woods in which his daughter is believed to have been murdered. Instead of confronting the killer, gun in hand, Mack is led to an idyllic lakeside home inhabited by Papa (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and, standing in for the Holy Spirit, Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara).

While being comforted for his loss, Mack is allowed to ask the kinds of questions anyone in his tragic position would demand from a seemingly all-knowing, all-loving deity. Instead of quick answers, the totally contemporary Holy Trinity asks him a few of their own. The truth is revealed, by and by, in a way that divided some old-school evangelicals and more ecumenical Christians, who weren’t freaked out by the notion of a black, female God, Her Native American alter ego, a lithe and lively Asian Holy Spirit and, in the only example of typecasting, a Jewish/Israeli carpenter, Jesus Christ. There’s more to the story, which one of the filmmakers described as a spiritual/mystery/thriller – I’d add sci-fi/fantasy – but, you get the picture. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the professional critics assembled by Metacritic.com and Rotten Tomatoes, have been almost unanimous in their disapproval of The Shack, while audience polls have been overwhelmingly positive, creating a gap of more than 60 points both times. Critics are a cynical lot, so, even if they liked it a little bit, their praise would be muted. Compared to other faith-based movies that pass my way, The Shack is distinguished by excellent production values and set decoration – heaven could be a suburb of OZ – along with convincing performances. The cast also includes Rahda Mitchell, Tim McGraw, Alice Braga and Graham Greene. Special features add “Touched by God: A Writer’s Journey,” “God’s Heart for Humanity,” ”Heaven Knows': The Power of Song With Hillsong United,” “Something Bigger Than Ourselves: The Making of The Shack,” “Premiere Night: A Blessed Evening,” a deleted scene and Hazeldine’s commentary.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD: Blu-ray
So many books and documentaries have been produced about the evolution of the American comic-book industry and the role played by superheroes in pop culture that it’s difficult to imagine anything more to say on the subject. Throw in underground comix and graphic novels and the list grows even longer. If the Democrats had chosen Stan Lee — the creative force behind the ever-expanding Marvel Comics Universe – to run against Donald Trump, instead of Hillary Clinton, the country might not be in the fix it is, right now. If, perchance, Hillary had asked Lee to oversee an image makeover – ditching the doughty pantsuits, would have been a good start – we still might be in the fix we’re in, but she’d possess the superpowers necessary to repel supervillains Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP horde. Paul Goodwin’s entertaining documentary, Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD, reminds us that American artists and the masters of Japanese manga haven’t been the only fish swimming in the comic-book seas over the last 40 years. After a steep decline in interest in adventure comics aimed specifically at boys, a group of British sci-fi specialists emerged from the clash of cultures represented by the simultaneous mid-1970s rise of the Sex Pistols and Margaret Thatcher.

Kelvin Gosnell, an editor at IPC Magazines, read an article in the London Evening Standard about a wave of forthcoming science-fiction films, and urged the comic-book company to follow suit. Pat Mills, a freelance writer and editor who had created Battle Picture Weekly and Action comics, was asked to round up a creative team to develop something completely new and different, even from their American counterparts. Mills and fellow freelancer John Wagner chose the then-futuristic name 2000 AD because it seemed to be so far in the future and no one expected the comic to last that long. The company’s longest running storyline would feature a character who might have been inspired by Texas “Hanging Judge” Roy Bean, Dirty Harry and the leather-clad moto-gladiator, Frankenstein, in New World Pictures’ Death Race 2000. As visualized by Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra, Judge Dredd became an ultra-violent lawman, patrolling a future New York with the power to arrest, sentence and, if necessary, execute criminals on the spot. Twenty years later, Sylvester Stallone would be cast as Judge Dredd, in an adaptation that underperformed for reasons that are discussed here. It’s probably safe to say, however, that the writers of Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop owe an uncredited debt of gratitude to 2000 AM. At 110 minutes, plus featurettes, “Future Shock!,” could easily be accused of overkill, even if he copious interviews editors, writers, artists and fans and background information covers 40 years of history. There’s plenty of visual evidence to peruse, as well.

Man of La Mancha: Blu-ray
Kiss Me, Kate: Blu-ray
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!: Blu-ray
These tuneful titles represent the second wave of post-Broadway musicals sent out on Blu-ray from ever-eclectic Shout!Factory. The only ringer in the bunch, so far, is Man of La Mancha and that’s only because the original United Artists adaptation was readily available through a licensing agreement with MGM Home Entertainment. At the time of its release, in 1972, it was one of the hottest properties in the business we call, show. The original 1965 Broadway production ran for 2,328 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It has since been revived four times on Broadway, with productions mounted around the world. “Man of La Mancha” began its life in 1959 as a non-musical teleplay written by Dale Wasserman for CBS’s “DuPont Show of the Month.” It was retitled “I, Don Quixote,” because the geniuses at DuPont didn’t think the show’s viewing audience would not know that La Mancha was a Spanish territory, easily found on a map. A while later, director Albert Marre asked Wasserman to consider turning his teleplay into a musical. and suggested that he turn his play into a musical. The original lyricist was the celebrated poet W.H. Auden, but his contributions were discarded, in favor of those by Joe Darion. At the time, film adaptations of hit Broadway properties were accorded roadshow treatment, which meant they would be exhibited on an extremely limited basis, in theaters with plush seats, wide screens and high-fidelity sound systems. Religious and historic epics, such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, also were reserved for these grand venues, where they played until the bean-counters decided it was time to give viewers in the boonies a break. Man of La Mancha was one of the last pictures given such a sendoff. Once again, however, studio brass decided that they could improve on their Broadway counterparts, by casting a terrific lead actor, Peter O’Toole, who couldn’t sing, and a striking lead actress, Sophia Loren, who’d only sung in two previous movies, more than a dozen years earlier. Entire songs were eliminated from the soundtrack and verses from well-known tunes were condensed, possibly to squeeze in an intermission. With the exception of a road trip that allowed Don Quixote an opportunity to tilt at an Italian windmill, the overall cinematic experience felt stagebound and confined. Today, however, Man of La Mancha can be enjoyed for the musical’s singular moments and crowd-pleasing songs, as well as O’Toole’s interpretation of the character and, of course, the radiant presence of Loren in her prime, as Aldonza. A vintage making-of featurette comes with the package.

No such problems affect Chris Hunt’s delightful adaptation of Kiss Me, Kate, a wildly popular 1948 musical that was written by Samuel and Bella Spewack, with music and lyrics by the inimitable Cole Porter. The version being distributed by Shout!Factory represents the cast of the 1999 London revival, starring Brent Barrett and Rachel York, both of whom are excellent singers and actors. It was shot in high-definition, before a live audience, and looks terrific on the small screen. The story involves the production of a musical version of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and the ongoing conflict between Fred Graham (Barrett), the show’s director, producer and star, and his spunky leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (York). A secondary romance concerns Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca (Nancy Kathryn Anderson), and her gambler boyfriend, Bill Calhoun (Michael Berresse), who runs afoul of some gangsters. Barrett was nominated for an Olivier Award, as Best Actor for Fred/Petruchio, while Anderson could be a clone of Bernadette Peters. Its chapters are divided by song titles.

Two years before rising Aussie star Hugh Jackman would become forever identified as Logan/Wolverine in the X-Man franchise, he assumed the role of Curly in Trevor Nunn’s 1988 revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!,” under the auspices of the Royal National Theater. Howard Keel, John Raitt and Gordon MacRae left behind a big pair of cowboy boots to fill, through the years, but Jackman must have done something right, because, in some circles, he’s more well known as a singin’ and dancin’ cowboy than an antihero with retractable claws and a mean disposition. “Oklahoma!” debuted on Broadway in 1943, breaking new theatrical ground like a plow on the prairie. A year later, it won a Pulitzer Prize, in addition to almost every other award handed out for live performances in New York. In 1955, Oklahoma! became the first feature film shot in the Todd-AO 70mm widescreen process, while also being filmed in CinemaScope 35mm. Unlike the newly released Blu-ray adaptation, it was shot on location in Arizona, which had fewer oil derricks to spoil the shots. At the end of its West End run, Nunn took Jackman and company to a London film studio, where it was restaged under ideal lighting and sound conditions, and varied camera placements. It was released on DVD before airing on PBS. It includes a behind-the-scenes featurette guide to musical numbers.

Special Blood
The most effective documentaries, regardless of their modest origins, deliver unsuspected reminders about how little we know about the human condition and the capriciousness of fate. Unlike much of her previous work, which “explores the dark, surreal side of human nature,” Natalie Metzger’s no-frills Special Blood alerts viewers to a disease so rare that only a relatively small handful of doctors know it exists, let alone recognize and treat in an emergency-room setting. Because an attack of Hereditary Angioedema, caused by a problem with a gene that controls the blood protein C1 inhibitor, is easily mistaken for other common ailments, it takes an average of 10 years to diagnose. The genetic condition causes sudden, unpredictable and occasionally shifting swelling under the skin, in different parts of the body. Symptoms usually show up in childhood and get worse during the teen years, but many people don’t know HAE is causing their swelling until they’re adults. It can be triggered by stress or sickness, hormonal changes, mild trauma, dental work or surgical procedures, and such medications as oral contraceptives containing estrogen and ACE inhibitors If the swelling occurs in the neck, it can close the airway, sometimes resulting in death. In Special Blood, Metzger chronicles the lives of four patients with HAE … five, if one takes into account her own struggles with the treatable disease. She also introduces us to specialists, who, only recently, have be able to combine their research and make serious inroads into combating HAE at a dedicated facility in San Diego. The film is being shown at screenings arranged by people involved in awareness campaigns that include a series of 5K runs.

TV-to-DVD
PBS: Masterpiece: Dark Angel
PBS: Victorian Slum House
PBS: Independent Lens: Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America’s First Blockbuster
PBS: Frontline: Iraq Uncovered
WGN: Outsiders: Season two
PBS: David Holt’s State of Music: Season Two
Smithsonian: Air Warriors: Season 1/Season 2
Nickelodeon: Welcome to the Loud House: Season 1, Volume 1
PBS Kids: Peg + Cat: Peg and Cat Save the World
Over the course of six full seasons of “Downton Abbey,” Joanne Froggatt stole everyone’s hearts as Anna Smith, the underappreciated head housemaid and loyal confidante to the frequently imperious Lady Mary. In the current “Masterpiece” drama, “Dark Angel,” the wee Yorkshire lass plays Anna’s polar opposite: Mary Ann Cotton, who, between 1852 and 1873, may have murdered as many as 21 people, including 4 husbands and 11 of her 13 children. No one knows precisely how many people succumbed to the arsenic Mary Ann mixed into their “nice cups of tea,” but all it took was one conviction for her to be found guilty of murder and executed in a botched hanging. Today, of course, the local medical examiner would have nailed the cause of death and established a list of likely perpetrators after the first or second murder. The life-insurance policies redeemed by Cotton, so quickly after the first few funerals, would have narrowed the number of suspects to one. In the context of Victorian England, however, there was no reason to believe that a former Sunday-school teacher and nurse would intentionally kill a loved one, even if the families were struggling to make ends meet and Cotton had a married lover on the side. Periodic epidemics of English cholera and typhoid were blamed for the early victims’ gastric and intestinal disorders, although the comparatively short amount of time it took for them to die should have rung some bells. Even if Froggatt doesn’t much resemble pictures of Cotton, she does a nice job tracing her devolution from normal working-class wife and mother to a demon possessed by greed and lust. Director Brian Percival (The Book Thief), who had worked with the actress six times on “Downton Abbey,” takes full advantage of the almost timeless locations found in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire and Durham County. The costumes, as usual for “Masterpiece” presentations, are as visually compelling as the period-correct exteriors and interiors. “Dark Angel” is the seventh in a series of ITV mini-series dramatizing the most notorious British murder cases of the past two centuries, following on from “This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper” (2000), “Shipman” (2002), “A Is for Acid” (2002), “The Brides in the Bath” (2003), “See No Evil: The Moors Murders” (2006), and “Appropriate Adult” (2011).

And, speaking of Victorian horrors, there’s PBS/BBC’ “Victorian Slum House,” which provides a distinct contrast between the country settings of “Dark Angel” and what life was like for slum dwellers between 1850 and 1900. Although London was the richest city in the world’s most industrialized country, the poor and destitute led difficult lives in ramshackle neighborhoods, teeming with poorly paid laborers, immigrants, undernourished children, street peddlers and criminals. In the five-part living-history series, a Victorian tenement in the heart of London’s East End – modeled after the notorious Old Nichol slum in Bethnal Green — has been painstakingly brought back to life. Host Michael Mosley joins a group of 21st Century families as they move in and experience the tough living and working conditions of the Victorian poor. The producers also took into account changes in economic and housing conditions, clothing, food, furnishings and politics over the 50-year period. As such, the series combines elements of “Big Brother” and “MTV Real World,” with the novels of Charles Dickens. It’s fascinating, as would be a similarly themed series shot in New York’s Lower East Side.

All first-year film students are exposed to the parallel controversies triggered by the 1915 release of D.W. Griffith’s alternately brilliant and overtly racist historical epic, The Birth of a Nation. They include issues pertaining to an artist’s First Amendment right to distort history, the public’s perceived right to prevent a work of art from being exhibited, the limits of censorship in a democracy and, of course, the ongoing debate on the film’s place in the education of a students from distinctly different cultural backgrounds and majors. The “Independent Lens” presentation “Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America’s First Blockbuster” is less concerned finding answers to these questions – how could it? – than adding a perspective not typically considered when addressing them. It pertains the competition within the African-American community to decide which individuals and organizations should represent blacks in Washington, D.C., and the media. Bestor Cram and Susan Gray’s exhaustively researched documentary focuses on William Monroe Trotter, a prominent civil rights activist and publisher of Boston newspaper, who urged black Americans to protest to release of the movie in their cities and have it censored by leaders of the white establishment. While he was as prominent at the time as WEB Dubois and Booker T. Washington, Trotter’s contributions have largely been ignored in history books. The film also describes unsuccessful efforts by the fledgling NAACP to fund a film of its own on the subject and independent African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux’s long-lost Within Our Gates, which countered Griffith’s Birth of a Nation with a new set of heroes and villains. Among those interviewed are Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, DJ Spooky and, of course, Henry Louis Gates Jr.

In PBS’ “Inside Iraq,” “Frontline” correspondent Ramita Navai makes a dangerous and revealing journey inside the war-torn country to investigate the war within the war against ISIS. Militias have played a crucial role in Iraq’s fight against ISIS and are supposed to answer to the prime minister. Some of the Shia forces, however, have been accused of kidnapping, torturing and even killing Sunni men and boys. Because ISIS aligns itself with Sunni Islam, the militias often see Sunni civilians as potential enemies on the ground, now and the foreseeable future. Over several months of filming, Navai traveled to areas of the country where few journalists go, including refugee camps, to interview Sunnis who say their relatives were abducted and abused at the hands of the militias. Interviews with leading Sunni and Shia politicians, as well as militia members themselves, were also conducted.

WGN America’s third original series, “Outsiders,” lasted all of two seasons on the superstation. It found viewers, but probably was a victim of an unsustainable budget, weighed down by a large cast and location shoots in the mountains outside Pittsburgh. Set in the fictional town of Blackburg, in Crockett County, Kentucky, the series tells the story of the Farrell clan and their struggle for power and control in the hills of Appalachia. The Farrells have been a force in that neck of the woods for as long as anyone can remember. Living off the grid and above the law on their mountaintop homestead, they defend their way of life using any means necessary. “Outsiders” is one of the most violent series I’ve seen on basic cable, but in a way that recalls movie portrayals of Vikings, Barbarians, Hells Angels and the Zombie Apocalypse. It stars the always-watchable David Morse, Ryan Hurst, Kyle Gallner, Thomas M. Wright, Christina Jackson, Gillian Alexy and Rebecca Harris, all of whom look smashing in animal-skin fashions and filthy dreadlocks. The DVD adds deleted scenes.

Four-time Grammy winner David Holt has spent his life learning and performing traditional American music. It has taken him from the most remote coves of southern Appalachia to the bright lights of TV studios and the Grand Old Opry stage. In “David Holt’s State of Music” he shares tunes and stories with modern masters of this historic music, which is easily confused with bluegrass. The second-season package features such artists as the Steep Canyon Rangers, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Kruger Brothers, Mipso, Laurelyn Dossett, Dom Flemons, Amythyst Kiah, Rayna Gellert, Alice Gerrard and the St. John AME Zion Unity Choir. The season finale, recorded live onstage, features Rhiannon Giddens, Dirk Powell, Jason Sypher, Balsam Range, Josh Goforth and the Branchettes.

“Air Warriors” has been a staple of the Smithsonian Channel for five abbreviated seasons. To me, it’s like the old Ralph Edwards show, “This Is Your Life,” except for American fighter planes and helicopters. Their individual journeys from the blueprint and appropriations stages, to combat missions, are amplified through rarely seen action footage and the stories of the dedicated pilots. “Air Warriors: Season 1” and “Air Warriors: Season 2” cover the first six episodes and six very different airships and fighters: the Marine Corps’ U.S. V-22 Osprey, which can convert from helicopter to plane, and back again; the U.S. Army’s AH-64 Apache, considered to be the world’s premier attack helicopter; the F-15 Eagle, which, for decades, has been the U.S. Air Force’s weapon of choice when there’s any real chance of air-to-air combat; the Army’s Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter, which has played a role in nearly every American conflict and is used all over the globe; the Prowler and Growler, developed to help win battles electronically, by locating, jamming and destroying enemy radar; and Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II, made to eliminate armored vehicles and buildings with remarkable accuracy, while also protecting American troops on the ground. Most have survived battles in the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, in addition to those fought in the skies over war zones.

Welcome to the Loud House: Season 1, Volume 1” is new to the DVD aisles. The animated series is set in the fictional town of Royal Woods, Michigan, which is based on creator Chris Savino’s hometown of Royal Oak, Michigan. Middle child Lincoln Loud is the only boy in a family of 11 children. His sisters have distinctive personalities and interests: bossy eldest child, Lori; crazy, but ditzy fashionista, Leni; musician, Luna; comedian, Luan; athletic, Lynn; gloomy goth, Lucy; polar-opposite twins, Lola and Lana; genius, Lisa; and baby, Lily. Lincoln occasionally breaks the “fourth wall” to explain to viewers the chaotic conditions and sibling relationships of the household, and continually devises plans to make his life in the house better. Each of the 13 episodes, contains 2 cartoons. I’m not aware of any kinship between the Louds of Royal Woods and the “An American Family” Louds, formerly of Santa Barbara.

In the two-part movie, “Peg and Cat Save the World,” the President of the United States (voiced by actress Sandra Oh … if only) summons Peg and Cat to the White House to solve a problem of national importance. The president needs Our Heroes to identify a mysterious object floating in space. This series is designed to engage pre-school children and teach them how to solve math-based problems, with Peg, a chatty and tenacious 5-year-old, her feline pal, Cat, and her smart, handsome friend, Ramone.

42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection, Vol. 20
The latest collection of 15 vintage shorts from Impulse Pictures’ ever-expanding, if not ever-evolving series of salacious 8mm loops — re-mastered from original prints – with such descriptive titles as “Swinging Sex,” “Lady on Top,” “Lesbian Hairdresser” and “Intimate Friends.” No mysteries, there. Look for hall-of-famers Linda Shaw, Jamie Gillis and Sharon Kane, and an essay by “porn archeologist” Dimitrios Otis. Little known factoid: between 1960-80s, there may have been as many as 60,000 peep-show booths in adult stores around the country. Today, you can probably count them on your fingers and toes.

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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