MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Resident Evil, Buster’s Mal Heart, Free Fire, Tommy’s Honour, Stormy Monday, T.J. Hooker … More

Buster’s Mal Heart: Blu-ray
Writer-director Sarah Adina Smith has described her dark and challenging second feature, Buster’s Mal Heart, as a mix of Donnie Darko and Bad Santa. I might have added Life of Pi, Barton Fink and Lost Highway, if only as visual references. It’s a very curious movie, about a young husband and father, Jonah (Rami Malek), whose inability to handle basic realities of everyday life pushes him quickly past bipolar disorder, to outright schizophrenia, as a wildly eccentric mountain man, Buster (also Malek). Smith reportedly asked Malek to take on the double role of Jonah/Buster, before he began production on USA Network’s similarly off-putting series, “Mr. Robot.” It’s possible, I suppose, that Smith and USA shared casting agencies and rushes from Buster’s Mal Heart convince network executives that he was a perfect fit for playing vigilante hacker Elliot Alderson. Both characters are cut from the same cloth. Our first glimpse of Buster comes as he’s being chased by a small militia of police through a snowy valley, high in the Montana Rockies. Cut to Jonah, a night manager at an extremely generic motel in the flatlands, at work and at home, with his wife (Kate Lyn Sheil), daughter and burdensome mother-in-law (Lin Shaye). It’s clear that he’s working too many hours at the motel, but, without them, he’d never be able save enough money to achieve his simple dreams. He takes caffeine pills to give him an edge at work, if not sufficient time to rest and recuperate from damage done. One quiet night, a guest who identifies himself as The Last Free Man piques his curiosity with bizarre questions, inspired by an apocalyptic event he calls “the great inversion.” He’s played by D.J. Qualls — Golem in Season Three of “Fargo” — who would have been my second choice for Jonah/Buster. His references to Y2K square with messages he’s hearing in the jibber-jabber being spouted, at home, by insane-looking televangelists. Something terrible happens while Jonah’s wife and daughter are “vacationing” – as his boss puts it – at the motel. It leads not only to the emergence of Buster the Mountain Man, but also Buster’s alter ego, who’s stuck in a row boat in the middle of a vast sea. I’m not at all sure what Smith is trying to say here, except that too much work, for too little return, will drive a good man insane. But, we knew that already. Her first film, The Midnight Swim, asked as many questions as answers, as well as adding a supernatural twist. In it, Dr. Amelia Brooks (Beth Grant) disappears during a deep-water dive on Spirit Lake. Her three daughters travel home to settle her affairs, not expecting to find themselves unable to let go of their mother and becoming drawn into the mysteries of the lake.

Resident Evil: Vendetta: Blu-ray/4K UHD
The first thing that confused me going into Resident Evil: Vendetta was the absence of any mention of franchise mainstays Milla Jovovich and writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson. I recalled something about a recent theatrical release of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, but assumed that a name change had taken place between then and now. It happens. In fact, I was unaware of the existence of two separate “RE” movie series, both based on the same video game, conceived by Capcom in 1996. The six-part live-action series, which, began in 2002, starred Jovovich and was alternately produced, written and/or directed by Anderson. It has made over $1 billion, largely in overseas revenues. Resident Evil: Vendetta, originally “Biohazard: Vendetta,” is the third of at least four full-length CGI-animated features. It was directed by Takanori Tsujimoto (Bushido Man), written by Makoto Fukami (Psycho-Pass), produced by Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On) and scored by Kenji Kawai (“Ghost in the Shell”). Like its predecessors, “Biohazard: Degeneration” (2008) and “Biohazard: Damnation” (2012), it doesn’t appear as if “Vendetta” was accorded a theatrical release here. Once I learned not to expect a visit from Jovovich, who so happens to be married to Anderson, I was able to cut directly to the chase. Because the “Biohazard” installments don’t neatly coincide with the “RE” releases, I wouldn’t recommend for newcomers to leap into either franchise, without first becoming familiar with the video game. There are several recurring characters and themes, in addition to the zombies and demon dogs that require zapping by soldiers and gamers. Here, BSAA agent Chris Redfield (voiced by Kevin Dorman) enlists the help of government agent Leon S. Kennedy (Matthew Mercer) and professor Rebecca Chambers (Erin Cahill), from Alexander Institute of Biotechnology, to prevent death merchant Glenn Arias (John DeMita) from spreading the deadly A-Virus in New York. In addition to being an evil genius and buff dude, Arias has a very good reason to be pissed at a government willing to teach him a lesson, by lobbing a cruise missile into a wedding reception … just like Afghanistan. Much of the fighting takes place from the p.o.v. of single shooters as they make their way through mansions and buildings full of zombies. The bonus package adds three featurettes, “The Creature,” “Motion Capture Set Tour with Dante Carver” and “CGI to Reality: Designing Vendetta”; a still gallery (30 sketches/designs); commentary (in Japanese) with Tsujimoto, Shimizu and Fukami; a bonus disc with three more featurettes, “BSAA Mission Briefing: Combat Arias,” “Designing the World of Vendetta” and “2016 Tokyo Game Show Footage.” The 4K Blu-ray disc features both Dolby Vision high-dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Atmos immersive audio.

 

La Vie de Jean-Marie
When Dutch filmmaker Peter van Houten embarked on his bio-doc of a sprightly septuagenarian priest, who tends to more than 20 villages in the French Pyrenees, he couldn’t have imagined how, when or where it would end. If the subject had died half way through the shoot, for example, all Van Houten would have had to show for the project would have been some lovely shots of the mountains and footage of the priest meeting with parishioners and tending to his beautiful garden. They could have been shown at his funeral, as an unexpected sendoff to a swell guy. As it is, however, La Vie de Jean-Marie is a 166-minute-long portrait of a remarkable, if wholly anonymous man, whose reward for a life well-lived would have to wait until his promised rendezvous with the Holy Father. This isn’t to say that Pastor Jean-Marie wasn’t appreciated by the people of Olette or that he didn’t make a lasting impression with his lifelong commitment to their spiritual well-being. They have to count for something, after all. He arrived at the priesthood in a circuitous, if not completely unlikely fashion. Jean-Marie was born the eldest son of a large family. In 1948, his Dutch father bought a mountain in the French Pyrenees – that’s right, a mountain – where, after being rejected in love, the young man turned to God. With simplicity, humor and openness, Jean-Marie emerged from his heartache with a great spiritual love for his neighbors. Over the years, as vacancies at other parishes occurred, he took it upon himself to ride the circuit, rather than demand the villagers come to Olette. In true cinema-verite style,Van Houten trails the pastor like a dog follows its master, catching every nuance and recording all of Jean-Marie’s many thoughts and observations. Viewers able to sit through 166 minutes of such closely observed portraiture will be rewarded with a narrative payoff that’s almost too good to be true. Certainly, if La Vie de Jean-Marie had been made in Hollywood, the unexpectedly uplifting summation would have been too tidy to be credible. I wouldn’t think of spoiling it. The hardest part might be finding a copy of the movie on DVD or VOD, from IndiePix Films. In a rarity, I couldn’t find a mention of it or Van Houten on IMDB.com. Keep trying, though.

Free Fire: Blu-ray
Ever since 2009, when writer-director Ben Wheatley’s Down Terrace caught the attention of critics and lovers of offbeat crime pictures, he’s deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino. Since then, the Essex-born filmmaker has reeled off a series of thrillers that combine stylized violence, colorful characters and the poetics of slang and profanity. Although Free Fall is set in Boston, in the mid-1970s, instead of the UK, where it was shot, it features all the Wheatley-isms fans have come to expect, with one significant variation. It’s a locked-room thriller, set in a large abandoned factory. It is where two groups of almost comically inept hoodlums meet to exchange cash for automatic weapons. We’ve seen the same thing happen hundreds of times in movies and television series, including Boston’s own, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Given the stakes, tensions run high from the get-go. The money’s right … the automatic weapons work … but they’re not the variety agreed upon beforehand. After some initial trepidation, the groups’ spokesmen agree that the unexpected change shouldn’t be considered a deal-breaker. Both sides might have exited the factory intact, if it weren’t for the insistence of two of the hired hands to reignite a violent argument begun the night before the exchange. One thing leads to another and a good old-fashioned Western shootout ensues, during which all the participants take shelter behind piles of rubble and, one-by-one, pull out handguns to shoot anything that moves. At that same time, they taunt each other with insults, threats and mocking sounds. Soon, a pair of seemingly unaligned snipers join the party, picking off unprotected individuals from above. Amazingly, Wheatley keeps the shootout going for 90 increasingly tense minutes, within the confines of the factory, occasionally relieving the carnage with inky black humor. Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor are among the familiar faces taking potshots at each other. The character who steals the show from the boys, however, is played by Brie Larson (Room), whose allegiance isn’t always clear. Martin Scorsese thought enough about Free Fire to lend his name as executive producer.

Ukraine on Fire
Until Donald Trump’s taunts, lies and insults lit a fire under the ass of the mainstream press, only a handful of media outlets cared enough about officially sanctioned propaganda, untruths and corruption to provide the public with a semblance of truth. If the President hadn’t dared the New York Times, Washington Post and a few other outlets to call him out on his ridiculous tweets and callous disregard for facts, he might have sailed through his first six months in office. Instead, he stirred up the hornets’ nest and lost control of his legislative agenda. Filmmaker and conspiracy theorist Olivier Stone has long fancied himself as a counterbalance to the mainstream press, occasionally paying well-publicized visits to dictators whose views, he felt, were being misrepresented. It was difficult to discern whose ego was more on the line in Stone’s interviews. Before Trump and Putin met at the G-20 Summit – twice, it turns out — Stone conducted a series of interviews with the Russian leader, for a Showtime mini-series. For all the advance hype, the best he could do was lob softballs at a politician well versed in deflecting criticism and shaping propaganda. Which is too bad, because, in his features, Stone has often presented articulate alternatives to the official versions of major historical upheavals. In Igor Lopatonok and Vanessa Dean’s debut documentary, Ukraine on Fire, Stone serves as one of three co-executive producers and chief interviewer. His photograph his larger than anyone else’s on the cover, including Putin. Apart from the chats, Stone’s contribution is zilch.

As documentaries on ongoing current events go, Ukraine on Fire leaves a lot to be desired. Even before it gets to the current state of affairs in the country, Lopatonok and Dean present a historical timeline that makes Ukraine look like a banana republic, dominated by fascists, anti-Semitic ultra-nationalists and politicians whose loyalty to allies is always in doubt. Given the CIA’s tendency to meddle in other countries’ business, it should come as no surprise to viewers that the filmmakers have been able to make a strong case for painting the agency as the bogeyman, inciting riots whenever pro-Moscow leaders take power and supporting the worst sorts of opponents. We’re expected to believe that the hundreds of thousands of students who demanded democratic reforms were ripe for cooptation by the right. They also take the side of the Russian nationals in eastern Ukraine, whose desire to join the Motherland gave Putin an excuse to send in paramilitary troops and spark confrontations that would lead to a full-blown invasion. As for the Crimea, they suggest, the Russians have an historical right to steal it. Naturally, Putin agrees with them. If Stone’s bullshit detector was working during the interview sessions, his questions don’t show it. No other side is represented, even when the filmmakers play devil’s advocate in the shooting down of Malaysia Airline Flight 17. And, that’s unconscionable. Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015) was released a year earlier than Ukraine on Fire and takes a more populist approach to recent history there. Not having seen the doc, all I can point to is its being an official selection of the Venice and Telluride International film festivals, a 2016 Oscar nominee and People’s Choice Award winner for the Best Documentary, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Tommy’s Honour
Listen to announcers and analysts reporting on any major golf tournament and you’d think they were watching a royal wedding or the installment of a pope, instead of describing a game played with a ball and stick, by men in branded sportswear. They speak in hushed tones whenever a contender’s caddy pulls a club out of his bag and the choice reminds them of something that happened in tournaments long past. A particularly impressive shot elicits the kind of praise usually reserved for Congressional Medal of Honor winners. You can almost hear CBS host Jim Nantz genuflect and cross himself whenever the names of the sport’s greats are referenced at the Masters. This wasn’t always the case, but, thanks to the network’s kowtowing to PGA executives, it’s become commonplace. The old farts at August National even dictate CBS’ lineup of commentators. (Gary McCord and Jack Whitaker were banned for being insensitive to tradition.) That’s what makes an appearance by comedian Bill Murray at a pro-am event, or in the announcers’ booth, so refreshing. It also explains why Happy Gilmore, Caddyshack and Tin Cup have made a whole bunch more money at the box office than such otherwise worthwhile dramas as Bobby Jones Stroke of Genius, The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Legend of Bagger Vance. The most shocking thing about Tiger Woods’ collapse, wasn’t the nature of his misdeeds, but that they reminded his many admirers that he was human and behaved like everyone on tour when the cameras weren’t pointed in their direction.

The “u” in the title, Tommy’s Honour, is a dead getaway that Jason Connery’s homage to his father’s native Scotland, and its historical role in golf’s development, is to be taken seriously. That’s clear, as well, in his choice of locations, which include the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, in Fife, which has been around since 1754, and is looked up by duffers and pros, alike, as a shrine. Tommy’s Honour depicts the lives and careers of Old Tom (Peter Mullan) and Young Tom Morris (Jack Lowden), one of the greatest father-son acts in the history of organized sports. Both men were born, raised and worked within spitting distance of the hallowed St. Andrews clubhouse, where, as commoners, they were personae non grata. As close as they were, much of the film’s drama derives the Morris’ complex and bittersweet relationship, fueled by jealousy and passion for the game. Tommy’s Honour is based on Kevin Cook’s 2007 biography, “Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son.” The movie plays down Old Tom’s many legendary achievements, if not their rivalry, in favor of a romantic throughline that sets the moral and religious tone of the period, as well as the dramatic climax. Another storyline involves the sport’s roots in snobbery, which allowed for Young Tom to represent the club in competition, but not as a member. He remains, at 17, the youngest golfer to win a major tournament. In addition to being a great golfer, in his own right, Old Tom was noted as an innovative greens-keeper, course and club designer, and teacher. If the twits who ran the club ever considered him a “gentleman,” apparently the pinnacle of status in the Victorian period, it isn’t revealed here. The real fun takes place in the gallery, anyway. The golfers were natural-born gamblers, who tried their best to intimidate each other, while fans are portrayed as rowdy sots, whose lack of decorum often resulted in fistfights. It’s also fun to see how the courses looked, at a time when manicuring greens was neither encouraged or practiced. The DVD release coincides with this week’s unfolding of the British Open.

Psychoanalysis
In the slow-burn drama, Psychoanalysis, Paul Symmonds is Australia’s top suicide-prevention specialist. He’s riding high in the psychiatric community and about to make a major presentation to his peers. Before he can do that, however, Paul’s stunned to learn that five of his patients have taken their own lives in the past week, throwing his reputation into question when it’s revealed in the media. When the speaking gig is canceled, Paul’s ego demands that he not accept the fallout without a fight. Curiously, he hires a documentary crew to follow him around as he attempts to clear his name. This includes a Psychology Board hearing, during which he is forced to attend sessions with a rival psychologist, who will determine if he’s capable of resuming his practice. The perceived dis allows freshman director James Raue to ask us, “Did they jump or were they pushed and, if so, why?” Paul’s sole ally in his investigation is a mentally unstable client, so anxious to support Symmonds that he impersonates an American FBI agent during interviews with the victims’ parents, some of whom need help themselves. It goes without saying that his stability will spiral downward as the search for the truth goes in directions he hadn’t anticipated. It’s all captured by the camera crew, which may have motives of its own to stick so close to Symmonds and his unreliable assistant. If Psychoanalysis’ pace requires some adjustments, actors Benedict Wall, Jes Craig-Piper, Michael Whalley and Ryan O’Kane keep things interesting.

Game Changers
In most nerdist melodramas I’ve seen, the star-crossed geeks eventually are required to hang up their controllers and adapt to a life outside the fantasy realms in which they came of age. In Rob Imbs’ micro-budget Game Changers, however, the characters are allowed to remain true to their roots throughout. When they mess up, as they inevitably do, it’s on terms that are more credible to gamers than other viewers. It is the story of two childhood friends — extrovert Bryan (Brian Bernys) and introvert Scott (Jake Albarella) — gaming superstars in their youth, but now settling into jobs in Bryan’s family IT company. True to the gamer spirit, they can’t imagine wearing anything more presentable than jeans, t-shirts and gym shoes to work, even as they climb the corporate ladder. Bryan attempts to direct his nervous energy into poker, but is too impulsive to be an effective player. He talks Scott into getting back into e-gaming at an intensely competitive level, which is OK, but only until he realizes that Bryan has become a video-game Nazi. Coincidentally, a cute and talented new employee develops a crush on Scott, based simply on her respect for his work. Like any true nerd, he’s, at first, unprepared to deal with normal boy-girl interaction. As he grows closer to her, his relationship with Bryan takes a devious turn. Somehow, Imbs pulls it off without forcing his characters to compromise or adapt to non-gamer society.

Behind the Mask: The Batman: Dead End Story
In the winter of 2003, commercial director Sandy Collora and some of his friends set out to make a short film for his demo reel. Starting at 17, he began honing his creature design and sculpting skills at Stan Winston’s studio as an assistant on “Leviathan” and “Alien Nation,” before moving on to work with Rob Bottin, Steve Johnson and Rick Baker. All along, he harbored the dream of interpreting his comic-book hero on film. What Collora’s team lacked in money, they more than made up for in chutzpah and imagination. In fact, Collora and his team created one of the most widely trafficked short films ever made: “Batman: Dead End.” In the seven-minute production, a pissed-off Batman – even darker than Christian Bale’s interpretation – punishes the Joker for escaping from prison. Unbeknownst to the Caped Crusader, however, the Alien and Predator are waiting in the wings to prove who’s boss in Gotham. That’s all there is to it. But, it looks great and is true to the characters’ look and venomous nature. Eric Dow’s Behind the Mask: The Batman: Dead End Story chronicles what happened when it was shown to the geeks at Comic-Con and the shock waves were felt all the way to Hollywood. The doc is divided into halves. In the first, Dow describes the inception and development of the project, including meetings with Sylvester Stallone. The second covers what happens when Collora becomes a hot property and, almost predictably, allows his artistic hubris to turn victory into disaster. In effect, he was handed the keys to Hollywood and pissed all over them. His refusal to accept the first few offers was admirable — from the point-of-view of an uncompromising indie artist, anyway — but, ultimately, suicidal. His only feature to date is the low-budget sci-fi thriller, Hunter Prey, of which DVD Talk said, “is likely to go down as one of the best sci-fi films in a long time that most people will never see.” Despite finding some traction in Europe, it was released here straight-to-video. The inside look at the legend of “Batman: Dead End” is informed by interviews with Collora, comic book legend Neal Adams and convention players Sean Clark, Shawn Reeves and Jordu Schell. It immediately recalls Overnight, Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith’s insightful examination of Boondock Saints’ writer-director Troy Duffy’s spectacular rise and fall.

Stormy Monday: Special Edition: Blu-ray
In 1988, seven years before he would turn heads with Leaving Las Vegas, Mike Figgis introduced himself to filmgoers with Stormy Monday, a taut, stylish gangster movie that recalled John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday, Alan Rudolph’s Trouble in Mind and any number of classic American noirs, in which the art, lighting and musical conceits were as crucial as the dialogue. That it was set on Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s rough-and-ready waterfront district only added to the fun. Despite a soundtrack informed by excellent jazz, R&B and blues, the most significant musical note was provided by the ragtag Krakow Jazz Ensemble – something of an extended Polish joke, I’m afraid – in a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” so discordant, it set the tone for everything that follows it. That’s because it’s American Week in Newcastle and the red-white-and-blue imagery is so pervasive, it’s possible to imagine Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher snuggling in the corner booth of Sting’s upscale jazz club. Sean Bean (“Sharpe”) plays Brendan, a handsome drifter seeking a custodial job with jazz club owner, Finney (Sting), who’s under pressure from American mobster Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) to sell, in exchange for a cut of a local land development deal. After Brendan overhears a pair of Brit mobsters discussing a possible hit on Finney, Brendan uses it as an entrée to Finney’s inner circle. Meanwhile, he’s hit it off with Cosmo’s sultry ex-lover Kate (Melanie Griffith, never sexier), who’s a part-time model, waitress and prostitute. Whether the Yanks or Brits win the showdown is almost beyond the point. What counts more than anything else is Roger Deakins’ cinematography, without which Figgis’ visions might have gone unrealized. (A scene in which Brendan and Kate exchange a kiss on a bridge overlooking the city’s fog-shrouded port is suitable for framing.) Arrow Video’s special edition is presented here for the first time in high definition and original stereo audio. It adds commentary with Figgis, moderated by critic Damon Wise; a video appreciation by critic Neil Young; a ”then and now” tour of the film’s Newcastle locations; a reversible sleeve featuring, original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey; and booklet, featuring new writing by critic Mark Cunliffe.

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Even since the late 1980s, I’ve avoided vacationing in Hawaii, Tahiti, Bali and other idyllic islands in the Pacific Ocean, fearing that I might accidentally swim or snorkel directly into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an amorphous blob of floating debris discovered 30 years ago by researchers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Even if its horrific description bordered on urban mythology – and I could have afforded such a trip — why risk being swallowed up in slowly decaying globs of plastic bottles and other refuse? Whew, that was a close one. In Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, journalist/filmmaker Angela Sun traveled to distant Midway Atoll to uncover the truth behind the mystery. For all the attention that it garnered as the site of one of the great naval battles of World War II, the island chain is extremely difficult for civilians to reach and, since 2012, the tourism program has been suspended due to budget cutbacks. In the absence of environmental and historical tourists, Sun’s film suggests that the albatross population now controls passage on the roads and other thoroughfares. (Of the 21 species recognized by International Union for Conservation of Nature on its Red List, 19 are threatened, and the other two are “near threatened.”) Sadly, the gooney birds are the most threatened of all species on Midway by the plastic flotsam. Studies of birds in the North Pacific have shown that ingestion of plastic goblets results in declining body weight and condition. The plastic, after being consumed, can be regurgitated and fed to chicks, many of which die prematurely. That’s because the patch, which isn’t visible from the air or space, consists of tiny pieces suspended beneath the surface of the ocean. Larger objects also find their way to the beaches of Midway, but they’re more of an eyesore than of concern to marine life. Sun also encounters scientists, celebrities, legislators and activists who shed light on what our society’s vast consumption of disposable plastic is doing to our oceans — and what it may be doing to our health.

Do You Take This Man
The downside of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriages was revealed when filmmakers began making movies in which the gay grooms and lesbian brides were portrayed as being as neurotically attached to tradition as heterosexual couples from time immemorial. In the movies that’s meant throwing as many roadblocks and potholes in the path of the betrothed to make audiences wonder if the marriage will be canceled or saved in the final reel. Joshua Tunick’s debut feature, Do You Take This Man, follows an intimate group of friends and family – only four of whom are gay — as they gather at the home of Daniel and Christopher (Anthony Rapp, Jonathan Bennett) for the rehearsal dinner. In lieu of gifts, each new guest carries with them an unspoken question that should have been answered before the two men – mismatched only by age – began to make plans for the ceremony. To me, none of them is worth more than a few minutes’ anguish, if that, but that wouldn’t make for much of a drama, would it? The fact is, though, Lifetime built a network around movies that are every bit as predictable and ultimately uplifting as Do You Take This Man. Neither should LGBTQ audiences be deprived of their right to wallow in schmaltz every so often. The veteran cast includes Alyson Hannigan, Thomas Dekker, Mackenzie Astin, Alona Tal, Sam Anderson, Lee Garlington, Hutchi Hancock and Marla Sokoloff. The DVD adds cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes and director’s commentary.

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story
When I last reviewed “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story,” the comic-book legend was 89 years old and still attending Comic-Cons with regularity. Now, at 94, Lee’s expected to attend next week’s event, in San Diego, as well. He’s appeared in nearly 60 films in the last five years – in person, as a voice actor, or animated – in roles ranging from narrator in Return to Nuke ‘Em High, Volume 1, to strip-club deejay, in Deadpool. The highly recommendable DVD is being reissued by Well Go USA. It features interviews with fans and colleagues, including Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes, and relating the oft-told tale of one man’s determination to tell incredible stories, which have enchanted the world for over 40 years.

TV-to-DVD
ABC/CBS: T.J. Hooker: The Complete Series
Lifetime: Love by the 10th Date
PBS: Earth: Great Yellowstone Thaw: How Nature Survives
PBS Kids: Arthur: Brothers and Sisters
With the exception of Betty White, I can’t think of another actor who’s enjoyed the kind of roller-coaster career on television as William Shatner. Never very far from the public eye since breaking into the spotlight at the dawn of the broadcast era, White and Shatner have found ways to remain visible, as stars, guest stars, supporting characters, talk-show guests and contestants on game shows. White began her career near the top, in the early 1950s, with title roles in “Life With Elizabeth” and “Date With the Angels,” hitting paydirt in the 1970s, with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and, a decade later, in “The Golden Girls.” Shatner was a familiar face in series television until 1967, when he ascended to the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, as Captain James T. Kirk, on “Star Trek.” The show’s failure put a dent in his career, only alleviated by cultists who wouldn’t let it die. The unexpected success of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) resuscitated his career as a pop-cultural icon, while a starring role in ABC’s “T.J. Hooker” demonstrated that he could attract an audience as something other than a fleet commander. Coincidentally, both actors’ careers were resuscitated once again by David E. Kelly’s sibling courtroom dramas, “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.” Shatner’s Denny Crane remains one of the medium’s singular characters, while White’s delightfully felonious Catherine Piper bridged several demographic gaps. They’re still active. For the first time on DVD, Shatner’s 90-episode run in Rick Husky’s popular 1980s cop drama is on view in Shout!Factory’s “T.J. Hooker: The Complete Series The Leonard Goldberg/ Aaron Spelling production premiered as a mid-season replacement on March 13, 1982, on ABC, and ran on the network until May 4, 1985. It was picked up for another season by CBS, which placed it in a late-night spot. In it, Hooker is a veteran police sergeant in charge of training new “LCPD” recruits for duty in the mean streets of “LC,” which is a dead ringer for L.A. He gave up his gold shield after his partner was killed and he was shot. Hooker’s return threatened to uniform coincides with a change in attitude about career criminals, drug dealers and other enemies of civility. In the 90Metal Jacket. As the show progressed, Hooker would mellow noticeably, without compromising his ideals or de-minute pilot episode, he does a pretty good impersonation of R. Lee Ermey’s no-nonsense D.I., in Full sire to clean up the streets. Among his young proteges are cocky lady’s man Vince Romano (Adrian Zmed) and Farrah-Fawcett clone, Stacy Sheridan (Heather Locklear). (Every time Sheridan goes undercover, she gets kidnapped and with rape, or so it seems.) Notable guest stars included Leonard Nimoy, Vic Tayback, Lisa Hartman, Jonathan Banks, Robert Davi, Melody Anderson, Jim Brown, David Caruso, Helen Shaver, William Forsythe, Tracy Scoggins, Greg Morris, Ray Wise, Nia Peeples, Heather Thomas, Dennis Franz, Glynn Turman, Robert Pastorelli, Delta Burke, Miguel Ferrer, Sharon Stone, Lauren Tewes, Vanessa Williams and Sid Haig. If “T.J. Hooker” isn’t recalled as anything special in the annals of TV crime shows, it’s because it arrived after the Joseph Wambaugh-inspired “Police Story” and in the same season as “Hill Street Blues,” shows that smashed all genre conventions. It took a while for the public to warm to the latter, however, and, in the meantime, Shatner’s fans kept his show popular with mainstream viewers. Even so, as is the case in any Spelling/Goldman product, the dialogue is often laughably cliché, as is the casting of supporting characters. Lots of chases, though. (I wonder if Lawrence Kasdan had Shatner’s T.J. Hooker in mind when, in The Big Chill,” he made the name of the series in which Tom Berenger’s character starred, “J.T. Lancer.” Both characters’ willingness to jump on and off moving vehicles is similar.)

Criticizing a Lifetime rom-com for its lack of intellectual value is exactly the kind of fool’s errand nutritionists face when pointing out the flaws in a Big Mac or Big Gulp. It’s pointless. No matter how silly women are made to look in their pursuit of careers, men or material goods, there’s always going to be a sizeable audience willing to buy into the stereotypes. “Love by the 10th Date,” which aired earlier this year, is no better or worse than other romantic comedies targeted at women who watch them as much to see what the characters are wearing as how they resolves their problems, such as they are. Lifetime dramas are starting to come of age, I think, but comedies based on stereotypes will always find an audience. The story focuses on the career and romantic ambitions of Gabby (Meagan Good), Nell (Kellee Stewart), Billie (Keri Hilson) and Margot (Kelly Rowland), exceptionally beautiful African-American journalists who work for a digital lifestyle magazine based in L.A. Their British editor (Kat Deeley) is unhappy with the level of pizzazz displayed in story ideas they’ve begun to forward, sensing that they reflect the lack of luster in their private lives. The editor threatens to fire them, if their next assignment turns out to be a flat as the last ones. They come up with a challenge based on the idea that a “relationship isn’t a relationship until the tenth date with the same person,” after which true love can be rooted in a solid foundation. The women are then required to navigate the ups and downs of modern dating, romance, exes and friendships, while also learning what they want out of life and love. Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Brandon T. Jackson, Black Shakespeare, Christian Keyes and Andra Fuller are among the atypically eligible bachelors who are blindsided by the constraints placed on them by their dates. The cast, which includes three Grammy nominees, doesn’t have to stretch much to meet writer/director Nzingha Stewart demands. The biggest laugh comes when one of the women accidentally displays the results of her bikini wax, while being saved at a revival meeting, at which her 10th-date hopeful is laying hands on sinners. Conveniently, she had forgotten to wear underwear, before pretending to be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and fainting, legs akimbo. Happens all the time.

PBS/BBC’s “Great Yellowstone Thaw: How Nature Survive uses mini-cameras to describe how some the national park’s permanent residents pass the winter and how they take advantage of the spring thaw and summer runoff, which never are exactly alike from one year to the next. It isn’t as natural a process as you might think. Animals, like the plants in your garden, can be fooled by a false spring and emerge from their long winter’s nap before the eco-system is ready to accommodate their needs. That’s especially true with Yellowstone’s bear population. The winter described in this series was atypically mild, so the usual menu of food sources wasn’t available for an early riser. The cameras also capture great grey owls mating, nesting and raising their newborns. Buffalo roam … wolves hunt … beavers munch … hummingbirds suckle … rivers flood. The predators don’t always win and the meek don’t always lose. The three-part mini-series provides a wonderful reminder that we’re not alone, even if backcountry Yellowstone is off-limits to most visitors.

PBS Kids’ “Arthur: Brothers and Sisters” is set in the fictional American city of Elwood City. The show revolves around the lives of 8-year-old Arthur Read, an anthropomorphic aardvark, his friends and family, and their daily interactions with each other. The latest collection of eight stories about the joys – and challenges – of having a brother or sister. From D.W. copying her big brother’s every move, to the Tibble twins discovering one of them is two whole minutes older, this DVD features loads of sibling fun.

 

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