MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Latin Lover, After the Storm, Bluebeard, Meantime, Hickok and more

How to Be a Latin Lover: Blu-ray
Salma Hayek and Eugenio Derbez both launched their careers in Mexico, in sitcoms and telenovelas, before finding success north of the border and, many years later, appearing together in How to Be a Latin Lover. Among many other honors, Hayek has been nominated for an Academy Award, for her portrayal of artist Frida Kahlo, in Frida, and an Emmy for “Ugly Betty,” which she also executive-produced. In 2014, Derbez was recognized by Variety as the most influential Hispanic male in the entertainment industry. The Mexican dramedy Instructions Not Included, which the 55-year-old Mexico City native had just directed, co-wrote and starred in, became the most successful Spanish-language film ever in the U.S., coming within a whisker of the $100-million barrier worldwide. I don’t know if that’s what qualified him for a star on the Walk of Fame, but, there it is, at 7013 Hollywood Boulevard.Hayek, who certainly deserves one, has either declined to participate in the nominating process or isn’t blessed with a sponsor willing to cough up the estimated $40,000 to grease the selection committee. Half-Bolivian Raquel Welch, their co-star in Ken Marino’s fluffy How to Be a Latin Lover, was accorded a star on the Walk of Fame in 1993. The bilingual comedy marks the first time in more than a decade that the 76-year-old bombshell has appeared on the big screen. Just for the record, she still looks great. With dialogue in Spanish and English, How to Be a Latin Lover recovered a respectable $32.1 million at the domestic box and another $30 million overseas. It would be nice to think that those numbers mark a trend and exhibitors are paying attention to Spanish-speaking audiences. Lionsgate has testied the DVD waters with such titles as Everybody Loves Somebody, Un Padre No Tan Padre, 600 Miles, The Legend of Chupacabras and Sundown. It’s doing so in a “synergistic partnership” with Hollywood-based Pantelion Films and Mexican conglomerate, Grupo Televisa.

In How to Be a Latin Lover, Derbez plays aging Mexican gigolo Maximo, whose childhood dream was to come to the U.S. and make a fortune doing as little as possible. While working in the kinds of resorts that attract rich, lonely American widows, Maximo saw an opportunity and grabbed one… Peggy, played in her dotage by 84-year-old Renée Taylor. No longer a spring rooster, himself, Maximo is caught by surprise when he’s aced out of her affections by a baby-faced car salesman (Michael Cera). It leaves the graying lothario down and out in Beverly Hills, in desperate need of a new sponsor. In a nice twist, Rob Lowe plays a friend and fellow gigolo, who’s shacked up with a kinky old broad (Linda Lavin), who may be even richer than Peg. Desperate, Maximo reaches out to his estranged sister, Sara (Hayek), a single mother living in far more meager quarters across tow. After begging Sara to take him in, Maximo promises to take care of her young son, Hugo, while she’s at work. Conveniently, the boy has earned a scholarship to a posh prep school, which Maximo senses is a target-rich zone for rich old dames he still might be able to seduce. Conveniently, Hugo has a crush on the cute blond granddaughter of Welsh’s spinster character, who’s even wealthier than Peggy and Millicent. If you’ve already guessed that Maximo will mentor Hugo in the delicate art of being a Latin lover, and play wingmen for each other in pursuit of their mutual goals, go to the head of the class. Derbez is an excellent comic actor, who isn’t reluctant to look stupid when a gag needs to be pushed beyond its natural limits.Hayek does a nice job as his foil. Also funny are veteran L.A. improv comics Kristen Bell (Frozen), Rob Corddry (“Ballers”), Rob Riggle (“Angie Tribeca”), Rob Huebel (“Transparent”), Mather Zickel (“Masters of Sex”), Ben Schwartz (“House of Lies”), Michaela Watkins (“Transparent”) and Alfred “Weird Al” Yankovic (“Comedy Bang! Bang!”). Special features include deleted and extended scenes; the featurettes, ”Show Me Your Sexy! Learning How to Be a Latin Lover” and ”A Little Help From My Friends”; and commentary with director Ken Marino (“Party Down”), producer Ben Odell, and editor John Daigle.

After the Storm: Blu-ray
It would be easy to categorize the people we meet in After the Storm, Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest intricately sketched portrait of a troubled Japanese family, as dysfunctional and leave it at that. Two of the characters, siblings played by Hiroshi Abe and Satomi Kobayashi, fit that description and could be recognized as damaged goods anywhere the world. Everyone else pays the price for their dysfunction, in various ways. The recent death of the family’s patriarch, a Willy Loman type, whose promises of a better life always went unfulfilled, forced his elderly wife and children to come to grips with his legacy of unmet expectations. At the center of the drama is Ryota, a prize-winning novelist who’s been resting on his laurels for the past 15 years. He no longer is able to pay alimony and child support, and his ex-wife has started seeing a man he fears will fill the gap as father figure to his teenage son. Ryota has convinced the people around him that he’s working at a private-detective agency to accumulate material for a book. Lately, though, he’s begun extorting money from the guilty spouses he photographs entering “love hotels.” He’ll piss away it away at the local racetrack. Even so, we pull for him to hit the lottery jackpot. Like his similarly devious sister, Ryota depends on the kindness and generosity of their mother to afford such luxuries as baseball equipment for his son and ice-skating lessons for her daughter. When mom’s monthly benefits dry up, the siblings sneak behind her back to find family heirlooms to pawn. Even then, the items are rarely as valuable as the old man claimed. Sometimes, too, their mother will have already pawned the items, making up excuses to explain their absence. The title, After the Storm, refers to the near-constant threat of typhoons in Japan and the promise of serenity when they pass. The most cathartic scene occurs as a storm passes over the mother’s housing project and the whole family comes together, either to get more money from mother or learn, once and for all, if there’s anything left to salvage from Ryota’s failed marriage and shared custody. Because Koreeda is in no hurry to solve any of his character’s problem or deflate their balloons, the narrative rests on his ability to make us care about subsidiary characters and mine the gold in the time father and son are together. When Ryota is allowed some quality time with the boy, some of it is spent picking out lottery tickets … as if to imply that the sins of the father and grandfather will be visited on him, as well. By the time the typhoon passes, we care about this family almost as much we care about our own. Bonus features include an excellent 73-minute making-of featurette and short film, “The Last Dream.”

Bluebeard: Blu-ray
It’s been a long time between features for Korean writer/director Lee Soo-youn, whose 2003 ghost story, The Uninvited, received a lot of attention on genre websites. Based on what happens in the first 20 minutes of his proctological thriller, Bluebeard, it’s possible he attended medical school in the interim. I can’t recall seeing another movie whose plot revolved around information inadvertently shared with a doctor during a colonoscopy. And, if that weren’t sufficiently bizarre, the doctor is monitoring a computer screen showing the interior of the man’s lower intestine when his patient admits to being a serial killer. It’s visible to viewers, as well. Having undergone a couple such procedures, myself, I can attest to the mostly pleasant side effects of Demerol on a semi-alert patient during the procedure. While the old man is describing in excruciating detail how he disposed of the bodies, a woman in the next station imagines she’s experiencing anal sex for the first time, deeming it not half bad. Turns out, the man undergoing the procedure is Dr. Seung-hoon’s landlord, who, with his son, own a butcher shop underneath his apartment. Thus, it’s well within the bounds of possibility that they could be the fiends responsible for the hideous string of murders and dismemberments that have plagued the city for years. When a bag containing what the doctor fears is a severed head arrives at his apartment, it causes the doctor to suspect that his downstairs neighbors are aware of the drug-induced confession and might be trying to frame him. An unexpected visit from a dogged police investigator triggers a severe case of paranoia in the doctor, complete with hallucinations and self-destructive behavior. Eventually, Lee adds a few too many plot twists to the narrative, causing viewers to wonder if they might have missed something along the way. Still, it’s a novel addition to a genre that tends to repeat the same old clichés, without advancing it. It should go without saying, by now, as well, that Bluebeard isn’t for the squeamish. Being able to handle gallons of fake blood is one thing, getting a front-row seat to a colonoscopy is quite another.

Chuck: Blu-ray
There was a time, not so long ago, when heavyweight boxers ruled the world of sports. In Las Vegas, nothing compared to the atmosphere surrounding a heavyweight championship bout. It attracted high-rollers from around the world and action at the tables improved from one end of the Strip to the other. Not to take anything away from today’s hottest tickets – Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Conor McGregor – but weighing in at 150 pounds and standing 5-foot-7 is no match for cherished memories of Muhammad Ali, at 6-3, 210 pounds, opposite Sonny Liston, at 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds. Even the weigh-ins generated intense anticipation and excitement. When the government denied Ali’s right to abstain from fighting in a war he considered to be against his religious value, and deprived him of his boxing license for three years, the vacuum was palpable. When, in 1975, Ali agreed to fight a largely unknown brawler named Chuck Wepner, he was 10 pounds heavier and a bit less nimble than he was in 1964. Most people predicted that Ali would dance the challenger dizzy or, worst case, pull the rope-a-dope out of his bag of tricks and let the pug punch himself to exhaustion. Then and only then, Ali would connect with a bewildering series of jabs, knocking the Bayonne Bleeder out cold. As Philippe Falardeau recalls in his affectionate portrait of a lovable loser, Chuck, Wepner inexplicably lasted nearly all 12 rounds against the man many observers still consider to be the greatest fighter of them all, losing by a TKO with 20 seconds to go.

If neither fighter could claim total victory, Wepner, at least, beat the odds. A year later, Sylvester Stallone would use him as the model for Rocky Balboa, apparently without his permission or financial compensation. That was OK with Wepner, who was still enjoying the afterglow of his 15 minutes of fame. (Is it still too late for “Dancing With the Stars”?) He would meet Stallone and audition for a part in Rocky II (1979). After being introduced to cocaine, things would go downhill for Chuck. He did, however, learn an important lesson from being sent to prison, emerging from the experience happier and healthier than ever. He was able to replace one good wife (Elizabeth Moss) with another (Naomi Watts) and regain some of the luster that comes with being a lovable loser. He’s still recruited for the occasional sports documentary. At 6-3, Liev Schreiber not only looks the part of a perennial punching bag, but he also does a credible job portraying the flat-footed fighter in the ring. Old pros Ron Perlman, Michael Rapaport and Jim Gaffigan add character to the production, as does a gritty script co-written by Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston), Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight) and Michael Cristofer (Original Sin). Sadly, Chuck was only accorded an extremely limited release. It deserves to do better in DVD/Blu-ray.

Hickok: 4K UHD/Blu-ray
In the Pantheon of Wild West heroes and villains, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok holds a sacred place at the juncture of myth and reality. In the media, the Illinois-born gunfighter, scout, gambler and occasional lawman is most frequently portrayed as a protector of settlers on the edge of the frontier and enemy of drunken cowboys out to make a name for themselves by shooting such a legendary figure. The first movie to feature Hickok and, for that matter, Wyatt Earp, was released in 1923, with William S. Hart in the lead role and Bert Lindley playing the still very much alive former lawman. Wild Bill Hickok set a precedent, which Hollywood continues to honor, for playing fast and loose with the facts. It’s nice to report that Hickok, Cinedigm’s modestly budgeted oater, is best when it sticks closest to the known facts. Timothy Woodward Jr. and Michael Lanahan’s story covers a very specific period in Wild Bill’s life – no more than a year, total – with an obvious regard for a semblance of the truth, at least. Some of the things that happen, including the diagnosis of his glaucoma (a.k.a., moon blindness), while accurate, happened elsewhere and at a different time in his life. They are folded into the narrative in ways only historians would notice. After an unnecessarily violent incident in a previous posting, Wild Bill (Luke Hemsworth) moves to the railhead town of Abilene, Kansas. After standing up to the mean-spirited owner of the local saloon/brothel (Trace Adkins), the mayor (Kris Kristofferson) talks him into accepting the vacant post of town marshal. He’s able to talk the mayor into making it unlawful for anyone, except lawmen, to carry firearms within the borders of the town. Somehow, this negatively impacts business at the saloon, causing the proprietor to enlist the services of the equally notorious gunslinger, John Wesley Hardin (Kaiwi Lyman), who was in Abilene after a cattle drive and refuses to comply to the new statute. Instead of settling the matter in a drawdown on Main Street, Hickok manages to convince Hardin to wear the star of deputy marshal, which allows him to carry weapons and have Wild Bill’s back. Together, they’ll be required to take on a small army of cowboys, attracted by a $500 bounty, hoping to eliminate Hickok. The filmmakers also conceive a love triangle, by adding luscious Cameron Richardson to the mix. (Bruce Dern plays Doc Rivers O’Roark, who, when he isn’t hitting the hard stuff, pulls stray bullets out of unfortunate civilians.) Nothing looks cheap or undernourished in Hickok, which pretty much stays within the borders of Abilene and sticks to the basics of a Western morality play. There’s even room for a good prequel or sequel.

Meantime: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The terms “living on the dole” and “being on unemployment” mean roughly same thing, here and in England. Perceptions about people forced to make ends meet, while jobless, however, are quite different. When it comes to the institutional image, favored by conservative politicians and people with steady jobs, the British dole is synonymous to being on welfare, here. Among other things, unemployment benefits provide only temporary relief to laid-off workers – usually 26 weeks – and range from $235 per week, in Mississippi, and as much as $1,019, in Massachusetts. A person who loses their job Florida can only count on $275 for 12 weeks. The British government has attempted to reframe engrained notions of the dole being unending charity, by changing the official name to Job Seekers Allowance, which also includes subsidies for housing and other day-to-day items. Made in 1984, at the height of the country’s economic doldrums, Mike Leigh’s made-for-the-BBC film, Meantime, described the demeaning state of unemployment in Margaret Thatcher’s England. It was a time when blue-collar workers were forced to sacrifice in the transition from industrial jobs to those in tech, service and other white-collar industries, while Tories partied like it was 1999. In the darkly funny, but undeniably troubling Meantime, unemployment is especially rampant in London’s working-class East End, where a middle-aged couple, Frank and Mavis Pollock (Jeff Robert, Pam Ferris) live with their sons, Mark and Colin (Phil Daniels, Tim Roth), in a claustrophobic public housing flat. The men in the family make the bi-weekly trek to the unemployment office to stand in long lines with neighbors in the same predicament as they are. With precious few jobs available, even those considered menial, there’s almost no chance the poor sots will be forced to choose between accepting work and staying on the dole. Even if the money doesn’t stretch very far, there always seems to be a bit left over for cigarettes and a few pints at the local pub.

Otherwise, the Pollocks’ days are mostly spent sniping at each other, hanging out with their mates and trying to find ways to manipulate the system. The bitterness and sense of hopelessness on display make the dreariness of Britain’s kitchen-sink cinema and angry-young-man period – two decades earlier — look like American sitcoms of the same time. Because Colin is slow and withdrawn, he takes the brunt of the curiously good-natured abuse dished out by his brother and his hooligan posse, which includes a droogy skinhead, Coxy, played by then-newcomer Gary Oldman. Peripheral characters include a neighborhood girl, Hayley (Tilly Vosburgh), who finds a way to connect with Colin, and Mavis’ sister and brother-in-law, Barbara and John (Marion Bailey, Alfred Molina), who live a deceptively idyllic existence in the suburbs of Chigwell. They’re as miserable in their way as the Pollocks, but for very different reasons. Things really come to a head when Barbara asks Colin to paint a room in her house and everyone, especially Mark, interprets the kindness in different ways. Meantime marked Leigh’s transition from television to film, and remains a piece of work for which he has fond memories. In the ensuing 30 years, Leigh’s never lost track of the kinds of people he introduced in High Hopes, Life Is Sweet, Naked and Career Girls. That it was shown on television, after being introduced at the London Film Festival, put it in the same company as such Channel 4 products as The Biko Inquest, Traffik, My Beautiful Laundrette, Letter to Brezhnev and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray features a 2K digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Roger Pratt and Leigh; interesting conversations between Leigh and musician Jarvis Cocker, and actor Marion Bailey and critic Amy Raphael; and an essay by film scholar Sean O’Sullivan.

Broken Mile: Blu-ray
Nod if you’ve heard this one before: after a night spent drugging or drinking, a seriously addicted man or woman wakes up with a world-class hangover, unable to remember the identity of the person next to them or, upon closer inspection, when that person stopped breathing. In Sidney Lumet’s 1986 thriller, The Morning After, Jane Fonda played the memory-challenged alcoholic, who isn’t terribly surprised to see a man, whose name she can’t recall, lying in the sane bed. The image that finally cuts through her fog is the knife sticking out of his chest. For most of the next 90 minutes, Fonda’s faded actress and an ex-cop (Jeff Bridges) team up to solve a mystery she couldn’t entrust to the expertise of LAPD detectives. It wasn’t the most original setup then and, 30 years later, isn’t much fresher. It took everything Fonda, Bridges, Lumet and the late, great Raul Julia brought to James Cresson’s chestnut to make it work. Even 30 years later, there was no way that Justin McConnell’s similarly plotted indie, Broken Mile, could afford the same level of talent on either side of the camera. So, he came up with something relatively different. After drug addict Shaun (Francesco Filice) awakens in a bathtub, covered in his own vomit, he discovers the girlfriend of his best buddy lying unconscious on her living-room couch, presumably from an overdose. In a state of panic, he practically runs over his pal, Kenny (Patrick McFaddenwh), as he escapes the scene of the inexplicable occurrence. Instead of calling the paramedics, police or a lawyer, Shaun makes a beeline for the apartment of his ex-girlfriend, Amy (Caleigh Le Grand), who’s reluctant to cooperate, but sympathetic. Before long, Sarah’s boyfriend arrives at Amy’s pad, packing heat and demanding to know the location of Shaun and what she may know about his relationship to the dead girl. Shaun and Amy spend the rest of the 82-minute racing around Toronto, attempting to avoid Kenny, who successfully anticipates their every move. The story plays out in real time in a single, unbroken take, with scene changes accommodated by conveniently placed walls, bodies or shadows. Frankly, I wasn’t aware of McConnell’s gag, until I read the publicity material. To the extent that it works, Broken Mile is best when its neo-noir conceits turn the city into a credible setting for spontaneous violence and deceit. Still, it deserves an “E” for effort, at least. The Blu-ray includes director’s and actor’s commentary; a behind-the-scenes featurette; Q&A at Canadian Film Fest 2017; a rehearsal take; an early sales trailer; and a photo gallery.

FACE 2 FACE
The Lonely Italian
The Bad Mother
Perhaps, the biggest differences between movies distributed by the major studios and purveyors of independent films is the amount of money spent on promotion, advertising and marketing. Of the hundreds of movies shown on the festival circuit, only a handful attract the kind of heat that attracts substantial distribution deals and awards campaigns. Things have gotten better for the also-rans, now that video-on-demand services have supplemented the opportunities provided by Blu-ray and DVD. Even so, word-of-mouth, cover art and favorable critical notices – any critical notices – are essential for rentals and purchases. Relatively new to the game, Candy Factory and Random Media don’t rely on genre fare for sales. The selections are extremely eclectic, as evidenced by August’s titles.

FACE 2 FACE is a message film clothed in an Internet-savvy rom-com. It follows the rekindling of a childhood friendship, via long-distance social media, between Teel (Daniel Amerman) and Madison (Daniela Bobadilla). Both are coping with the usual problems of adolescent life, although the bubbly Madison is faring quite a bit better than Teel, whose personal issues have made him a social outcast. When Madison falls for the hyper-sensitive Teel, he’s forced to confess the hidden cause of the bullying he faces at school. It sets off a sequence of events that ultimately motivates Madison to expose her own devastating secret. The solution to both their dilemmas isn’t is as far-fetched as it would have seemed even 10 years ago. With his new best friend in trouble and no other options, Teel steals his grandmother’s car and, without a driver’s license, makes a courageous cross-country trip to rescue Madison in her hour of need. It adds credence to a timely and important message. Bobadilla (“Anger Management”) pretty much steals the show. Only 24, however, she’ll be playing teenagers until she’s 30.

Domenico Nesci is a 5-foot-3 Italian radio and TV host, who pretty much exhausted his 15 minutes of fame in America, when, in 2008, MTV cancelled “That’s Amore!,” a spinoff of “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila.” How he managed to keep his Green Card after breaking up with his dating-show sweetheart, Megan Mirilovich, is anyone’s guess. In The Lonely Italian, Nesci comes to the conclusion that he’s been single for too long a time and should give Internet matchmaking a try. The dates could hardly be more unpleasant … for the women. Nesci’s nebbishy persona is equal parts Borat, Roberto Benigni and Topo Gigio. Although we’re led to believe that the dates are real, it goes unmentioned that the women appear to be aspiring actors, with credits on various reality and dating shows. Several are veterans of Chicago and L.A. improv troupes. The Lonely Italian reminded me a lot of Myles Berkowitz’ 1998 faux documentary, 20 Dates, which inspired several of the analog era’s dating shows.

In The Bad Mother, a homebound mom who gave up a career to raise her family decides that she’s miserable and blows off steam by listing her complaints in an email she doesn’t intend to send. When her 6-year-old accidentally hits the “send” button, the message finds its way to a sympathetic television host, who puts Tara (Sarah Kapoor) on her show. Her desire to attain more from her life strikes a chord with tens of thousands of viewers. Sudden fame is fun for a while, but it also has a steep downside. It knocks her for loop. The Bad Mother takes too long to figure out what it wants to be and who Tara really is. With the help of her Indian mother and boring husband, she manages to right her own ship, but it’s too late to save the movie.

In Dan Glaser and writer Timothy J. Meyer’s Oxenfree, set for an August 29 release, three foster brothers reunite at their old lake cabin following the death of their father. The now-estranged adults relive a shared childhood by uncovering the ruins of their make-believe kingdom, “Oxenfree,”and face down the monster living within it.

First Daughter and the Black Snake
When the media finally decided that it was time to begin covering the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline – maybe it was the colorful Native Americans on horseback – summer had passed and the brutality of the North Dakota winter had become reality. Some places in America looks spectacular in winter, but North Dakota isn’t one of them. Despite the freezing temperatures and howling winds, activists of all stripe remained on the site of the proposed pipeline until their futility was acknowledged. Donald Trump had elected and all hope of stopping the fracked oil from flowing so close to vital waterways, wetlands and porous sandy soil was lost. His choice of Scott Pruitt, who opposes the EPA, to head said agency, ensured that clean air and water provisions would be at risk for, at least, the next four years. Keri Pickett’s documentary, First Daughter and the Black Snake, alerts us to what was at stake in Minnesota, when another energy company decided to take a shortcut through sovereign Native American land, linking North Dakota fracking fields and Lake Superior ports. Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper route would cut through territory as beautiful and bountiful as any in the North Woods. Not only are the lakes popular for fishing and summer tourism, but, residents of the White Earth Ojibway reservation use them to produce marketable crops of wild rice, as well as provide habitats for game fish and endangered species.

Pickett puts a tight focus on Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth and two-time running mate of Ralph Nader, on the Green Party ticket. Last year, she became the first Native American woman to receive an electoral vote for vice president when Robert Satiacum Jr., a “faithless elector” from Washington, cast his votes for Yankton Sioux activist Faith Spotted Eagle, as President, and LaDuke, as VP, even if neither one of them was running for office. The second half of the title, First Daughter and the Black Snake, refers to the black snake predicted in indigenous prophecy to bring about Earth’s destruction. It also stipulates that a horse can kill a snake, and LaDuke’s supporters ride them. To the surprise of the filmmakers, I suspect, Enbridge Energy notified the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that the company would not pursue the regulatory approvals needed for the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline. The company’s president told reporters that “unprecedented regulatory delays had plagued the project,” some, no doubt, demanded by Honor the Earth activists. It reserved the right to try again later, but had already blown a small fortune in defeat. The pipeline will, instead, follow the Bakken Pipeline to Texas.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, an Enbridge spokesperson either wasn’t asked or declined to comment on the project. The film’s still interesting, but I would have liked to see what progressive Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a likely presidential hopeful, had to say about it, as well.

Digimon Adventure tri.: Determination: Bluray
Celebrating the 15th anniversary of Akiyoshi Hongo’s Digimon franchise, the six-part “Digimon Adventure tri” is a direct sequel to the first two television series, “Digimon Adventure” and “Digimon Adventure 02,” which aired at the turn of the ’00s. “Determination” represents the second installment in the third series. The films take place three years after the events of “DA2” and focuses on the original eight DigiDestined and Digimon characters. Beyond that, “Determination” is so complicated as to be incomprehensible to anyone over the age of 12, although it debuted at last month’s Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con, where, presumably, the age of the average geek is somewhere north of 18. Here, time has passed since Alphamon appeared and restoration began in Odaiba. When another infected Digimon (an Ogremon) appears there, Mimi and Palmon spring into action. But in their haste to show the world that there are good Digimon, their battle brings about unforeseen consequences.

TV-to-DVD
PBS: Last Days of Jesus
PBS: Frontline: Bannon’s War
PBS: Anne Morrow Lindbergh: You’ll Have the Sky
Lifetime: Britney Ever After
For 2000 years, the New Testament interpretation of the Passion has largely been accepted as, forgive me, the gospel on what happened between the time Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph and, seven days later, was crucified for our sins. It’s as if the events of Holy Week unspooled in anticipation of epic Hollywood depictions, directed by such ambitious men as D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, William Wyler, Mel Gibson and Martin Scorsese. Why question such perfection? The scholars interviewed in the PBS docudrama “Last Days of Jesus” have come to believe that the Passion couldn’t have happened within the accepted timeframe and the cut-and-dried narratives provided by the interpretors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While their conclusions won’t rock the foundations of Christianity, by any means, they do shine a new light on how factors other than the whims of the Jewish populace condemned Jesus. The case is made that political machinations in Rome and Jerusalem determined his fate far more than a popularity contest between Our Savior and Barabbas. It’s based on interpretations of recently discovered tracts and other evidence, suggesting that a primary player in the events leading to the crucifixion has been missing from the discussion for 2000 years, because he was considered to be a traitor to Rome and, by law, erased from historical records after his brutal execution and disposal in the Tiber. They also argue against using too strict a timeline, because of the likelihood, in their opinion, that Jesus may have been incarcerated for much longer than a few hours on Maundy Thursday. It’s an undeniably interesting theory, if not particularly earth-shaking outside the halls of academia. For the sake of Christianity, Jesus would have had to die on the cross, regardless.

The current guessing game in Washington involves the length of time Trump advisor Stephen Bannon has left in his current position. He’s been accused of pulling the President’s string to the extreme right – if such a thing is even possible – while alienating everyone else in the administration, including the President’s daughter and son-in-law. “Bannon’s War” was reported and produced by Michael Kirk and the team responsible for “The Choice 2016″ and “Divided States of America.” It’s informed by nearly 30 in-depth interviews with political insiders, Bannon’s former associates at Breitbart, authors and journalists.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: You’ll Have the Sky” brings one of the 20th Century’s best-loved writers out from the shadow of her often-controversial husband, aviator Charles Lindbergh. This film is an evocative portrait of a woman whose work continues to speak to readers today, and whose life is a key to understanding the changing worlds of aviation, women and celebrity. Narrated by Tony Award-winning actress Judith Light, it contains excerpts from “Gift From the Sea” and other writings, read by Lily Rabe. Lindbergh appears in rare interviews with Eric Sevareid and David McCullough, in such locations as Captiva Island, North Haven and Long Barn, the English estate to which Anne and Charles escaped after the sensational trial for the kidnapping and murder of their first-born child.

Because Lifetime Original Movies – the biopics, at least – are unauthorized by their subjects, the writers are pretty much required to stick with common knowledge, media reports and rumors filtered through the lens of MTV spin doctors and press agents. They’re also intended to be seen by fans, who prefer to give the celebrity in question the benefit of a doubt when the shit hits the fan. The salacious stuff works better on HBO and Showtime. “Britney Ever After” doesn’t deviate from the formula, even Ms. Spears’ bad behavior is as legendary as that of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mylie Cyrus and other Mickey Mouse Club veterans. It’s noted, mostly through the testimony of talking heads, but dramatized without prejudice. The story picks up following her first tour with *NSYNC and continues through her relationship with Justin Timberlake, marriages to both Jason Alexander and Kevin Federline, and finally concluding with her well-publicized breakdown in 2008. What’s missing, I suppose, is her return to respectability, including a regular series of concerts in Las Vegas, with tickets ranging from $110 to $5,141, on New Year’s Eve. Natasha Bassett does a pretty good job in the lead role, although she frequently appears to be channeling Miley, instead of Britney. The less said about the portrayals of Justin Timberlake and Kevin Federline, by Nathan Keyes and, Clayton Chitty, the better. No original songs are played or sung during the movie, although the famous white and yellow python makes a cameo.

Treasure Hounds
Among the staples of the direct-to-DVD industry are movies in which animals capable of thinking out loud save the day for humans who barely know what’s going on behind their backs. Occasionally, though, the canine hero will find ways to communicate with a boy or girl with enough imagination and sense to follow its lead. The Dove-approved Treasure Hounds is backed by the expertise of director/producer Tim Brown and voice actor Norm McDonald, who formerly collaborated on Vampire Dog. (Brown has also used the voicing talents of former “SNL” players Jon Lovitz and Rob Schneider.) Here, when a fatherless family inherits the home of an eccentric old coot, part of the deal also includes his pet dog, Skipper (MacDonald). The sassy pooch leads Jack (Valin Shinyei) and his friends to a treasure that will save the town from evil outsiders. The DVD includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and limited-edition specialty packaging.

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“TIFF doesn’t make attendance numbers for its Lightbox screenings publicly available, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many filmgoers the Lightbox is attracting (or how much money it’s bringing in). But the King Street West venue hasn’t become a significant draw for film enthusiasts. The Lightbox’s attendance has plunged – 49,000 fewer visitors last year, a drop of 27 per cent, according to figures recently reported in the Toronto Star. Its gallery space – designed to showcase the visions of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers – saw most of its exhibitions staff quietly axed this past fall. And its marketing barely escapes the Lightbox’s walls. Unless you are a TIFF member or one of the city’s most avid filmgoers, you could walk by the Lightbox and remain blissfully unaware of a single thing that goes on inside. TIFF “still has a world-class brand,” said Barry Avrich, a filmmaker and former board member, “but it’s going to take some fresh vision from retail, consumer programming and marketing experts, given how the lines have become intensely blurred when it comes to how people watch film. They will have to experiment with programming to find the right blend of function and relevance.”
~ Globe & Mail Epic On State of Toronto Int’l (paywalled)

“I’m 87 years old… I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive… The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing. Like there was before I was born. I’m not really into religion, they’re all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation.

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.

“Anybody else you’ve interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call… Hey, brother. That’s great, man. Yeah, I’m being interviewed… We’re talking about nothing. I’ve got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He’s stopped asking questions.”
~ Harry Dean Stanton