MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Band Aid, First Kill, Iron Protector, All Eyez, Wedding Plan, Maurice, Big Knife, Narcos 2 and more

Band Aid: Blu-ray
In her directorial debut, Zoe Lister-Jones walks the razor-thin line separating relationship dramedy and millennial mockumentary. The 35-year-old Brooklyn native maintains her balance throughout Band Aid, while continually switching the hats typically worn by writers, actors, producers and lyricists. It demonstrates how well she’s paid attention to her environs – not to mention, dues — on the long road to prominence in a cutthroat business. Lister-Jones isn’t there quite yet, but her face should be familiar to viewers of such sitcoms as “Life in Pieces,” “Whitney,” “New Girl” and “Friends with Better Lives.” She also co-wrote and played BFF to Gerta Gerwig, in Lola Versus, and co-wrote and starred in the Breaking Upwards (2009) and Consumed (2015). All three of these films, and the short, “Let’s Get Digital,” were directed by and co-written with Daryl Wein, her husband and fellow graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. It’s safe to assume that some of their work together, at least, reflects events in their own relationship. Band Aid, whose tagline is “Misery loves accompaniment,” describes the nearly terminal marriage of Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally), a L.A.-based writer and artist, respectively, whose mutual lack of commercial success has suffocated what must once have been a promising marriage of equals. Then, too, an earlier tragedy has turned their sex life into a minefield. The only thing that keeps them from constantly arguing – a complaint about dirty dishes evolves into a shouting match about Holocaust survivors – is their affinity for marijuana and cockeyed perspectives on life among the yuppie elite. It helps them make it through conversations with other married friends, whose obsession with their spoiled post-millennial kids has begun to grate on the childless couple. If this setup makes you think the marriage chronicled in Band Aid is beyond repair, you’ll be in the same company as their frustrated therapist (Retta), who’s exhausted her professional patience for their flashpoint arguments and encourages them to work through their grievances unconventionally.

The dreary mood shifts markedly at a birthday party overflowing with beaming parents and spoiled toddlers – gatherings that now substitute for nights out on the town with friends — during which Anna and Ben smoke a joint and amuse themselves by playing the kids’ toy instruments and making up sarcastic lyrics to silly tunes. The exercise in social self-preservation not only wins the approval of the kids in the sandbox, but prompts the couple to consider taking their therapist’s advice by turning their disagreements into songs. With the help of their cloying neighbor, Dave (Fred Armisen), they start a garage band … literally. The songs, written by Lister-Jones and Kyle Forester (Crystal Stilts), bear such titles as “Love Is Lying,” “We Find the Fight,” “Mood” and “I Don’t Wanna Fuck You.” One of them especially resonates with image-phobic women at an open-mike night performance, allowing them to think the band, Dirty Dishes, could score a record deal. For reasons that are too complex to explain here, however, Dave decides that the songs are so spot-on, they’re affecting his hilariously bizarre relationship with “best friends” Cassandra Diabla (Jamie Chung) and Crystal Vichycoisse (Erinn Hayes). A proficient drummer, Dave’s coaching the ex-strippers through their problems with sex addiction. Susie Essman, as Ben’s mother, is also called upon to patch a tear in Anna and Ben’s marriage. As she does in “Broad City,” Essman convincingly plays the role of an atypical Jewish mother. Band-Aid may shift gears a few too many times to maintain narrative flow, especially when it introduces Anna’s side job as an Uber driver and some insufferable passengers, but the lapses are easily forgiven. The 91-minute dramedy rarely lags, finally making us care more for the troubled couple than we would have thought possible in Band Aid’s first half-hour. Brooklyn Decker, Jamie Chung and Colin Hanks also provide Lister-Jones with capable support in smaller roles.  The Blu-ray adds a music video, deleted scenes and outtakes.

First Kill: Blu-ray
For the first time in a long time, Bruce Willis turns in a performance here that he couldn’t just as easily phoned in from Malibu or Sun Valley. His small-town sheriff, Howell, is only a supporting character in First Kill, but, without him as the antagonist, there would have been little reason for anyone to invest money into an action flick destined to go straight-to-video. The fact is, though, Steven C. Miller’s third collaboration with Willis hasn’t opened yet in key foreign markets, and that’s where his name carries more weight than it does here, except, perhaps, on late-night talk shows. (The same applies for Miller’s last film, Arsenal, with Nicolas Cage, and his current project, Escape Plan 2: Hades, with Sylvester Stallone.) Ostensibly, First Kill belongs to Hayden Christenson, a once-promising actor whose career peaked in 2005, after reprising his portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, in Star Wars: Episode III, and plagiarist Stephen Glass, in Shattered Glass. He plays Will, the stockbroker father of an adolescent boy, Danny (Ty Shelton), who’s being tormented unmercifully at school. Typically, a movie dad would give his son boxing lessons and the bully would get a bloody nose he wouldn’t soon forget. Here, though, because Will spent his summers in the woods, where his dad and grandpa practiced the manly art of hunting, he feels that Danny might find the shortcut to manliness in a warm gun. It’s a dubious premise, at best, but if it helped Will become a better stock broker, why not give it a try?

The first person they run into in the small rural town is Howell, who worked with Wills’ dad and, of course, isn’t in the movie to direct traffic. Howell advises the trio of city slickers – completed by Megan Leonard, as wife and mother, Laura – to be on the alert for a gang of bank robbers, still likely to be hiding out in the mountains. And, sure enough, Will and Danny do run into the criminals, as one of them is in the process of shooting the other. When the gunman discovers them lurking in the shadows, father and son become potential witnesses and, as such, targets. Acting in self-defense, Will kills the shooter, only to discover that the victim is wearing a badge. Not only that, but the first victim is still breathing. Courtesy dictates that the robber be delivered to Laura, a surgeon, leaving Will time to figure out how to explain to Howell why he’d just killed one of his deputies. Miraculously, the wounded man, a local loser named Levi (Gethin Anthony), manages to grab the rifle, kidnap Danny and force Will to recover a bag full of purloined money. Things get even more complicated when Will tries to protect the boy by withholding the details of the first shooting from Howell. The best and most surprisingly part of First Kill comes when Levi begins to bond with Danny, who absorbs the man’s wisdom on things his dad has been too busy to explain. (Turns out, Levi’s mother-in-law has cancer and he needs the dough to afford her treatments … or Obamacare, one.) Let’s leave it at that. Although we’re supposed to think that the film is set in the mountains within a few hours’ drive from Wall Street, it was shot in central Ohio. Somehow, the location scouts found ways to make it work. If Miller and writer Nick Gordon (Girl House) had more money and time — the whole movie took only 13 days to film – they might have found a way to expand Danny’s shifting father-son alliances and reduced Willis’ prominence, which, of course, would have been financial suicide. The Blu-ray includes Miller’s commentary; an 11-minute making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and cast/crew interviews.

Iron Protector: Blu-ray
In only his second feature, multihyphenate Yue Song (The King of the Streets) serves as director, writer, editor and star of the alternately silly and exciting martial-arts drama, Iron Protector (a.k.a., “Super Bodyguard,” “The Bodyguard”), which borrows as much from Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as Bruce Lee or Sammo Hung. He plays Wu Lin, a rough-hewn martial arts protégé from a rural village, who, after the death of his master, moves to the city of Lengcheng to look for his friend and fellow student, Jiang Li (Xing Yu). Unbeknownst to Wu, Jiang left the school out of jealousy for not being taught the ancient “Way of the 108 Kicks” technique. Among other things, the discipline requires of Wu that he wear 25-pound steel boots. It doesn’t take him long to make an impression in Lengcheng, either. Wu deftly punishes a gang of thugs for knocking an ice-cream cone from the hands of a young boy, who’s been admiring his splits technique, and saving the life of the wealthy businessman, Jia-Shan Li. In a bit too much of a coincidence, Jiang, who’s now running a bodyguard service, assigns his former friend the task of protecting Li’s spoiled daughter, Fei-Fei (Li Yufei)). Jiang knows that a small army of kung-fu fighters plans abduct Fei-Fei and extort a fortune from Li. He fully expects that Wu will succumb to their sheer numbers. Instead, the uncouth-looking bodyguard manages to reverse Fei-Fei’s first opinion of him by freeing her from the kidnapers’ first assault. While the action remains ferocious throughout Iron Protector, Fei-Fei’s admiration for her protector turns to thoughts of romance. The only question is: will Wu be forced to remove his 25-pound shoes to save her from the second wave of kidnappers. The Blu-ray contains a series of making-of featurettes.

All Eyez on Me:  Blu-ray
Having watched the recent documentaries, Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Murders, Tupac: Assassination II: Reckoning and Assassination: Battle for Compton – all exhaustively researched and informed by interviews and other first-person testimony, however dubious – I wasn’t looking forward to a dramatization that purports to “tell the true and untold story of prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist Tupac Shakur.” Considering that no one was arrested after the release of those three docs, or, for that matter, George Tillman Jr.’s Notorious, it seemed unlikely that Benny Boom’s All Eyez on Me would finally lay bare the facts of the still unsolved case. It would be unfair of me, however, to judge a biopic’s value on the strength of a marketing slogan. As far as I can tell, Boom was less interested in solving the case than surveying the path that inexorably led to Tupac’s date with hip-hop destiny. His intention, as stated in the interviews included in the bonus package, was to tell the story from Tupac’s “perceived point-of-view,” not that of anyone else involved in the investigation. As such, certain details necessarily would fall to the wayside. Moreover, Boom’s statement appears to acknowledge the widely reported criticisms of his movie from, among others, close friend Jada Pinkett Smith, as well as accusations that he whitewashed Tupac’s incarceration for first-degree sexual abuse of a young woman who kissed and told … or, if you will, kissed and lied.

You’d also think that the very public life of a 25-year-old artist, however influential, could be told in fewer than 2 hours and 20 minutes. Hill Harper is misused as a reporter conducting a prison-yard interview, which serves as an awkward lead-in to depictions of central events in Tupac’s formative years, up to an attempted assassination in the yard. What can’t be denied, though, is Demetrius Shipp Jr.’s dead-on impersonation of Shakur, as well as the intensity of his portrayal. Danai Gurira’s take on his mother, Afeni, goes a long way toward explaining how her Black Panther politics and drug addiction, combined with his personal observations of police brutality, impacted his music. It no doubt also contributed to his fiery temper. Dominic L. Santana’s take on Suge Knight, another key player in the drama, could hardly be more frightening. Anyone looking for something more substantial on the fatal attack on the Las Vegas Strip should begin, instead, with the documentaries mentioned above. The music-filled Blu-ray adds “Legends Never Die: The Making of All Eyez on Me”; 11 deleted scenes; “Conversations,” a set of roundtable discussions, featuring cast and crew members discussing Tupac’s art, influence and legacy; “Becoming Tupac,” which documents Shipp’s journey with the iconic role; and Shipp’s audition.

The Wedding Plan
In her big screen debut, Israeli actress Noa Koler plays Michal, a 32-year-old woman who gets blindsided by her fiancé on her way to the huppah. When she senses something is bothering him, the cad reluctantly admits to not being in love with her. In a community that believes a single woman past 30 must be damaged goods, Michal might have considered a loveless marriage to be better than none at all. In The Wedding Plan, however, she’s given no choice. Instead of postponing the ceremony, which already was booked for the final day of Hanukah, the devoutly Orthodox woman decides to put her faith in God, who, she believes, will arrange the proper marriage for her. Given that the deity has only 30 days to pull off such a feat, the odds against such a blessed union happening are prohibitive. It isn’t that she’s unattractive, really. Micah may be on the pudgy side, operate a mobile petting zoo and dress as if she’s attending a Mennonite prom, but she’s genuinely friendly, has as offbeat sense of humor and a pleasant face. By contrast, the men to whom she’s been introduced are sullen, only marginally handsome and reluctant to look a woman in the eye. Another is completely blind and still not interested. Her efforts include visiting a woman capable of eliminating the effects of an evil eye and traveling to the tomb of Rebbe Nachman, in the Ukraine, where her anguished prayers seemingly are answered in an encounter with a handsome rock star (Oz Zehavi). Although she judges him too good to be true, viewers are given hope he might be the white knight who ultimately saves the day. Micah’s faith in God isn’t shared by her mother, sister and friends, who are afraid of what might happen to her if the ceremony is a bust. They have reasons of their own to be skeptical.

In only her second feature, American-Israeli director Rama Burshtein does a wonderful job keeping everyone guessing. Burshtein’s debut, Fill the Void, also was set within the confines of Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox community. In it, a young woman, Shira, who’s already engaged, is asked to sacrifice her dreams by marrying her recently widowed brother-in-law. Shira’s mother can’t bear the thought that he might leave Israel with her only grandchild and such an arrangement might prevent that from happening. At the time, Fill the Void was hailed as the first feature film directed by an Orthodox Israeli woman, and one of a small handful of modern movies to depict religious devotion from within. If The Wedding Plan sounds a tad too foreign for mainstream tastes, I suggest thinking of it as an Israeli variation of Muriel’s Wedding, the bittersweet Australian dramedy that established Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths as rising international stars. Koler and Amos Tamam, the handsome owner of the wedding hall here, already were well-known in Israel for playing ex-spouses in the popular Israeli TV show “Srugim.” Their chemistry is palpable.

The Last Face: Blu-ray
Monsieur Le President
When he isn’t acting in or directing movies, Sean Penn occasionally is photographed in the company of notorious dictators or helping victims of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haitian earthquake.  More recently, he raised eyebrows by secretly interviewing Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, just prior to the 2016 capture of the Mexican drug trafficker, in his home state of Sinaloa. Government officials speculated that Penn was interested in making a movie about Guzmán’s escape from prison, a year earlier. When The Last Face debuted at last year’s Cannes festival, it surprised no one to learn that the intense drama involved international relief workers struggling to save wounded refugees in western African warzones. Fans of the NBC drama “ER” would recognize the dilemmas faced by doctors Luka Kovač and Mark Greene, who met in the Doctors Without Borders program, as being nearly identical to those experienced here by doctors played by Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jean Reno, Jared Harris, Denise Newman and Oscar Best. The Last Face had been a passion project for Robin Wright, who tried to get it made in 2004. After funding fell through, Wright abandoned the project. Penn resurrected the film after he and Wright divorced, deciding to take on directing duties, and casting his then-girlfriend, Theron, in the role Wright had wanted to play. If that ain’t bad mojo, I don’t know what is. What bothered audiences and critics at Cannes and ultimately led to a straight-to-Netflix release in the U.S. was a love story that clashed emotionally with the good work being done by doctors and aid workers, and distracted viewers from the plight of the refugees and victims of raids by insurgents. The obsessive relationship between Theron’s Wren, daughter of Doctors of the World’s late founder, and Bardem’s Dr. Miguel Leon, went off the tracks when they argued over the validity of each other’s commitment to the program. It intensified when he stalked her to Geneva, demanding she read a letter explaining his motivations and take him back as her lover. Unfortunately, the horndog physician had also been sharing a cot with another relief worker, Wren’s cousin (Exarchopoulos), who blew the whistle on him. Compared to the horrors visited on the Africans, Wren and Miguel’s troubles don’t amount to a hill of beans, really, especially after Penn lays bare the horror of the conflict and terrifying wounds inflicted on men, women and children. While there’s no questioning the sincerity of Penn and writer Erin Dignam (Loved), the romance stuck out like a broken bone from torn skin. It explains The Last Face’s two-hour-plus length feels even longer. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette.

The Last Face and Monsieur Le President don’t share a lot of elements in common, besides being set in Third World hellholes in which white-skinned volunteers do their best to alleviate the suffering of dark-skinned victims of great disasters. One is a work of fiction, in which the horrors are the product of man’s inhumanity to man, while the other describes how people in one poverty-stricken Haitian neighborhood are still attempting to cope with the devastation of the 2010 earthquake. Penn, who directed The Last Face, also spent considerable time in Haiti, helping in the recovery effort. While there, he might even have run into American filmmaker Victoria Campbell, whose Monsieur le Président follows the three years of absorption in the relief efforts. Campbell had to sneak into Haiti just days after the 7.0 earthquake, dressed as a nun, with a camera and small valise of medical supplies. Her commitment would include arranging for the distribution of medical and hygienic supplies to a free clinic on the teeming Christ-Roi section of Port-au-Prince. To this end, she collaborates with Gaston Jean Edy, a beloved voodoo priest, who, with nothing but hustle and hope, revives a defunct neighborhood clinic, staffing it with a doctor and nurses, and finding ways to fill the shelves. If he were applying for sainthood, Gaston’s credentials would be impeccable. As their friendship grows, however, the story takes an unexpectedly sinister turn. His disappearance and theft of funds, leaves Campbell completely bewildered, a feeling she shares with the clinic’s benefactors, medical staff and Gaston’s voodoo followers. It’s possible that her great disappointment upended her designs for the closing scenes in Monsieur le Président, as well. Like Campbell, we’re left to wonder if we should feel duped by all of the good things he accomplished or happy something positive might have emerged from the tragedy, in the nucleus of nurses, doctors and aid workers.

Maurice: Blu-ray
In 1987, when Maurice was released into theaters, the English-language cinema was awash in adaptations of works and novels by E.M. Forster. The films included A Passage to India (1984), A Room With a View (1985), Maurice (1987), Billy Budd (1988), Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991), and Howards End (1992). They shared elegant settings and locations, superb acting and the kind of attention to proper English dialogue that American viewers admire. Of these, Merchant Ivory Productions was responsible for A Room With a View, Howards End and Maurice, newly available in Blu-ray from Cohen Media Group. Although Hugh Grant’s visage graces its cover, the title role is carried by a different, less enduring actor, James Wilby. Because the novel dealt with the prevalence and unstated acceptance of homosexuality in British public schools, Forster asked that it only be published after his death, which came in 1971, almost 60 years after it was written. (Revisions would be made in 1932 and 1959-60.) At Cambridge, Maurice Hall finds himself attracted to the aristocratic Lord Risley (Mark Tandy) and the rich and handsome Clive Durham (Grant), with the latter responding with the most passion. Neither of the young men is a complete stranger to “the unspeakable vice of the Greeks,” as one English tutor puts it, but they would keep their feelings on the down-low to avoid the well-known fate of Oscar Wilde. Before and after Maurice’s expulsion from school, he spends a great deal of time at Durham’s posh estate, Pendersleigh, where he’s given reason to believe that his friend’s love would grow into something beyond platonic affection. Instead, after Risley is caught in a compromising state outside a London pub, and sent to jail, Durham leaves Maurice, now a stockbroker, for a decidedly shallow, if loyal heiress (Phoebe Nicholls).

Struggling with his identity and self-confidence, Maurice seeks the help of a dismissive older doctor (Denholm Elliott) and perceptive hypnotist (Ben Kingsley) to rid himself of his undeniable urges. It’s during other visits to Pendersleigh that Maurice finds himself attracted to the estate’s fawning gamekeeper and servant and servant Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), who he mistrusts and lusts after in equal measure. What was then considered to be too happy ending to his dilemma handc frowned upon by Forster’s publishers for most of his life – homosexual acts between consenting 21-year-old males, in private, only were decriminalized in 1967 – and the movie industry was similarly timid on the subject. James Ivory’s adaptation, from a screenplay by Kit Hesketh-Harvey, was released at the height of the panic surrounding the AIDS epidemic, which may have impacted box-office results and marketing efforts. Nonetheless, Ivory recalls receiving many letters from admirers, crediting the film for helping them make the decision to exit the closet. The CMG Blu-ray package contains a second disc for the bonus material, which includes an enjoyable sit-down with the director and cinematographer Pierre Lhomme; a new on-stage Q&A with Ivory and Lhomme, moderated by Nicholas Elliott, of Cahiers du Cinema; “The Story of Maurice,” offering interviews with everyone from Hesketh-Harvey to co-stars Wilby and Grant; an archival conversation Ivory, the late producer Ismael Merchant and composer Richard Robbins; “A Director’s Perspective,” a conversation between Ivory and Tom McCarthy, the director of Spotlight; original and re-release trailers; deleted scenes and alternate takes, with Ivory’s optional commentary.

Mr. Mom: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
In the early 1980s, when John Hughes began writing Mr. Mom, the trickle-down effect of President Reagan’s economic policies had a more positive impact on stock brokers, arbitrage traders and cocaine dealers than anyone else in the country. Executives whose bonuses were tied to the whims of Wall Street felt free to shed workers without consideration for seniority, experience or loyalty, and replace them, if it all, with employees who would never accrue retirement benefits or expect raises that matched increases in the cost of living. If women benefitted more than men, it was only because equal pay for equal work was an idea whose time had yet to come and the glass ceiling remained firmly in place. Ever alert to potentially catastrophic trends that could be turned into comedy, Hollywood responded with movies in which men and women reversed traditional roles to make ends meet. Mr. Mom was the first in a mini-cycle of role-reversal comedies that included the made-for-TV ”He’s Fired, She’s Hired” (1985), Baby Boom (1987) and 3 Men and a Baby (1987). If one were so inclined, he could trace the trend all the way back to the now-lost comedy short, “Hubby Does the Washing,” in which Billy Quirk’s accepts his wife’s challenge to do the laundry, if he thinks it’s so easy. In the Stan Dragoti-directed Mr. Mom, Caroline Butler (Teri Garr) re-enters the workforce after her husband, Jack (Michael Keaton), loses his lucrative position in the automotive industry. Naturally, he thinks that taking care of their three kids and handling the household chores will be a breeze and, of course, it isn’t. Practically from her first day of work, Caroline impresses her boss at the Detroit advertising agency, Ron Richardson (Martin Mull), with her common-sense advice for campaigns her male companions can’t seem to handle.

Richardson’s interest in his new star employee will extend beyond the office, potentially causing problems at home with Jack. Meanwhile, the neighborhood women glom onto Jack, as if he’s a widower, instead of just another unemployed engineer in Motown. You can imagine what happens next. Hughes had yet to begin directing his own scripts. That would come two years later, with Sixteen Candles. He had experienced a similar role-reversal problem at home and wrote a script that impressed producer Lauren Schuler. When Hughes refused to move from Chicago to make Mr. Mom, the geniuses at Universal removed him from the project. After the script was rewritten, Schuler argued that Hughes’ original was better and put him back to work. On the advice of an agent, she also agreed to study Keaton’s manic performance in Night Shift, which sold her on him. After Mr. Mom struck paydirt, Universal would reconsider its feelings toward Hughes, giving a three-picture deal that allowed him to make movies in Chicago whenever he wanted. Shout!Factory’s “Collector’s Edition” includes the new documentary, “A Look Back At Mr. Mom,” featuring interviews with Lauren Shuler Donner, Ann Jillian, Miriam Flynn, Frederick Koehler and Taliesin Jaffe.

The Big Knife: Special Edition: Blu-ray
There’s never been a shortage of movies in which Hollywood, itself, is portrayed as the Great Satan and everyone who accepts the checks signed by his accountants plays the victim. A couple of years ago, Vanity Fair compiled a list of
“The 25 Best Movies About Hollywood,” which includes comedies, farces, dramas, romances, musicals and documentaries. The stories run the gamut from passive-aggressive to downright vicious. If the editors decided to add another 10-15 titles, there still might not be enough room for Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife, an Bel-Aire-based obscurity that falls into the going-for-the-jugular category. All anyone under the age of say, 50, may know about Aldrich is that he made The Dirty Dozen and was a key character in FX’s bitchy mini-series, “Feud.” In it, he mostly served as a buffer between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, during the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? When he wasn’t serving as a punching bag, Aldrich drank to excess, cheated on his wife and kissed Jack Warner’s ass. Hardly mentioned were such well-received entertainments as Apache, Vera Cruz, Kiss Me Deadly, Ten Seconds to Hell, Sodom and Gomorrah and, sticking to the point here, The Big Knife. Adapted from a screenplay by James Poe (Around the World in 80 Days), based on the 1949 play by Clifford Odets, The Big Knife is the kind of movie a pissed-off filmmaker makes before committing career hara-kiri. It stars Jack Palance as Charlie Castle, a handsome lug, who’s sitting on top of the A-list when he’s handed another crowd-pleasing script by Rod Steiger’s crass studio boss, Stanley Shriner Hoff. Sporting black-rimmed shades and bleached hair, Hoff is a composite of Steiger’s mob functionary, Charley “the Gent” Malloy, in On the Waterfront, and the town’s then-reigning studio moguls. Charlie is being encouraged by his soon-to-be ex-wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), to refuse to extend his contract by seven years and only accept projects that serve humanity.

The problem is that Hoff and his circle of flunkies — Wendell Corey, Everett Sloane, Paul Langton, Shelley Winters – are perfectly willing to hand over to Hollywood’s prominent gossip columnist (Ilke Chase) the details of a long-buried criminal case involving Castle. Because most of the film is set in the living room and patio of the actor’s modern home, with a brief interlude at a party next-door, The Big Knife could hardly be more stagebound. The claustrophobic atmosphere is enhanced by Ernest Laszlo’s angular black-and-white cinematography and long, tightly framed takes. Another drawback comes in watching these otherwise smart and successful people risk cirrhosis of the liver, by consuming massive quantities of liquor; lung cancer, by smoking way too many cigarettes; and VD, by sleeping with everyone else’s spouses.  In other words, it’s almost impossible to find anyone to root for here. On the plus side, however, the acting is top-shelf and it’s fun to speculate on the studio bosses — Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn and Louella Parsons, among them — who directly inspired the characters. The scandalous cover-up depicted in the film is said to have been based on a real-life incident involving a young John Huston. Not surprisingly, then, The Big Knife was blackballed by everyone in town, except United Artists. Even so, it won a Silver Lion at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, cementing Aldrich’s reputation in Europe, where he’d soon need to find refuge. Arrow Video’s 2K restoration enhances the noir undertones and Laszlo’s innovative approach to shooting in tight spaces. It adds informative and sometimes amusing commentary by critics Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton; the 1972 documentary, “Bass on Titles”; and an illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring new writing on the film by Nathalie Morris.

A Dark Song: Blu-ray
Until recently, horror films from Ireland rarely found their way to America’s screens. With the commercial acceptance of video-on-demand platforms, though, distribution companies have begun to scour horror and fantasy festivals for movies that sell themselves through trailers and Internet word-of-mouth, saving a bundle on marketing costs. Some are accorded a limited theatrical, if only to promote the fact that they received one. IFC Midnight has become a dependable purveyor of all sorts of genre fare, much of which wouldn’t have a prayer of finding an audience before the streaming revolution. The company’s found a gem in the Irish export, A Dark Song, a supernatural thriller that builds slowly, but pays big dividends after the creepy mood takes hold. Dublin native Catherine Walker (Patrick’s Day) plays Sophia, a single mother who’s never recovered from the loss of her young son to kidnapers. She suspects that an occult cult had something to do with it and won’t be satisfied until she can connect with the boy in the afterlife. To this end, Sophia signs a yearlong lease on a spacious old home in the country. It doesn’t look particularly haunted, but who knows? Her next step is hiring a live-in medium, Joseph (Steve Oram), who insists that he can pass through spiritual portals and summon the boy. As slovenly as he is dictatorial, Joseph demands that Sophia follows his instructions to the letter, while maintaining a dietary regimen and not expecting instant results. Neither is she allowed to leave the house. The process involves locating likely contact points and marking them with symbols, grids and numerical codes. Joseph remains optimistic, while Sophia begins to doubt his powers. If the setup isn’t particularly scary, viewers, at least, trust that something momentous is going to happen before long. And, slowly, but surely, it does. There’s no need to spoil the surprises, except to point out that A Dark Song has received highly favorable reviews in both the mainstream and genre press. In his debut feature, writer/director Liam Gavin has demonstrated the kind of chops that get noticed by indie producers here. The DVD adds a making-of featurette.

TV-to-DVD
Just Shoot Me!: The Complete Series
Netflix: Narcos: Season Two: Blu-ray
PBS Kids: Masterpiece Mystery!: Endeavour: The Complete Fourth Season
Nickelodeon: PAW Patrol: The Great Pirate Rescue!
PBS Kids: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: King Daniel for the Day
Fans of the NBC sitcom, “Just Shoot Me!,” have waited a long time for all seven seasons’ worth of episodes to be released on DVD. In 2004, Sony released the first and second seasons, with some bonus features. Then, in 2009, Sony sent out “The Complete Third Season.” Five years later, Mill Creek repackaged Sony’s Season One and Season Two compilations, without featurettes. As far as I can tell, the complete series hasn’t been released to streaming services, either. That left 1,970 minutes of entertainment in DVD limbo. Typically, a distribution company won’t interrupt the flow of seasonal releases, unless they’re underperforming. Shout!Factory knows how to market distressed properties, however, and, based on the show’s longevity – 148 episodes — should be able to find a ready audience for the “Just Shoot Me!: The Complete Series.” The series ran from March 4, 1997, to August 16, 2003. While popular, it failed to gain much momentum, due to NBC’s constant time- and day-shifting. It left fans wondering when and where to find it, from one week to the other. The network did the same thing with other once-promising shows, effectively short-circuiting any chance for success. An occasionally raunchy workplace comedy, “Just Shoot Me!” was set in the offices of the high-fashion magazine, Blush. The setup gave David Spade, as wise-guy secretary Dennis Finch, ample opportunity to hit on the hot models, as they waited to be shot by the philandering photographer, Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni). Wendy Malick played former supermodel, Nina Van Horn, whose constant partying almost killed her. The owner and publisher of Blush is Jack Gallo (George Segal), a workaholic attempting to make up for lost time with his daughter, Maya (Laura San Giacomo). Her “feminist” views frequently clashed with the magazine’s mission, which was to sell overpriced cosmetics and unwearable clothes to women who can’t afford either one. The bonus package, which has been ported over from the 2004 discs, adds commentaries on four episodes; “Always in Fashion,” a conversation with creator Steven Levitan and cast members; and a gallery of Blush covers.

Some viewers have wondered how Netflix could justify green-lighting a third season of “Narcos,” after the show’s central character, drug lord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), was killed by Colombian police at the end of the second season. As the “Season Two” package amply demonstrates, however, the events that followed Escobar’s escape from prison occasionally served as a sideshow for the takeover of the cocaine trade by his enemies in the Cali Cartel. Both came to fruition as DEA agents Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) and Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) tightened the noose around him. At midseason, CIA operatives recruited the sibling founders of a ruthless paramilitary organization, Los Pepes, to terrorize Escobar’s Medellin network of spies, gunmen and traffickers. The story’s moral, so far, is that everybody cheats – even the supposed good guys – to achieve their goals. Meanwhile, despite all the killing, neither the supply of cocaine, nor the demand, ever diminished. That point is made even clearer in Season Three, through which I’ve already binged. It only takes an episode or two to see that Escobar, despite his personal zoo and gold toilet seat, was part of a much larger whole and certainly not the only game in Colombia. The Blu-ray adds “Unredacted: Declassifying ‘Narcos’ Season Two,” an excellent overview with Moura and some of the creative staff, detailing how they sought to bring this chaotic set of events into focus; “Al Fin Cayó!,” commentary with director Andrés Baiz, executive producer Eric Newman and Moura; and deleted scenes.

The dramatic finale of Season Three of PBS’ addictive “Masterpiece Mystery!: Endeavour” continues to haunt DC Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans), DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) and his wife, Win (Caroline O’Neill), throughout the entirety of the fourth stanza. Following the deadly bank heist, Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers) took a powder from Oxford, leaving all three with broken hearts and no way to contact her. Meanwhile, though, there’s forensic evidence to be examined, clues to follow and serial killers to nab, as if nothing untoward had happened in the bank. For his part, Morse also has become obsessed with passing the sergeant’s exam, a feat someone in the department goes to great lengths to stymie. The bonus package includes an interview with Shaun Evans, in which he discusses Morse; and a piece on the challenges of shooting in Oxford. For some folks, though, the biggest bonus comes in knowing that the Blu-ray extends the episodes to the normal U.K. length, uninterrupted by Pledge Month chatter.

From Nickelodeon/Paramount, “PAW Patrol: The Great Pirate Rescue!” contains six swash-buckling adventures, featuring the network’s hugely popular canine crusaders. Young fans can join Ryder, Chase and the rest of the gang as they discover a secret pirate cave, confront a ghostly sea captain, embark on a treasure hunt, rescue whales, raise a misplaced statue from the bay, fix the pipes at water park and fill in for absentee circus animals at Adventure Bay.

The PBS Kids’ DVD, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: King Daniel for the Day,” features a full-length episode, in which Daniel Tiger is allowed to satisfy his curiosity about what it’s like to reign over neighborhood affairs, like Fred Rogers’ venerable King Friday. As “King for the Day,” Daniel discovers that the most important part of being king is being kind to his neighbors. King Friday sends him on a royal mission to Baker Aker’s bakery and Music Man Stan’s shop. He also helps celebrate Prince Wednesday’s birthday, shares a book at the library with O the Owl and takes care of the class pet.

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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