MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Transformers, Lynch’s Art, Piano Teacher, Ruby, Sarno, Jesús, Devil’s Candy and more

Transformers: The Last Knight: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
For a movie that cost an estimated $217 million to make and God knows how much more to market, Transformers: The Last Knight shouldn’t have had to rely on the overseas marketplace to save to save its ass. That’s what happened, however. The worse news is that, when all the tickets were counted, the fourth sequel earned almost a half-billion fewer dollars than 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction. That’s based on a nearly equal proportional split of roughly 22 percent domestic to 78 percent foreign revenues. I may not know how those numbers relate to profits, but, clearly, any prospects for a fifth sequel will depend on the number of first-class screens that have come on line overseas in the interim and how little money the distributors can get away with not spending on marketing on next Christmas’ “Transformers Universe: Bumblebee.”

All I can say with any certainty about the plot of “The Last Knight” is that it begins in 484 A.D., with King Arthur’s forces engaged against the Saxons. When it looks as if the enemy is about to turn the Arthur’s Round Table into kindling, Merlin summons the Knights of Iacon, a group of 12 Transformers left hidden on Earth sometime in the past. They hand Merlin an alien staff and transform – as is their wont — into a huge dragon to help Arthur save the day. Possession of the staff brings with it the promise of even greater strife, however. Flash forward a millennium, or two, and the no longer viable Cybertron — ravaged by the Autobot/Decepticon war – has been put on collision course with Earth by the mad sorceress Quintessa. With the aid of Megatron, she intends to recover the staff and suck the lifeforce from our planet. Optimus Prime (a.k.a., Nemesis Prime) isn’t buying any of it. He hopes to defeat Quintessa and Megatron, leaving the door open for the Autobots’ return from their hiding places across the universe. Did I mention that the Third Reich and Stonehenge play roles in the story? Like its predecessors, “The Last Knight” is directed by Michael Bay, perhaps the only man alive who can make sense of this mishigas. It features Mark Wahlberg, returning from “Age of Extinction,” with Josh Duhamel, John Turturro and Glenn Morshower all reprising their roles from earlier chapters. Brits Laura Haddock and Anthony Hopkins join forces with Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) and Bumblebee in the battle to save Earth. Bay appears to have been accorded carte blanche to stage car chases and other action sequences throughout London, Oxford, the Bourne Woods, Blenheim Palace, Bamburgh and Alnwick castles and other U.K. landmarks, including 10 Downing Street and Royal Navy Submarine Museum. As welcome as these diversions are, however, their use as backdrops for comic-book set pieces and car chases negate their historical value. “The Last Knight” wouldn’t be the place for newcomers to jump into the Transformers saga.

That said, it’s available in Blu-ray, UHD, and Blu-ray 3D, with an excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Techies won’t be disappointed, anyway. The bonus package, contained on the second Blu-ray disc, includes “Merging Mythologies,” which describes how the Transformer legend intersects with Arthurian myth and World War II; “Climbing the Ranks,” which examines the military characters and their preparations alongside real Navy SEALs; “The Royal Treatment: Transformers in the UK,” a 27-minute look at shooting key scenes in and around English landmarks; “Motors and Magic” takes a close look at several key characters: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Hot Rod, Hound, Crosshairs, Drift, Cogman, Sqweeks, Day Trader, Megatron, Barricade and Mohawk; “Alien Landscape: Cybertron,” on how Quintessa and the Transformers’ home plays in the film; and “One More Giant Effin’ Movie,” on the “Bayhem” behind the scenes. I know that’s a lot of semicolons for one paragraphs, but that’s a good thing.

David Lynch: The Art Life: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Piano Teacher: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Several years ago, I was given the opportunity to interview David Lynch at his home in the Hollywood Hills. On the way downstairs to his glass-walled studio, he noticed the lifeless body of a small bird that didn’t survive a head-on collision with a window. Lynch nonchalantly picked it up, with the intention of using it in a painting. Although I wasn’t at all sure how that might be accomplished, if anyone could make the dead come to life as object d’art, it would be the creator of “Twin Falls.” Lo and behold, about halfway through Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm’s fascinating documentary portrait, David Lynch: The Art Life, the maestro was shown prepping other unfortunate avian souls for inclusion in a painting. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to watching a genius at work. Anyone having trouble deciphering Lynch’s hugely enigmatic body of work on film is hereby advised to pick up “The Art Life” on DVD/Blu-ray. If there’s one constant in his life, it’s the satisfaction that comes with the act of applying paint to canvas. Lynch reminisces here about his seemingly idyllic, if splintered boyhood in Montana, Idaho, Washington, North Carolina and Virginia, and how an earlier flirtation with juvenile delinquency was diverted into a love for sketching and painting. Although he wasn’t keen on school, he was able to attend Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, which he didn’t float his boat, either, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Philadelphia, itself, reminded him of hell of Earth, but it was there that he began to mix animation and live-action, in short films. In the early 1970s, Lynch moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Peggy, and baby daughter, Jennifer. He had received an AFI grant and found shelter in an abandoned stable, where Eraserhead would take shape. While “The Art Life” doesn’t dwell on Lynch’s movies, it isn’t difficult to see how his art and films bear the same fingerprints. Much of what we learn about him derives from soliloquies captured by a vintage microphone in a corner of his studios. He chain-smokes cigarettes to the nub, while bearing his soul. The words are amplified by a steady stream of painting, sketches, animations and tchotchkes found on tables and shelves. Plenty of time is reserved, as well, for images of his children from various marriages. “The Art Life” may not be for everyone, but fans should really get a kick out of it. It adds an interview with co-director Nguyen, who began the process five years earlier, and an essay by Dennis Lim.

Also from the good folks at Criterion comes Austrian director Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, based on Elfriede Jelinek 1983 semi-autobiographical novel. (She would go on to win the 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature.) Released after the first of two identical exercises in bourgeois terror, Funny Games, The Piano Teacher is every bit as transgressive. Isabelle Huppert is nothing short of brilliant as Erika Kohut, a sexually repressed professor at a prestigious Viennese conservatory. Outside the rarefied confines of academia, she lives the proscribed life of a spinster aunt under the watchful eye of her stern, soon-to-be-widowed Mother (Annie Girardot). When life at the conservatory becomes too stifling, Erika breaks completely out of character by frequenting sex shops, sniffing leftover Kleenex in peepshow booths, and sneaking up on people having sex at drive-in movies. She’s also a cutter. After a recital in a friend of her mother’s apartment, Erika is introduced to a cocky young pianist, Walter (Benoît Magimel), who wants to be accepted into her master class. First, though, he needs to pass an audition. We sense that she’s taken by Walter’s musicianship, even as she plays hard to impress … passive masochism, if you will. It takes a while before Erika finally succumbs to her student’s infatuation, but, once she does, more than two decades of repressed sexuality explodes in a volcanic display of unbridled lust. Although Walter appears to be holding all the cards, Erika demands that he follow a long list of humiliating rules before she allows herself to be conquered. As impetuous as he is, Walter tortures himself by playing her game. The humiliation cuts both ways, however. Finally, it’s difficult to tell if Erika has dragged her handsome and cultured young man – who, when he isn’t making music, is playing ice hockey – into the gutter of depraved sexuality with her or she’s found the limits of her own pathology. The Piano Teacher is not a movie to rent or purchase, without knowing what to expect. Huppert’s magnificent, but scary as hell. She was the unanimous choice for Best Actress at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, while Magimel and Haneke also were awarded top prizes. Girardot would win a César as Best Supporting Actor. The newly restored 2K digital transfer was supervised by director Haneke, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It adds excellent interviews with Haneke and Huppert; a selected-scene commentary from 2002, featuring Huppert; behind-the-scenes footage of a post-sync session, featuring Haneke and Huppert; and an essay by scholar Moira Weigel

In Country
After watching 18 hours of “The Vietnam War,” the last thing I wanted to do was sit through a documentary on a bunch of yahoos whose idea of a weekend well spent is to re-enact skirmishes inspired by the same conflict. Americans have enjoyed donning authentic-looking uniforms and hoisting replicated weapons for conflagrations ranging from Medieval times, to the American Revolutionary War, Civil War, storming of San Juan Hill and World War II. The Civil War is most popular with Southerners still anxious to declare victory. I’m pretty sure that “M*A*S*H” is the closest anyone’s come to re-enacting the Korean War, but I could be wrong. Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara’s In Country is the first I’ve heard about anyone trying to find anything worth re-creating from a war we’ve all been trying to forget. Because I didn’t know what to expect, I kept my finger near the stop button on my DVR’s remote control. As bizarre as the exercise seems to be, the men shown in In Country demonstrate something that transcends cheap nostalgia and kneejerk patriotism. Neither is it an opportunity for men who wished they’d gone to Vietnam to pretend they know what it’s like to trip a claymore mine or light a hooch on fire with a Zippo. The re-enactment takes place on a spacious and well-tended farm near Salem, Oregon, where the high grass, thick forests and plowed fields provide a reasonable facsimile of the Vietnamese countryside. The re-enactors include a brewery manager from Portland; a high school student, who’s already enlisted in the Marines; a former medic during the Iraq War; another Iraq War vet, who’s reupped for a tour; a Vietnam War veteran who’s haunted by his memories; and Vinh Nguyen, a South Vietnamese Army veteran, who’s proud of his record in the war and says, “This group has helped me to have the will to think about my homeland.” Everything is staged to meet a high degree of accuracy, from the weapons and uniforms, to assaults and casualties. To follow the men into battle, Addie and O’Hara were required to dress in the same garb as reporters Morley Safer and Michael Herr might have worn on assignment. To keep things in context, the filmmakers frequently interrupt the re-enactment with actual footage from the war. The DVD adds extended interviews and making-of material.

Ruby: Blu-ray
Immediately remindful of Carrie and The Exorcist, Curtis Harrington’s guilty pleasure, Ruby, features Piper Laurie as another crazy old lady in a troubled relationship with her nearly grown daughter. The movie opens in 1935, as Laurie’s Ruby Clair — the very pregnant hostess of a Florida gambling house — watches in horror while her gangster boyfriend, Nikki (Sal Vecchio), is gunned down by a firing squad of hoodlums. Her water breaks at approximately the same moment as Nikki’s body disappears into a nearby swamp. Soon, Ruby delivers a now-fatherless baby girl. Flashing ahead to 1951, Ruby (Laurie) now owns a drive-in movie operated by a crew of ex-convicts, some whom were among the gangsters who offed Nikki. Her 16-year-old daughter, Leslie (Janit Baldwin) hasn’t uttered a sound since she was born, but that’s about to change. Things begin to get strange when drive-in employees are slain in symbolically grotesque ways. Ruby gets her right-hand man, Vince Kemper (Stuart Whitman), to get rid of the corpses – one headless – before the police get involved. After a while, it becomes obvious that some kind of anniversary is approaching and Ruby’s typically strange existence is about to get even stranger. Among other things, Leslie begins crab-walking, as if she were auditioning for “The Exorcist II,” and the mysterious wheelchair-ridden guy in Ruby’s bedroom is about to lose his eyeballs. Nikki, too, will make a reappearance, but not in the usual way. Ruby’s significance has less to do with anything in the movie than the man who made it. Over the years, Harrington has developed a cult status for such immortal titles as Night Tide, Queen of Blood, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, Games, What’s the Matter With Helen? Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and The Killing Kind. He frequently worked with Roger Corman, when exploitation was king. The Blu-ray package includes a commentary with genre specialist David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell; another commentary with Harrington and Laurie; the original trailer; and three archival discussions between Del Valle and Harrington. Sharp eyes will notice that the movie showing at the drive-in when the blood starts flowing is Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, released seven years after the 1951 setting for the film.

Margo
Matthew Packman’s debut feature, Margo, is a dystopian survival thriller with a twist. Three of its four characters are women and their foremost individual challenge is to avoid going mad from lack of companionship. It doesn’t start out that way, because teen survivors Libby (Lauren Schaubert) and Grant (Brady Suedmeyer) are united in love and the need to survive in a forest where the threats are mostly invisible. When they stumble upon a seemingly abandoned house and discover some needed supplies, their joy is quickly overcome by the realization their trespassing may not be appreciated. When their idyll is suddenly shattered, Libby is forced to confront her fears, alone, through injuries and heartache. The difference between Margo and most other post-apocalyptic dramas is that Packman pays attention to the details of everyday life – hygiene, included – without having to worry about zombies, vampires and rabid thugs. The enemy presents herself, instead, in the form of a feral being, Margo (Abbey Hickey), who mistrusts everyone and everything. As much as Libby wants to connect with her adversary on a human level, she also appreciates the necessity to stay alive. Through extreme close-ups and quiet interludes, Packman maintains a mood that’s both impressionistic and open to personal interpretation. The songs that inform Libby’s dilemma reminded me tonally of Cat Power’s “Crossbones Style.” Even at a far too long 145 minutes, Margo left me with questions I wanted to have answered.

L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties
Repackaged to remind English-speaking audiences of the Lord of the Rings, Guo Jingming’s epic fantasy, L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties, is based on the 34-year-old writer/director’s best-selling series of YA novels, published in 2010. Although the big-budget movie features some of the country’s top box-office attractions, their presence is slightly muted by the CG animation and motion-capture process. A big hit back home, “L.O.R.D.” is reputed to be the first fully CG-animated film to come from China. The look won’t come as a surprise to American viewers, who’ve already experienced it in movies by James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis. Nonetheless, the fantasy adventure is targeted at younger audiences, whose sense of awe can still be triggered by flying lions, giant owls and the possibility that a commoner can realize his true self in the company of Noble Lords. It opens in a small village in the Asland Empire, one of four countries in the Odin Mainland. Lowly busboy Qi Ling (Cheney Chen) is serving tea to a party of magicians hunting a dangerous Soul Beast, when his eye is attracted by the bewitching Shen Yin (Yang Mi). Soon, a cold wave overtakes the restaurant, freezing everyone except Qi Ling and Shen Yin. Outside, even more danger lurks. It’s at this point that western viewers might find themselves bogged down in the numerous Soul Masters, Soul Beasts, priests, dukes and disciples of a half-dozen different degrees and supernatural powers. Turns out, Qi Ling wasn’t always mortal and, under certain circumstances, his powers could be restored. The goal of dynastic unification is to stop a war that is ravaging the land and threatening the order of the universe. That’s all. The list of stars includes Fan Bingbing, Kris Wu, Lin Yun, Amber Kuo and Aarid Rahman.

The Devil’s Candy: Blu-ray
Hype!: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
The New York Hardcore Chronicles
A Tribute to Les Paul: Live From Universal Studios Hollywood
Typically, I try not to mix theatrical features and documentaries, unless they display a credibly symbiotic relationship. Occasionally, though, it’s just as easy to link specific titles with their natural audiences. Here, the horror in The Devil’s Candy is so intricately linked to heavy-metal music that one can’t exist without the other. And, for once, headbangers aren’t blamed directly for everything that’s evil in the world. OK one metalhead can be accused of reading too much into the lyrics of songs with a Satanic message, but he’s completely out of his mind. Tasmanian writer-director Sean Byrne takes a fresh approach to the haunted-house subgenre, which, otherwise, couldn’t be more stale. Ethan Embry plays Jesse, an artist whose transgressive style has been modified to accommodate the tastes of mainstream benefactors. He moves with his wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco), to a town in rural Texas, where it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to own property spacious enough to accommodate large-format paintings. On the way to their new digs, the radio is turned full blast and all three Hellmans bang their heads to the metal beat. Zooey, especially, is consumed with the music. Turns out, their new house was the scene of a terrible crime, likely perpetrated by the very large and scary dude who shows up on their doorstep one day, demanding to be let into his house. Because Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) shares a tattoo of a Gibson Flying V guitar with Zooey, we’re led to believe that his evil might be tamed if given enough space to work out his demons, without disturbing the neighbors or his late parents. It’s way too late for that to happen, though. At the same time, whatever demons exist within the house are having an adverse effect on Jesse’s paintings and ability to perform easy chores, like picking up Zooey at school. His paintings have begun to feature the faces of children being tortured, presumably in hell, and he can’t pull himself away from the canvas. For his part, Ray’s problem stems from a belief that Satan has ordered him to kidnap children and serve them up to him as if they were candy. The movie’s soundtrack, which must have cost a pretty penny to license, includes music by Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, Sunn O))), Wanton Bishop, Spiderbait, PK Harvey, Ghost, Slayer and Machine Head. And, yes, an electronic guitar is deployed in an effort to save the local children from ruin.

Twenty years after Hype!’s debut at Sundance, Doug Pray’s incisive documentary on Grunge music and its impact on the Seattle demi-monde has been released in a special Collector’s Edition. Kurt Cobain’s suicide, almost three years earlier, had already reversed the trajectory of the movement, as had the ramifications of sudden, unbridled commercialization. By comparison to other pop-music trends, Drudge had remained relatively pure. It’s discovery by the media swarm and fashionistas, however, could hardly be ignored. Hype! follows the music from local bands playing for and with their friends, to Sub Pop Record’s packaging of the Seattle Sound and to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” topping the charts. Pray captures the humor, loss, and epic irony that accompanied oversaturation. It features live performances by Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Fastbacks, Pearl Jam and other representative acts, several of whom are still grinding it out in concert tours. It has been enhanced by a new transfer from the 35mm interpositive; fresh interviews with members of Mudhoney, Soundgarden and the Fastbacks, record producers Jack Endino and Steve Fisk, manager Susan Silver and photographer Charles Peterson; updated commentary by Pray; interviews, commentary and performances ported over from the original video and DVD; and Peter Bagge’s animated short, “Hate.”

Director Drew Stone’s The New York Hardcore Chronicles Film isn’t the first documentary to chronicle the history of a subgenre known for its loud post-punk, pre-Grudge sound, transgressive lyrics and ability to inspire young men to pretend to beat each other up on the dance floor. There’s more to hardcore than that, I suppose, but why split hairs? Depending on whom one asks, hardcore either began in makeshift clubs in Washington, D.C., or Orange County, California, before moving up the Eastern Seaboard to Boston and New York. Like punk and metal, hardcore still can be in heard in certain venues, but the accompanying culture has largely been usurped by newer trends and the loss of turf to gentrification. That’s the case, at least, in New York, where Yuppies now stroll the streets once populated by young men, women and kiddies who lived in abandoned buildings and survived on cigarettes, drugs, dumpster diving and handouts. The dynamism of the music served as an alternative to hunger. The most amusing thing about “Chronicles” is listening to musicians, fans and hangers-on describe the scene in a form of English peculiar to a handful of New York precincts and the comedy routines of Andrew “Dice” Clay. The braggadocio is endemic to the same few zip codes. Shot in an episodic format, the film contains more than 60 interviews, never before seen footage, photos and a pulsating soundtrack. Among the witnesses called are Roger Miret and Vinnie Stigma (Agnostic Front), Lou Koller and Craig Setari (Sick of It All), Ray Cappo (Youth of Today), Billy Graziadei (Biohazard), Billy Milano (S.O.D./M.O.D.) and Mike Judge (Judge). According to Miret, “We started using the term ‘hardcore’ because we wanted to separate ourselves from the druggy or artsy punk scene that was happening in New York at the time. … We were rougher kids living in the streets. It had a rougher edge.”

Mention Les Paul to a parent or grandparent and they might reminisce about seeing the brilliant guitarist and his wife, Mary Ford, in concert or on television, performing such top-10 hits as “How High the Moon” and “Vaya Con Dios.” Mention his name to any professional or aspiring guitar virtuoso, born in time to catch the rock-’n’-roll wave and they’ll remember him as the builder of guitars still used by some of the world’s greatest artists and inventor of multitrack recording techniques and other amazing harmonic effects. “A Tribute to Les Paul: Live From Universal Studios Hollywood” was recorded by HDNet Films in 2007, two years before Paul’s death at 94. It has since been shown on regular rotation on HDNet’s successor, AXS TV network. The 90-minute show features such guitar heroes Slash, Edgar Winter, Steve Lukather, Joe Perry, Buddy Guy, Joe Satriani, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Neil Schon. Play it loud.

All the Sins of Sodom/Vibrations: Blu-ray
This is another vintage example of soft-core sexploitation that viewers of HBO’s “The Deuce” might recognize from the series’ storylines. Released in 1968, All the Sins of Sodom and Vibrations share basic themes, sexual activities and European-influenced cinematography. Even though Blow-Up and Seconds had tested the limits of Hollywood’s willingness to show pubic hair and full-frontal male nudity, Joseph W. Sarno knew that the New York police would use any excuse to shut down a theater in which a titillating movie was being shown to the great unwashed of Times Square. Nonetheless, the sparkling black-and-white photography, allusions to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and recognizable narratives elevated All the Sins of Sodom and Vibrations above the usual sexploitation fare, notwithstanding the absence of genitalia. In the former, a David Hemmings-like fashion photographer has more than enough work – and models – to keep him busy. His goal, however, is to complete a book of photographs about a seductress whose sexuality meets Old Testament standards. Encouraged by his agent (Peggy Steffans), Henning begins the project with his model/lover Leslie (Maria Lease), who isn’t quite as hot as she needs to be. Out of the blue, an aspiring model with no obvious skills shows up at Henning’s studio, looking for work but willing to accept a crash pad in a closet. She sticks around long enough to become indispensable to the photographer, as well as a real-life vamp to the women who come to the studio when the boss is away. When Henning encourages her to seduce Leslie, he finally gets the images he wants … and a big problem, to boot.

Vibrations features several of the same actors and a cramped Midtown setting. As the title implies, it’s story is founded on the joys of mechanical sex. Aspiring poet Barbara (Marianne Prevost) moves to Manhattan to jump-start her career and sex life, only to be kept awake by to the sounds of her neighbors’ vibrator and orgasms. When her extroverted sister, Julie (Maria Lease), comes to town, Barbara is forced to confront her repressed sexual desires. The vibrator gets passed around like a joint at a Grateful Dead concert. The actor who plays the photographer in “Sodom” returns for a foursome, for which the vibrator serves as the plus-one invitee. Like “Sodom,” Vibrations is fun, in a nostalgic sort of way, and everyone appears to be enjoying themselves. The bonus package adds a vintage interview with Sarno; commentary on both films by Peggy Steffans-Sarno; additional commentary by film historian Tim Lucas; and a booklet, featuring liner notes by Tim Lucas.

It Stains the Sands Red: Blu-ray
The Dead Next Door: Blu-ray
The Zombie Apocalypse comes in an array of sizes, shapes and degrees of silliness. Co-writer/director Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red is a zombie movie for people who don’t particularly like zombie movies … and those who don’t treat them as if they were sacred texts. The movie opens with a drone’s-eye view of Las Vegas, where the apocalypse has begun in earnest. A former stripper is in the process of escaping into the desert with her boyfriend, who manages to get their car stuck in a ditch alongside the highway leaving town. To no one in the audience’s surprise, a lone zombie appears out of nowhere to threaten the couple. After firing several shots into harmless parts of the intruder’s body, he’s caught and eaten by the creature, who once went by the name of Smalls (Juan Riedinger). Because Molly (Brittany Allen) is on her period, she’s able to keep Smalls’ appetite sated long enough to get a headstart. The used tampon was no longer of use to her, anyway. It allows her to get out ahead of the zombie on a slow-speed chase through the desert, which is too hot to allow running. This goes on for quite a while … too long, for some critics’ taste. She’s able to sleep by climbing atop rock formations too steep for Smalls to reach. During the chase, Molly develops a certain affection for her pursuer, especially when he scares off a pair of rape-minded prison escapees and he’s seriously wounded by smug National Guard trooper. The fun, if not Molly’s ordeal, mostly ends here. She still must return to Las Vegas to collect her son, who she’s instructed to hide under a bed back home. Only time will tell if they’ll escape the Zombie Apocalypse.

Only a diehard horror nerd would be able to wring enough zombie minutia from J.R. Bookwalter’s The Dead Next Door to make it seem like anything more than an B-minus project from a high school AV class. It’s the minutia, though, that will endear the Super 8 oddity to buffs. This time, the Zombie Apocalypse has erupted in Akron, Ohio, not far from the site of George A. Romero’s “Living Dead Trilogy,” to which The Dead Next Door owes a huge debt of gratitude. Apparently, it was produced with the help of many of the “Evil Dead” crew. Financial backer Sam Raimi is credited as Master Cylinder and appears as zombie-killer cop. Characters are named after Tom Savini, John Carpenter, Stephen King, Romero and Raimi. “Evil Dead” co-writer Scott Spiegel plays a role and some character voices are dubbed by Bruce Campbell. The story centers on members of the “Zombie Squad” — an assault team trained in the hunting and extermination of the living dead — and their mission to track down the scientists who developed a zombie-making virus, as well as the rumored antidote. Of the many lethal obstacles in their path, the deadliest comes in the form of a religious cult whose leader, the Reverend Jones – as in Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones — sees the zombie epidemic as a precursor of Armageddon and hopes to expedite it. Reportedly, more than 1,500 Northeast Ohio residents portrayed the multitudes of bloodthirsty ghouls. There’s plenty of gore here to keep cultists happy, although the blood looks even more fake than usual in hi-res. The Tempe Digital Blu-ray/DVD adds more bonus featurettes than a Criterion Collection classic, including interviews, commentary, making-of and restoration material, and deleted scenes. There’s more, but not all of the earlier pieces have been ported over to the new discs.

Lycan: Blu-ray
When six college kids in a sleepy Georgia town are assigned a group project to rediscover a moment in history, they choose the legend of Emily Burt, dubbed the Talbot County werewolf. It was that or researching a case in which a black man was falsely convicted of murder, which anyone could do. Co-writer/director Bev Land’s Lycan is set in 1986, but the lycanthropy fable began a hundred years earlier. It opens with a flashback scene cribbed from dozens of vintage slasher pictures. A gross redneck oaf is shtupping an uncharacteristically beautiful young thing, when their reverie is interrupted by a creature who strolls into house with evil intent. We know this because we’re measuring the killer’s progress from its point of view. Flash forward and the students decide to do something any horror buff could tell them is exactly the wrong way to proceed in a film about werewolves. They borrow some horses and head for the forest primeval for a weekend of fun and studying. The location, of course, makes them easy pickings for anyone or anything determined to do them harm. If it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, at least the mysterious protagonist – the director’s gorgeous wife, Dania Ramirez (“Once Upon a Time”) – offers a good reason to stick around for a while. The cast also includes Jake Lockett, Parker Croft, Rebekah Graf, Craig Tate, Kalia Prescott, Gail O’Grady (the crazy cat lady) and former supermodel, Vanessa Angel, as the sexy professor. The Blu-ray adds interviews and making-of material.

2:22: Blu-ray
While watching Paul Currie’s supernatural thriller/romance, 2:22, I began to wonder why a movie theoretically set in and around Manhattan, largely inside Grand Central Station, features so many actors from Australia and England. Not even the actor credited as John Waters is the same one who grew up in Baltimore and has become famous for his impolite films. It’s not that I have anything against films from Down Under, just that a certain lack of grittiness was missing from this one’s texture. In it, Dylan Branson (Michiel Huisman) is an air traffic controller based in New York. One day, at precisely 2:22 p.m., he’s struck by a blinding flash of light that paralyzes him for a few crucial seconds. In the interim, his inability to focus nearly causes a collision between two jetliners full of passengers. Suspended from his job, Dylan begins to notice an increasingly ominous repetition of sounds and events in his life, occurring at exactly the same time every day. Now, here’s the fantasy rub: fate leads Dylan to hook up with an incredibly beautiful and talented woman, Sarah (Teresa Palmer), who’d been a passenger on one of the planes he nearly caused to collide. She flew to the Apple to coordinate an art installation involving real-time activities at Grand Central Station. In Dylan’s nightmares, he’s unable to prevent a tragedy that took place decades earlier in the same space shown in the installation. Spooky, huh. Let’s just say that the answers lie in the stars and leave it at that. It’s not a bad movie, just extremely far-fetched. My guess is that the same audience attracted to films adapted from books by Nicholas Sparks will find something here to embrace. Special features add interviews with the actors and director, and a featurette on re-creating New York and Grand Central in Australia.

Heritage Falls
When did David Keith get old enough to play grandfathers? Judging from his photo on the IMDB.com website: not yet. In reality, though, he’s 63 and, therefore, eligible for all sorts of geezer roles. Heritage Falls describes what happens during a rural retreat arranged by Charlie Fitzpatrick, a newly retired high school basketball coach, who’s harboring a deep, dark secret. Invited are his estranged “bookworm” son, Evan (Coby Ryan McLaughlin), and grandson, Markie (Markie Fitzpatrick), who has just announced he’s dropping out of college to tour with a band. Will the weekend result in a full-blown male-bonding experience or lead to further estrangement? One guess. The womenfolk aren’t ignored, but they’re not feuding. The best things about Shea Sizemore’s debut feature are the Georgia locations, which include Toccoa Falls in the northeastern corner of the state.

Sign Painters: Director’s Edition
Documented
Bite Size
Among the many things we, as a society, have come to take for granted is sign painting, whether it’s on the side of buildings, windows, doors, cars, carnival attractions, placards or on billboards. According to the professionals interviewed for their 2014 documentary, Sign Painters, by co-directors Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, the discipline began 150 years ago, possibly in Chicago, and has grown into a form of art that merges calligraphy, typography and commerce. Painters aren’t always asked to use their imaginations in the creation of a sign, but, when they are, the results can be wonderful. Or delightfully mundane, as was the case in the series of roadside signs that promoted Burma Shave through rhyming poems broken into individual stanzas over a distance of about 100 yards. It was the perfect marriage of America’s love of the open road and the necessity of companies to advertise their products. Cross-country motorists never really knew where the next one would turn up. As recently as the 1980s, storefronts, murals, banners, barn signs, billboards and even street signs were all hand-lettered with brush and paint … unless they were neon, of course. As is too often the case today, however, the industry is increasingly threatened by the proliferation of computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering, inkjet printers and, of course, the oversized copying machines at Kinkos and Office Depot. The demand for signs that look as if they might be seen from space has taken hold on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip and the Las Vegas Strip, where neon once ruled. Granted, Sign Painters doesn’t address a particularly dire societal problem. Like most other things overlooked by the American public, though, we don’t miss them until they’re gone. The DVD adds more than 30 minutes of bonus material..

Also from Film Movement/Bond360, Documented could hardly be more topical. At a time when President Trump has gone full circle and back again on legislation protecting undocumented immigrants temporarily covered by the DACA and Dreamers program, it’s an apropos time to meet a few of the 800,000-plus men and women whose talents would be sacrificed for a hare-brained political promise. Previously released onto the festival circuit in 2014, Documented was co-directed by Ann Raffaela Lupo and Jose Antonio Vargas, whose story this is. You might recall an essay published in the New York Times Magazine, in 2011, titled “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” In it, the Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist outed himself as one of 11 million undocumented immigrants living, working and/or studying here, the vast majority of whom wouldn’t be protected by President Obama’s edicts. The article and subsequent attention drawn to Vargas – including an arrest and release in a Texas border town – set the stage for this film, in which he travels around the country, lending his voice to the cause of immigration reform and dealing with the media backlash of being “out” in America. At the time, some reviews criticized it for not being a by-the-book documentary. It is even more timely and interesting today, just as it is.

Another Bond360 film, Corbin Billings’ Bite Size takes on the pressing issue of childhood obesity. It’s estimated that one in three American children are overweight, too many of them seriously so. And, even with an increased awareness of positive nutritional programs, things are getting worse. Despite the odds, Bite Size showcases the stories of four inspiring kids who are fighting for their futures one day at a time. Sadly, the doc received only limited exposure upon its 2014 release.

Jesús
Cinema Novo
3 Idiotas
Every so often, a film from Chile will come along that knocks the socks off arthouse audiences and critics, alike. Sebastián Silva became a hot commodity after The Maid (2006), coming back in 2013 with the very different Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic, both starring Michael Cera. Andrés Wood’s Machuca (2004) described the leadup to the coup that ousted Salvador Allende through the eyes of an 11-year-old student. Patricio Guzmán’s documentary triptych, The Battle for Chile could only be completed and released while the filmmaker was in Paris, where he sought refuge from fascism. His Chile, Obstinate Memory (1996) looks back on that terrible period, but after the Pinochet government collapsed. The easing of restrictions on filmmakers allowed for Boris Quercia’s 2003 comedy Sexo con Amor (“Sex with Love”). In 2012, Pablo Larraín’s historical drama, No, became the first Chilean film nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Pablo Larraín’s The Club (2015) described the lengths to which the Vatican was willing to go to hide its bad apples. His 2016 biographical drama, Neruda, was nominated for a Golden Globe. For a country whose film industry was nearly decimated by right-wing demagoguery and censorship, that’s not a bad record. Fernando Guzzoni’s Jesús is a cross-generational drama that’s been compared to the works of Larry Clark. The 18-year-old protagonist, Jesús (Nicolas Duran), is trapped in a dead-end cycle of drugs, sex, apathy and an obsession with violence. He lives with his widower father, Héctor (Alejandro Goic), but, having come of age under completely different circumstances, they barely communicate with each other. One night, the combination of drugs, booze and boredom result in the brutal death of a gay teenager. The media blame it on neo-Nazi youths, but Jesús and his friends don’t appear to have any coherent political leanings. He seeks the help of his father, who, at first, agrees to hide the boy from the spotlight. Once the severity of the crime hits home, however, Héctor becomes increasingly perplexed by the depth of the gulf that separates them. The DVD adds a pair of post-screening discussions with Guzzoni and Duran.

Although Brazil has endured its share of political turmoil, its cinema has found ways to adapt to adverse circumstances and excel in the international marketplace. Cinema Novo is a film essay that poetically investigates the eponymous film movement, through the analysis of its primary practitioners. In the early 1960s and 1970s, the Cinema Novo movement reinvented Italian Neo-Realism for its Portuguese-speaking audiences, in that the films were shot largely on location, often with natural light, and strove to break down the barriers between public and private, rich and poor, fiction and documentary. The stories weren’t limited by region or ethnicity. I don’t recognize any of the titles, but Eryk Rocha’s film makes a strong case for Cinema Novo’s importance. Not long afterward, the Brazilian cinema would find a ready audience here for such entertainments as Bruno Barreto’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands and Carlos Diegues’ Bye Bye Brazil. Hector Babenco’s far more socially relevant Lucio Flavio (1977), Pixote (1980) and Kiss of the Spider Woman probably were influenced by Cinema Novo, but enjoyed a longer reach into the mainstream. If Rocha’s doc sometimes comes off as graduate level course in international film history, that’s OK, too.

From Mexico comes Carlos Bolado’s 3 Idiotas, a very broad Spanish-language comedy that found a bit of traction north of the border on about 350 screens. Like Lionsgate’s How to Be a Latin Lover and Instructions Not Included, it features a female lead, Martha Higareda, who should be familiar to viewers of Mexican and American television shows, including “Royal Pains” and “Las Juanas.” Although the pixie-ish Higareda has just turned 34, the hot Tabasco chili pepper has no trouble here playing the college student, Marianna. It is a remake of the Bollywood movie 3 Idiots (2009), by Rajkumar Hirani, which was inspired from Chetan Bhagat’s 2004 novel “Five Point Someone.” Alfonso Dosal, Christian Vázquez and Germán Valdés III play the title characters, who, while not complete imbeciles, are socially awkward and easily distracted in the classroom. They’re studying engineering under a professor, Mariana’s father, who’s almost impossibly stern and has no tolerance for knuckleheads. It becomes a problem for the inseparable trio, when one of the lads, Pancho, falls for Mariana and there’s no way her father would approve of him as a son-in-law. It becomes a moot point after Pancho disappears at a crucial point in their relationship. The search for their lost friend unwinds alongside the run-up to graduation day. Admittedly, any comedy that relies as heavily on fart gags as 3 Idiotas does isn’t going to be my cup of tea. I did love the ending, however, for its ability to boil down the slapstick into something meaningful in the real world.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker: Special Edition: Blu-ray
As wonderful a title as The Legend of the Holy Drinker is, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the late, great Lord Richard Buckley’s swinging monologue, “God’s Own Drunk,” popularized by Jimmy Buffet. In it, a recovering alcoholic is asked by his hillbilly brother-in-law to keep a watchful eye on his still, while he’s away on business. Eventually, the drunk gives in to temptation and begins sampling the product. Along comes a bear – varying in height from 16 to 18 feet – who gladly accepts the man’s offer of some free moonshine. After drinking the night away, the drunk wakes up to find both the bear and still gone. It could have been worse: the bear might have been hungry, instead of thirsty. The story sounded better when told by the man Bob Dylan called, “the hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels.” The Legend of the Holy Drinker was adapted from Joseph Roth’s 1939 novella by Ermanno Olmi, whose Il posto and The Tree of Wooden Clogs enjoyed far wider distribution. I’m pretty sure it didn’t find a screen in the U.S. It is the story of Andreas Kartack (Ruger Hauer), a homeless man living under the bridges of Paris. Lent 200 francs by an anonymous stranger, he is determined to pay back his debt, but circumstances – and his alcoholism – continue to intervene. Through flashbacks and encounters with old friends, we know that Kartack enjoyed some semblance of prosperity back in the day. He isn’t a bad or belligerent drunk, but his liver is flashing signals that it’s about to surrender to disease. While staggering around his bed of newspapers, he’s given the money by the Distinguished Gentleman (Anthony Quayle), who appears to have more money than he knows what to do with. His only request is for Andreas to return the money to the shrine dedicated to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux in the church across the street from his favorite bar. In his delirium, Andreas even imagines being reminded of his obligation by the Little Flower of Jesus, herself. For a few days, at least, Kartack can do no wrong. Francs appear out of nowhere. An old school chum lavishes him with money, clothes and food. He enjoys two wild nights with a cabaret dancer (Sandrine Dumas) and is tested by another old friend (Dominique Pinon), a drunken sot who coaxes Andreas into blowing off the loan. He runs into a woman who might have been his wife. And, he’s finally able to cover his bar tab. When the miracles run out, it’s as if we’re losing a close friend. In an interview included in the Arrow Films bonus package, co-writer Tullio Kezich recalls Robert De Niro turning down the lead role, because he couldn’t understand the story behind the movie. Olmi, whose films don’t follow established patterns, had no such problem, and neither did Hauer, who turned in the performance of a lifetime. If one were required to categorize The Legend of the Holy Drinker, the easiest way to describe it might be to call it a fable, parable or allegory. Whatever it is, Olmi was awarded the Golden Lion and OCIC awards at the 1988 Venice Film Festival. The package also includes a fresh interview with Hauer and new writing on the film by Helen Chambers, author of “Joseph Roth in Retrospect: Co-existent Contradictions.”

TV-to-DVD
Ned And Stacey: The Complete Series
NBC: Taken: Season One: Blu-ray
PBS: Frontline: Life on Parole
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series, Volumes 1-6: Collector’s Edition
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Johnny and Friends: The Complete Collection
Sitcoms come and go, but, with any luck, our favorite actors will continue to play musical chairs for the rest of their careers. Because the stigma once attached to working on television no longer exists, it’s possible for actors to move from a sitcom – in this case, Fox’s short-lived “Ned and Stacey” – to the movies and back, again, no worse for the wear. Thomas Hayden Church and Deborah Messing played a pair of mismatched yuppies, who marry for reasons that only make sense on sitcoms. Ned is an ad exec who needs a wife, pronto, to maintain his progress on the corporate ladder. Stacey is a neurotic freelance writer in need of an apartment, which he has. It’s a marriage of convenience, allowing for all sorts of wacky romantic dalliances and good-natured squabbling. Eventually, the writers created a space in which love could bloom. In all sitcoms, it’s also important for the lead characters to gel with the actors in supporting roles. Here, they’re represented by the pre-“Ally McBeal” Greg Germann and perennial sidekick Nadia Dajani (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”). There were older characters, as well, but Fox demographics demanded a steadier rotation of attractive guest stars, all of whom looked hot in little black dresses and tuxedos. Created by Michael J. Weithorn (“The King of Queens”), the show featured the kind of snappy dialogue that doesn’t feel processed the second it leaves the actors’ mouths. Even so, “N&S” lasted less than a season and a half on the air. The Shout!Factory box contains 47 episodes, including 25 from the first season; 11 in the abbreviated second season; and 11 unaired shows. Only Season One has been represented on DVD. The six-disc box adds commentary on the pilot episode, with Weithorn, and a 20-minute retrospective, with Messing and Church. Messing can be seen this fall in the reboot of NBC’s groundbreaking “Will & Grace,” while Church will reprise his role in HBO’s “Divorce,” opposite Sarah Jessica Parker.

On NBC this fall for a second go-round, “Taken” represents the prequel to the big-screen action franchise of the same title. Clive Standen (”Vikings”) plays the younger version of the former CIA agent Bryan Mills made famous by Liam Neeson. (He just announced that his days of playing kick-ass characters are over.)  Here, Mills is a former Green Beret who gets swept up in a quest for vengeance after he fails to protect one of those closest to him. Recruited by Jennifer Beal to join a group of CIA operatives, Mills spends the early episodes honing his skillset and learning to control his explosive temper. Beals’ operative allows him to he dive headfirst into dangerous missions, while monitoring his strengths and deficiencies. The Blu-ray set includes an “On Set” featurette with creator and exec-producer Luc Besson. It’s already been revealed that “Taken” will get a facelift for Season Two, including the elimination of several prominent supporting characters.

By now, followers of cops-vs.-criminals shows on television know that being granted parole isn’t the same as being handed a Get Out of Jail card in Monopoly. If a parolee slips up, even once, he or she can be returned to jail so fast their head won’t have time to spin. Unless … they were imprisoned in a state such as Connecticut, where one or two mistakes no longer necessarily mean one’s freedom is kaput. Neither does it mean that those infractions are forgotten. The “Frontline” presentation, “Life on Parole,” follows several former prisoners through the challenges of their first year on parole. With unique access, the documentary goes inside the effort to change the way parole works in Connecticut and reduce the number of people returning to prison. The report is a co-production with the New York Times.

There’s another pair of boxed sets from TimeLife’s “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” collection, representing odd-lot permutations of the original direct-sale megabox. The shows aren’t limited to the guest stars promoted on the covers. They also contain Johnny’s monologue, “bits,” commercials and chats with lesser luminaries, some of whom who went on to become marquee attractions. Here, the six-disc “Vault Collection” features a dozen of the best shows, complete and unedited, selected from over three decades and 4,000 shows. (Unbelievably, the geniuses at NBC decided to make space on their shelves by dumping tapes of the 1960s’ show into the East River.) Among them are Carson’s 10th and 11th anniversary shows; birthday episodes; and vintage appearances by, among others, Dean Martin, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Dom DeLuise, John Denver, Peter Fonda, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, Michael Landon, Billy Crystal, Paul McCartney, Orson Welles and Muhammad Ali. The 10-disc “Johnny and Friends” series includes appearances by Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Bob Hope, Don Rickles, Dolly Parton and others.  It adds a 28-page Memory Book, with snapshots and stories about Johnny and his friends, as well as two hours of bonus features. It will be interesting to see if, 20 years from now, anyone decides to package the “best” of Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien.

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“Most of these women were in their early twenties. Most of them refused to go any further with him, but a few went to dinner, or to some sort of casting situation, or to someplace private… if the stories were just about some crazed sex addict who approaches thousands of women on the street trying to get laid, I wouldn’t be posting this now. I don’t want to be attacking every Hollywood douchebag who hits on countless women. That type of behavior isn’t cool, but I think it’s important to separate douchebaggery from any kind of sexual coercion. But the women I talked to who DID go someplace private with Toback, told stories that were worse than the women only accosted on the street… So I did what I could do in my impotent state – for over twenty years now, I’ve been bringing up James Toback every chance I could in groups of people. I couldn’t stop him, but I could warn people about him… I’ve been hoping the Weinstein/O’Reilly stuff would bring this vampire into the light (him and a couple others, frankly). So I was happy today to wake up to this story in the L. A. Times.”
~ James Gunn

“BATTLE OF THE SEXES: Politics and queerness as spectacle/spectacle as politics and queerness. Pretty delightful, lovely, erotic. A-

“Not since EASY A and CABARET have I seen Emma Stone give a real sense of her range. Here, she has pathos and interiority and desire. I love the cinematography and the ways in which the images of the tennis icons are refracted and manipulated via various surfaces/mediators. Also, wild how a haircut is one of the most erotic scenes in cinema this year. Spine tinglingly tactile that feels refreshing. Proof that *cough* you don’t need to be ~graphic/explicit~ to be erotic *cough*. Also, it made me want to get into tennis. Watching it, at least.

“There are interesting touches and intimations as to the cinematic nature of sports, & unpacking the formal approach of broadcasting sports.Also, I was here for Sarah Silverman smoking. And also, hi Mickey Sumner!! It’s a really interesting film about the ways in which public spectacle is never apolitical, and how spectacle is prone to assignation.

“There’s this one other scene from BATTLE OF THE SEXES that I love, and it’s the one in the bar. You see Billie looking after Marilyn as she dances. Through a crowd. There’s a paradoxical closeness and distance between them. In the purple light, and the kitschy decor, everything is distorted. But Billie catches a glance and you can feel the nervous swell inside.”
~ Kyle Turner