By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Inconvenient Sequel, Good Catholic, Midwife, Old Dark House, Dawn of Dead, and more

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power: Blu-ray
It’s worth remembering that the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, fully 19 years before then-Senator Albert Gore questioned the first Bush administration’s commitment to environmental protection. It was on the NPR program “First Mention” that Gore accused the government of tampering with testimony on global warming from a leading scientist. Like the nitwits spouting the same nonsense today in Washington, Bush administration officials defended themselves by saying there was no consensus on the science of global warming. Before he became consumed with avenging the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, George W. Bush announced that the U.S. would not implement the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1997 that would require nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, it not only was revealed that the Bush White House had pressured American scientists to suppress discussion of global warming, but had worked to undermine state efforts to mitigate it. Specifically targeted were California’s first-in-the-nation limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. A year earlier, Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth had been released to wide acclaim and $41.6 million in box-office revenues, worldwide, not counting the informational screenings held to promote the film’s message. (Some 50,000 copies were given away to teachers in the United States, via the participate.net website.) Gore, the subject of Guggenheim’s “first carbon-neutral documentary,” would share the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. An Inconvenient Truth won two Oscars – one for Guggenheim and the other for Melissa Etheridge’s original song – and a pair of Humanitas prizes.

In an early indication of Ivanka Trump’s inability to reason with her father, the First Daughter arranged a meeting between Gore and the President-elect to discuss what was said to be one of her signature issues. Gore called the conversation “interesting,” but it clearly had little or no impact on Trump, who once called global warming a “Chinese hoax.” A month later, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power debuted at Sundance, in advance of a screening at Cannes and worldwide release, beginning in August. It received largely favorable reviews, if not the same commercial response. No one could accuse climate-change activists of having forgotten the importance of proselytizing the issue or writing off Gore’s mission as quixotic. Despite Trump’s backwards stance on the subject – supporting the coal industry, over solar and wind-generated sources – governments and corporate entities around the world have picked up the cudgel of progress and run with it. (For example, motorists driving from L.A. to Las Vegas can’t miss the the giant Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, just south of Primm.) An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power delivers a wide-ranging, visually appealing exploration of where, exactly, the planet is now. Gore serves as a scientist, preacher and tour guide through everything from increasingly dramatic weather patterns – even before the current rash of hurricanes, fires and floods — to the changing attitudes among world leaders and the value of photographing the Earth from space. As such, Sequel delivers a slightly more positive and optimistic message. The Blu-ray arrives in “environmentally friendly” packaging, with a list of “10 ways to act on behalf of the climate” printed inside it. Other extras include the backgrounder, “Effecting Change: Speaking Truth to Power”; the Lyric Video, “Truth to Power,” by OneRepublic; and “Truth in Ten,” from Gore’s family farm in Tennessee.

The Good Catholic: Blu-ray
At a time when the title, The Good Catholic, could have a dozen different connotations, it’s comforting to learn that the good Catholic in question is an idealistic priest suffering from nothing more than an old-fashioned crisis in confidence in his ability to perform the tasks assigned him. In his first feature, Zachary Spicer (“All My Children”) is a perfect fit for the part of the young cleric, Daniel, who, at first, is only caught between two different approaches to the same faith. His mentors at the Bloomington, Indiana, church he serves are Father Victor (Danny Glover), a no-nonsense traditionalist, and Father Ollie (John C. McGinley), a chain-smoking, carb-addicted Franciscan, who wears an IU jersey over his friar’s garb on game days. The differences can’t mask their passion for their calling. Then, along comes the gorgeous, if suicidal redhead, Jane (Wrenn Schmidt), whose late-night confessions pluck Daniel’s heartstrings. She’s a musician, who lays out her feelings in song at a local coffeehouse that the priest begins to frequent, absent his collar. At the same time, Victor and Ollie use Daniel’s qualms as learning tool. Wither the young priest will goest is always in question.

The Midwife
If I had received the screener of Martin Provost’s The Midwife two weeks ago, I could have added it to my review of Moka.  It’s not that they simply share a country of origin – France – but for a pairing of great actresses that borders on thrilling. In Moka, Nathalie Baye and Emmanuelle Devos vied for our absolute attention. In The Midwife, it’s Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve. How did we get so lucky? Frot, who also starred in Provost’s 2006 biopic Séraphine, plays a Parisian midwife, Claire, who, one day, out of the blue, is asked by her late father’s former mistress, Béatrice, to reconnect. Claire is as tightly wound and reserved as Deneuve’s character is free-spirited and self-destructive. Their reunion is anything but warm. Too many loose ends were left untied when Béatrice split from her father and Claire suspects her motives for the meeting. Turns out, Béatrice has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and is alone in the world. Claire convinces her to seek a second opinion, which leads to the surgery she should have had months or years earlier. As was probably inevitable, the two women will find some common ground, even as Béatrice’s symptoms begin to return. Claire finds some relief in her garden outside the city, where she strikes up an uneasy relationship with the earthy fellow working the plot next-door. If she can get the flowers in her garden to blossom, maybe the same thing will happen with her new truck-driver friend (Olivier Gourmet) and her father’s former lover. Nothing’s a sure bet, however. Provost appears to be in his element here, working with exceptional actresses playing exceptional women. The Music Box DVD adds an interview with Provost and film festival Q&A with Provost, Deneuve and Frot.

Heartstone
Baby Steps
At 129 subtitled minutes, Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s debut feature, Heartstone, risks losing its audience – temporarily, at least – in the splendid scenery surrounding a remote fishing village in eastern Iceland. The tendency to wander has nothing to do with the emotionally charged narrative or excellent ensemble cast, however. Coming-of-age stories involving LGBT youth not only have become commonplace, but the quality of such genre-pushing pictures has also raised the bar on entertainment value. As diverting as the topographical grandeur beyond the borders of Reykjavik is, however, it provides the perfect backdrop for the protagonists’ lonely struggle to come to grips with adolescent sexuality and its place in the isolated community. In this way, at least, Heartstone resembles Brokeback Mountain. Thor and Christian are longtime best friends, whose dreams have yet to be crushed by the alcoholism that’s a byproduct of six months of darkness and everyday Nordic fatalism. Under this summer’s Midnight Sun, however, it’s become obvious to the local teenagers that the innocence and comradery they’ve shared for most of their lives has mysteriously changed. While Thor (Baldur Einarsson) tries to win the heart of Beta (Diljá Valsdóttir), who’s a bit more emotionally centered than either of the boys, Christian decides that it’s time to make his closest friend aware of his love for him. Guðmundsson doesn’t rush or force the issue, relying instead on subtle hints and less-than-overt contact between them. Complicating their situation, though, is the homophobia handed down from adults to their children and Thor’s predicament of having to acknowledge Christian’s feelings, without doing permanent harm to their friendship. It can be argued that Guðmundsson’s decision to push the narrative into the realm of near-tragedy only serves to add length to an already compelling drama. Still, it will only feel gratuitous to viewers of reading subtitles.

A few weeks ago, Olive Films re-released Ang Lee’s 1993 The Wedding Banquet, which describes what happens when the parents of an accomplished Chinese immigrant arrive in New York to arrange a marriage for their son and accelerate the process of adding of a male heir to the family. Barney Cheng’s 2015 rom/dram/com Baby Steps appears to have been built from the same template as that groundbreaking film, right down to the appearance of a Taiwanese mom (Grace Guei, a.k.a., Ya-Lei Kuei), who travels to Los Angeles when she hears that her son, Danny (Cheng), intends to become a father through surrogacy. She knows he’s gay, but isn’t aware of his desire to share the chores of parenthood with his non-Chinese partner, Tate (Michael Adam Hamilton). Once in L.A., mom takes over the process of screening potential candidates for motherhood, rejecting most for trivial reasons … or approving a few Danny doesn’t like. It comes as no surprise, then, when her interference begins to have a negative impact on Danny’s relationship with Tate and he must lay down the law with her. Apparently, Baby Steps’ release had a direct impact on the concurrent debate being waged in Taiwan over same-sex marriage. Producer Li-Kong Hsu also collaborated on The Wedding Banquet, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Eat Drink Man Woman.

The Old Dark House: Blu-ray
The parade of pre-Halloween thrillers and horror flicks continues apace, with some terrific releases of restored classics, genre oddities and other blasts from the past. As far as I’m concerned, the pick of this week’s litter is James Whale’s 1932 chamber piece, The Old Dark House. In addition to a chilling performance by Boris Karloff, the Universal picture featured Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart and Elspeth Dudgeon, none of whom were household names yet in Hollywood. Neither was Karloff particularly well known here, even though he had appeared in dozens of films by the time Frankenstein was released in 1931, and, there, he simply was credited as “?” Recognizing these fine actors in early roles is only part of the fun in The Old Dark House. Based on the 1927 novel “Benighted,” by J. B. Priestley, it opens in a way that would become familiar to audiences very soon: a car full of big-city swells risks catastrophe by driving through the Welsh mountains in a fierce rainstorm. When the roads become impassable, they seek shelter in a spooky, unlit mansion not far the highway. After banging on the door for a while, they are “greeted” by Morgan (Karloff), the Femm family’s badly scarred and menacing butler. Horace Femm (Thesiger) is receptive to the Waverton party spending the night, even if his deaf sister, Rebecca (Eva Moore), is dead set against it. Before long, the arrival of the overbearing Sir William Porterhouse (Laughton) and his companion, Gladys Perkins (Bond), make it impossible for Rebecca to refuse them the comfort of a warm fire, at least. The Femm mansion may not be haunted in the traditional sense, but, in Whale’s hands, its mysteries and secrets serve the same purpose. Morgan’s monstrous behavior, when drunk, is the perfect capper. The Old Dark House was withdrawn from circulation when William Castle Productions’ was released, in 1963. This film was considered lost until director Curtis Harrington discovered a printable negative in the Universal vaults, in 1968. The Cohen Film Collection’s 4K restoration has ported over previous commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis, and an interview with Harrington on the rediscovery of the film. A new interview with Karloff’s daughter, Sara, has been added.

Dawn of the Dead: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Land of the Dead: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
In the annals of unnecessary remakes, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998) will always be listed among the most redundant of all time. Michael Haneke’s 2007 duplication of his terrifying 1997 Funny Games could be justified for translating the dialogue into English and adding actors familiar to fickle American audiences. Zack Snyder’s 1998 remounting of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead wasn’t particularly necessary, either, but, at least, it made good use of the larger budget and made some money for Universal. Neither picture was required to spend much money on screenwriter fees – why tinker with perfection, after all? – but whatever James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) added to or subtracted from Romero’s 1978 screenplay could hardly be noticed. More apparent was the relocation from Pittsburgh to Ontario and the Universal backlot, both of which stood in for Wisconsin. For Snyder, it opened the door to the effects-heavy 300, Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Man of Steel. There was nothing wrong with the casting, either. New faces included Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Kelly, Matt Frewer and Ty Burrell. The Blu-ray adds several new features to the original package, including interviews with Burrell, Gunn and Weber, as well as “Killing Time at the Mall: The Special Effects of Dawn of the Dead,” with special makeup effects artists David Anderson and Heather Langenkamp Anderson.

Romero’s Land of the Dead (2005) wasn’t shot in Pittsburgh, either, but for reasons that probably made more sense to the producers than anyone else. The zombie population here was such that it would have been difficult to tell the difference, anyway. The screenplay was partly based on the original, much longer script for Day of the Dead (1985). It takes place in a contemporary world, in which the walking dead roam a vast uninhabited wasteland and the living try to lead “normal” lives behind the walls of a fortified city. Society is divided between the opportunists who reside in the towers of a skyscraper and the regular folks who eke out a hard life on the streets below. With the survival of the city at stake, a group of mercenaries is called into action to protect the living from the evolving army of the dead, waiting outside the city walls. The cast includes Dennis Hopper, Simon Baker, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Pedro Miguel Arce and John Leguizamo. In addition to previously available bonus material, the Blu-ray adds new interviews with Leguizamo, Joy, Pedro Miguel Arce and actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks and Jasmin Geljo. One of the returning featurettes, “When Shaun Met George,” describes what happened when Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright paid Romero a visit on the set.

The Lift: Limited Edition Blu-ray
Down: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Like Michael Haneke, Dutch genre specialist Dick Maas was entrusted with the 2001 English-language remake of his killer-elevator epic, The Lift (1983). He needn’t have bothered, because neither Down nor The Lift received a theatrical release here and no one paid much attention to the video iterations. Remarkably, Blue Underground has elected to re-release them in special Blu-ray editions, with a bunch of special features added for good measure. Killer-elevator pictures represent a subgenre of the technology-runs-amok and splatter subgenres, all of which fall under the general heading of horror or sci-fi. Buffs might also consider them to be comedic, but that’s another story. In both pictures, a repairman investigates the faulty elevators in what’s become a high-rise deathtrap. Upon further reflection, he determines that something other than malfunctioning machinery is to blame. Some dark, distorted power – possibly developed by the military — has gained control of the elevator for its own evil design. For some reason, the only other person interested in pursuing the investigation is a nosy journalist. The stars of The Lift included Huub Stapel (Amsterdamned) and Willeke van Ammelrooy (Antonia’s Line), while the U.S. remake features what today amounts to an all-star cast: James Marshall (“Twin Peaks”), a pre- Mulholland Drive Naomi Watts, Edward Herrmann (“The Good Wife”), Michael Ironside (“Transformers Prime”), Dan Hedaya (Blood Simple), Eric Thal (The Puppet Masters) and Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy”). The Blu-ray extras include commentaries with Maas; his short film, “Long Distance”; making-of featurettes; and collectible booklets, with essays.

The Corpse Grinders: Blu-ray
Woman’s Torment: Blu-ray
Prime Evil/Lurkers Blu-ray
Demon Wind: Blu-ray
Blood Beat: Blu-ray
Vinegar Syndrome, which specializes in the restoration and distribution of genre and erotic films from the latter half of the 20th Century, has once again lived up to its mission statement by sending out a half-dozen Halloween-ready titles, ranging from obscure to really obscure. The company puts a lot of time, money and effort into restoring its selections, frequently more than was invested in the original production. VS isn’t the only distribution company involved in such seemingly thankless work – except to buffs and collectors – but the new versions are infinitely better than previous iterations released on VHS from screen captures and crappy negatives.

Of the titles released this week, the most recognizable is The Corpse Grinders, whose reputation is several times greater than the amount of money it pulled in at the box office. The premise is pretty simple, really.  The financially troubled Lotus Cat Food Company is on the verge of closing. To prevent bankruptcy, it’s owner decides to forgo paying for top-quality horse meat or tuna scraps – or whatever it is they put in the tins – and pay grave robbers to provide them with freshly buried cadavers. Cemeteries are never in danger of running out of customers, so where’s the harm? In fact, like their more predatory relatives in the feline family, housecats can become as addicted to human flesh as lions and tigers. Once that happens, they never settle for decaying meat, when fresh alternatives are close at hand, er, paw. It doesn’t go unnoticed by friends of the local humane society. It would be nice to be able to recommend Corpse Grinders on its merits, but director Ted V. Mikels is such a notorious hack that it can only be viewed with an uncritical eye. What’s more interesting is the fact that it was co-written by Bryan Cranston’s father, Joseph – also responsible for Go, Johnny, Go! (1959), Erotica (1961) and The Crawling Hand (1963) – and Arch Hall Sr., known for EEGAH and Wild Guitar. Apparently, audiences were ordered to sign waivers before they entered the theater, asserting they were sane and wouldn’t hold the theater owners liable for brain damage. (They affidavits were hardly necessary.) It also was released in the U.S. as the main attraction in a triple-feature package with The Embalmer (1965) and The Undertaker and His Pals (1966). The drive-in mainstay has been freshly restored in 2k, from recently discovered negative elements. It adds a commentary track with Mikels and grindhouse specialist Elijah Drenner; a video featurette, with Mikels; a stills gallery; and reversible cover artwork.

Another exploitation legend, Roberta Findlay, is represented by three pictures that blend blood, gore, horror and nudity, in various measures. They’re all on full display in A Woman’s Torment (1977), which she wrote and directed as Robert W. Norman and she cites as the first “hard-core horror film.” Also included in the VS package is a soft-core alternative, which I can’t imagine would be of value to anyone except scholars at religious institutions. In it, Don (Jeffrey Hurst) and his wife, Frances (Crystal Sync), are finding it difficult to keep their marriage healthy, while also taking care of Frances’s mentally ill sister, Karen (Tara Chung). When Karen overhears them discussing having her committed to an asylum, she runs away, taking refuge in an empty house on a remote beach. In her twisted mind, everyone who crosses paths with her there is either a potential lover or predator, worthy of being murdered. Findlay is said to have been influenced by Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, a conceit that someone relatively new to the exploitation game could admit. Considering that it was released before the so-called Golden Age of porn, A Woman’s Torment is pretty good.

Findlay’s other two contribution here are from the very end of her career, when she’d stopped during porn and focused on drive-in and straight-to-video exploitation. The nudity has become more or less perfunctory, while the gore and special-makeup effects are put in the forefront. Prime Evil (1988) takes place largely in a Manhattan monastery, which is home to a group of devil-worshipping monks, whose lineage can be traced to the medieval plague years. The monks, some of whom appear to be ageless, are on the lookout for attractive women who could stand making a confession. Once in the monks’ confidence, the women are putty in the hands of Satan’s earthly agents. Also set in the streets of New York is Lurkers (1988), which Findlay shot and directed, as well. When Cathy (Christine Moore) was a girl, she narrowly escaped with her life after witnessing her deranged mother murder her father. Haunted by memories of her macabre childhood, her nightmares turn into a terrifying reality when she’s lured back to her childhood home, only to be transformed into a “lurker.” They are members of the vengeful dead, who seek to terrorize those who wronged them. Both films have been scanned and restored in 2k from the 35mm original camera negative, and include a commentary track with Findlay, marketing material, isolated soundtracks and reversible cover artwork.

Viewers can sleep through the first half of Demon Wind (1990), without missing anything more than what’s already been summarized on the cover. The expository material is so tedious and poorly rendered that you’ll be tempted to write the whole thing off as a harmless waste of time. Once the ghosts, goblins and zombies are introduced, however, it’s almost as if another director stepped in for Charles Philip Moore and found a way to jump-start the picture. The story is set somewhere in the Midwest farm country, where, several decades earlier, something terrible happened to the owners of the property. For most of his life, Cory (Eric Larson) has been tormented by speculation about what happened to his grandparents. Along with a group of friends from college, he returns to the desolate region where they lived, to try and uncover the mystery. Ignoring warnings from the locals that the area is cursed, Cory and his friends soon realize that the legend is true, as the Demon Wind, possesses and destroys them, one by one. Never released on DVD, the film comes to Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in a brand new 2k restoration of its 35mm camera negative. It adds interviews with executive producer Sandy Horowitz, actor Sherry Bendorf Leigh and cinematographer Thomas L. Callaway.

The oddly titled Blood Beat (1983) is another VS release that starts in one direction, before veering off into a completely different genre. The characters all appear to be possessed by one sort of demon or another, but for no reason or purpose that will be apparent to most viewers. Fabrice Zaphiratos’ overreaching thriller is set in rural Wisconsin, where deer hunting season is worshiped like Holy Week in Rome. Not everyone in the farmhouse is comfortable with the ritual, however. Mom is more interested in her paintings than entertaining her guests, who include a young woman who can’t control her orgasms. Out of nowhere comes a mysterious figure, garbed in an elaborate Samurai outfit, a wielding a sword that might have been stolen from a fallen warrior and now carries his DNA. Who knows? I don’t. Any state capable of producing Ed Gein, Arthur Bremer and Jeffrey Dahmer is capable of anything. The Blu-ray package adds a commentary and interview with Zaphiratos, and an interview with cinematographer Vladimir Van Maule.

Blood Feast/Scum of the Earth: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Nothing says exploitation like a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie … or two. Arrow Video presents one of his earliest gore-fests in a package that almost puts Criterion Collection to shame. Released in 1964, Blood Feast gave Lewis a brief respite between his early “nudie-cutie” and “nudist camp” successes. To save money, he not only wrote and directed the picture, he also composed the musical score. The special effects may have been primitive, but, in color, the blood and gore were almost too much to stomach. The nudity served the plot … not that anyone was keeping score. Blood Feast made a lot of money for Lewis and longtime partner David F. Friedman. As for the story, well, Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton) wants to throw a party unlike any other, so she hires sinister Fuad Ramses to cater the event. Promising to provide her guests with an authentic Egyptian feast, Ramses (Mal Arnold) sets about acquiring the necessary ingredients: the body parts of nubile young women. Scum of the Earth (1963) plays like an expose of the “body modeling” industry, in which pretty girls are lured by the promise of easy money and, then, trapped into revealing more of their bodies than they intended. It’s Lewis’ last black-and-white film. The package adds “Blood Perspectives: Filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy and Rodney Ascher on Blood Feast”; “Herschell’s History,” an archival interview, in which Lewis discusses his entry into the film industry; “How Herschell Found his Niche,” a new interview with Lewis discussing his early work; a lively archival interview with Lewis and Friedman; “Carving Magic,” a vintage 1959 short film, featuring Blood Feast actor Bill Kerwin; outtakes; alternate ”clean” scenes from Scum of the Earth; a promo gallery; commentary featuring Lewis and David F. Friedman, moderated by Mike Grady; reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil.

Slaughter High: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Although Slaughter High (1986) is a standard-issue revenge flick, with a few interesting kills and thrills, its backstory is wacky enough to make it stand out from the crowd. For one thing, it took three grown-ups — George Dugdale, Mark Ezra and Peter Mackenzie Litten – to write and direct the 90-minute splatter thriller. It also is the rare American high school picture shot entirely in England, with British actors adopting American accents and some students from back home thrown in for seasoning. Pin-up model and actress Caroline Munro was 35 when hired to play the snooty prom queen. The original title, “April Fool’s Day,” was changed to Slaughter High to avoid clashing with a Paramount project. Otherwise, it’s a revenge-of-the-class-nerd story that plays out at a 5-year reunion. The Lionsgate/Vestron package adds commentary with co-writers/directors George Dugdale and Peter Litten; an interview with composer Harry Manfredini, featuring isolated music and SFX Selections; ”Going to Pieces” featurette, with co-writer/director Mark Ezra; ”My Days at Doddsville,” with Munro; an alternate title sequence; and stills gallery.

Mind Blown
In this Syfy original, a team of telekinetics — code-named Project Mind Blown — has been assembled in a top-secret facility. It was conceived of as a deterrence to Soviet experiments in ESP and mild control. When Cold War ended, the geniuses at the Pentagon decided to retain the program and keep the team handy, just in case it’s needed. The psychics’ may have the power to shake the earth or bring rain to drought-starved areas, but they’ve been assured their abilities will be used to do good for humanity. What fun would that be, though? One day, in Los Angeles, a panic is caused when earthquakes topple buildings and tornadoes fill the sky. When the Special Ops crew flies in to view the damage, it’s as if nothing has happened. Buildings still stand, the ground is whole, but dead bodies litter the streets. It’s like a neutron bomb was dropped. Telekinetic Jennifer Gaines (Jessica Uberuaga) concludes, instead, that a sinister force has stolen the technology and is preparing for an even more cataclysmic event. Like most Syfy movies, Mind Blown is safe viewing for most kids.

Where’s the Money
The University of Southern California is located within a few blocks in any direction from what are purported to be some of Los Angeles’ meanest streets. The campus is buffered somewhat by the Coliseum and several fine museums – as well as the car dealerships and fast-food spots on Figueroa Street – but, every so often, students make the mistake of thinking the area’s safe enough to allow a late-night stroll. News of the sometimes-fatal muggings resonate from USC’s student union and frat row, to the capitals of Asia from which many victims hail. Black-on-black crime in the same neighborhood rarely merits comment in the L.A. Times or TV  news. It isn’t the kind of setting one would normally expect for a comedy, even of the urban persuasion. That didn’t prevent co-writer/director Scott Zabielski (“Tosh.0”) from crafting his debut feature from the juxtaposition of academia and realities of ghetto life. In Where’s the Money, Andrew Bachelor (a.k.a., King Bach) plays a young man from South Central, ordered by his imprisoned father (Method Man) to find the stolen cash he and his brother (Terry Crews) stashed within the walls of what’s now an all-white USC frat house. The only way for Del to accomplish such a feat is to convince the frat boys that they are in dire need of a token black face and he’s the right guy for the task. What he doesn’t expect are the belittling hazing rituals he’s required to undergo to earn their trust. He’s also surprised by the frightening appearance of his thuggish uncle, who demands that Del find the money and turn it over to him, at gunpoint. If that doesn’t sound funny – or remotely plausible – it’s only because it isn’t. The very-decent cast includes Logan Paul (“Foursome”), Kat Graham (“The Vampire Diaries”), Josh Brener (“Silicon Valley”), Allen Maldonado (“Black-ish”), Retta (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”) and Devon Werkheiser (“Greek”). If it’s possible for a comedy to be too stupid to be racist, it’s Where’s the Money.

Warrior: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
At the time of Warrior’s release into Blu-ray, I wondered why Lionsgate spent $25 million on a movie set in the world of MMA and UFC fighters, even if the principals were represented by Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. Typically, such fighting-genre films were made for a fraction of that amount and went straight to DVD, sometimes bypassing Blu-ray altogether. There was nothing wrong with Gavin O’Connor’s merger of unbridled action and family melodrama, but, by then, Nolte had played an alcoholic so often that the novelty had worn off. (O’Connor would go on to make The Accountant.) Edgerton and Hardy play the estranged sons destined to meet in the octagonal ring to settle scores and earn the money they think is due them. Lionsgate has tended, lately, to release 4K editions of movies that wouldn’t seem to warrant such an effort. All of the bonus features from the 2011 Blu-ray appear to have been ported over to the 4K, including commentary, a documentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel, featurettes and “Full Contact: Enhanced Viewing Mode.”

TV-to-DVD
PBS: American Masters: Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
PBS: Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu: The Complete Second Season UK Edition
PBS: Farewell Ferris Wheel
PBS: SAS: Rogue Warriors
PBS: Tolkien & Lewis: Myth, Imagination & the Quest for Meaning
Smithsonian: The Real Story: Pirates of the Caribbean/Saving Private Ryan/Platoon
PBS Kids: Super Why: Sleeping Beauty & Other Fairytale Adventures
Nickelodeon: PAW Patrol: The Great Snow Rescue
Would Halloween be the same if Edgar Allan Poe never existed? Unlikely. His stories, poetry, art and mystique are so engrained in the American psyche that we’d have to rely on tales of witches, goblins and other leftovers from repressed Puritan superstition. As an editor, author and critic was able to see beyond witch hunts and religious hocus-pocus, to a country frightened over things a satanic messenger couldn’t have imagined. These included overt sexuality, premature death, inexplicable diseases, strained family relations and the many guises of madness. The “American Masters” presentation “Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive” begins its examination of Poe by looking back at his tortured childhood and exploring some of the myths surrounding his literary pursuits, Did he live the kind of life he attributed to others in his books? Was he, in fact, mad … an alcoholic? Perhaps. We do know that, throughout his young life, Poe was surrounded by death and the accoutrements of burial. It was a time when epidemics were commonplace and cemeteries were being reimagined as necropolises … the perfect habitats for ghosts and those souls condemned to walk the Earth forever.  By the time he was heavily in debt. He was expelled from West Point. He admired the work of Lord Byron. In “Buried Alive,” Tony Award-winning actor Denis O’Hare impersonates the author, while historians and literary scholars separate the legends from reality. He shares the reading duties with Chris Sarandon. A making-of featurette and readings are included.

In Season Two of the wonderfully eccentric “Masterpiece” presentation, “The Durrells in Corfu,” sparky English widow Louisa Durrell and her brood continue to put down roots in their dilapidated rented house, alongside an ever-increasing menagerie of animals brought home by youngest son Gerry. Based on Gerald Durrell’s trilogy of Corfu novels, the popular ITV mini-series chronicles the family’s struggle to settle into the community of Greek islanders and pay their aggressive new landlady, Vasilia (Errika Bigiou), who sees Louisa (Keeley Hawes) as a love rival for charming playboy, Hugh (Daniel Lapaine). The Durrells resort to selling typical British produce at the market, but accidentally poisoning the locals isn’t the best way to start a new business. Gerry comes up with a plan to breed otters. Leslie decides to launch his own business after hearing how Pavlos makes his own liquor. Larry leaves home when his novel is published in England. The UK-version includes making-of material and a Series One recap.

Filmed over the span of six years, “Farewell, Ferris Wheel” follows a carnival owner, a labor-recruiter and workers from a small town in Mexico, who join the carnival legally on seasonal visas. It is an honest on-the-ground portrait of the financial, emotional and physical challenges they all face. Increased regulations are compromising this longstanding connection, putting both the industry and its workers in jeopardy.

Journalist and author Ben Macintyre uses the archives of the Special Air Service to examine the history of the famed British Army special forces unit. He combines documents, unseen footage and interviews to tell its story, which began in North Africa, in 1941, when an eccentric young British Army officer had a vision for a new kind of war. “SAS: Rogue Warriors” concludes in 1943, when the service left the deserts of North Africa for mainland Europe, entering a darker and more complex theater of war.

PBS’ “Tolkien & Lewis: Myth, Imagination & the Quest for Meaning” describes a dreary September evening in 1931, when C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friend and fellow scholar, Hugo Dyson, met for dinner and debate in Lewis’s Magdalen College dormitory in Oxford, England. Lewis’s transformation from atheist to theist to Christian was based on the insights of Tolkien and Dyson, as they engaged in deep conversation about mythology, reality, ritual, imagination and faith. The one-hour documentary explores the fundamental characteristics of myth in a global context, with an emphasis on how it impacts our lives: what traits are common among various cultures and faiths? how does myth inspire the imagination, especially the imaginative process of Tolkien and Lewis? in what ways does faith play into the fantasy and fictional works of Lewis and Tolkien?

PBS has begun distributing select episodes from Smithsonian Channel’s limited series, “The Real Story,” which performs the valuable service of separating fact from fiction in movies “based on true stories.” I say “valuable service” knowing full well that a good many viewers couldn’t care less if what they’re seeing is true or embellished (a.k.a., “poetic license”). The next batch includes
the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Saving Private Ryan and Platoon.

In “PBS Kids: Super Why: Sleeping Beauty & Other Fairytale Adventures,” Sleeping Beauty has decided to lay around and be bored in peace. Super Why and the gang use their literacy powers to encourage her to try new things. Then, the Super Readers help a princess and a frog learn how to compromise and play together. Super Why and his friends also discover the secrets of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” Nickelodeon’s “PAW Patrol: The Great Snow Rescue” follows the gang as it braves snow in an all-new DVD collection. It features seven action-packed adventures.

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“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form.”
~ Lindy West