MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Wind River, Unlocked, In This Corner of the World, Funeral Parade of Roses, Zoology, Romero Redux, Indiscretion and more

Wind River: Blu-ray
Being an early favorite to be nominated for Best Picture is as far from a guarantee as there is in the prognostication game. Academy voters have a notoriously short memory and some awfully good filmmakers have had their hopes dashed only a few months after they were raised. Wind River may only be writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s second turn at the helm of a feature – his first, Vile, was released to little acclaim on DVD, in 2011 – but his spec scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water were turned into popular entertainments by Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie, respectively. The latter was nominated as Best Screenplay by Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Glove voters, so, going into this awards season, he’s hardly an unknown factor in Hollywood. Earlier this year, at Cannes, Sheridan was handed an Un Certain Regard, as director, for Wind River, while the picture, itself, was nominated in two other categories. It’s that good. Set on Wyoming’s sprawling Wind River Indian Reservation, but shot in the mountains of Utah, the chilly thriller follows a rookie FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who teams up with a high-altitude game tracker, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), to investigate the mysterious killing of a local girl in a remote corner of the rez. The badly-bruised victim wasn’t wearing clothes designed for the harsh weather when she was discovered by Lambert, who was tracking a rogue mountain lion preying on cattle. The nearest encampment is a drilling operation a couple of miles away and the men working there aren’t Native Americans. That’s only significant because tribal authorities wouldn’t be allowed to arrest or prosecute a non-Indian perpetrator. It explains why Banner has been assigned the task of investigating the crime, which she is ill-prepared to complete without the assistance of Lambert and the tribal police officer, Ben (Graham Greene). Normally, a pair of non-Indian cops would be personae non grata on the reservation, but, here, Lambert has personal ties within the Wind River community and has suffered a personal tragedy not unlike that felt by the dead girl’s family. Another death adds urgency to the investigation, but what makes Wind River compelling is how Sheridan integrates it into the depiction of life above the tree line both for humans and animals. (If Lambert hadn’t been in that part of the reservation that day, racing a storm, the girl’s body might not have been discovered until the spring thaw.) The contrast between the natural beauty of the mountains and harsh depiction of life on the reservation also is impossible to ignore.

Wind River’s summer release may not be the only negative impacting its awards’ chances. Although the DVD/Blu-ray release is being handled by Lionsgate, the domestic theatrical distribution was carried out under the now-disgraced banner of the Weinstein Company, with Harvey and his untainted brother Bob’s names attached as co-executive producers. When the stories about Harvey’s behavior towards women reached critical mass, Acacia Entertainment, a company owned by the Tunica-Biloxi tribes that largely funded the $10 million film, insisted that the Weinstein name be scrubbed from the movie in its home-video release. Neither will TWC participate in awards-season campaigns. Moreover, any future profits now will be directed to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. (In it its theatrical release, Wind River returned $33.8 million at the domestic box office.) TWC president David Glasser agreed to the ultimatum. Along with performances by Renner, Olsen and Greene, consideration should be accorded Sheridan’s direction and script, Ben Richardson’s cinematography and music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The package includes deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes video gallery.

Unlocked: Blu-ray
It’s difficult to imagine how any picture starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Toni Collette and Orlando Bloom, and directed by Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough), could fail to find a place on more than a small handful of American screens, at least for a weekend or two. That, however, is what happened to Unlocked, a spies-vs.-terrorists thriller that falls short in every almost category, except star power. Rapace delivers the goods as undercover CIA agent Alice Racine, who’s charged with preventing an upcoming bio-terror attack in London. No sooner does Racine extract key information from a courier for a notorious imam than she learns from her CIA/MI6 handlers (Malkovich, Collette) that she’s interrogating the right man, for the wrong agency. Within minutes, she’s attacked by a hit squad committed to stealing the intelligence and killing both Racine and the courier. She spends the rest of Unlocked being chased around London by gunmen and attempting to understand who she can trust. Once Racine thinks she’s figured it out – no need to spoil any of the plot twists – she discovers that someone has been planted in the agency to foil her investigation. If there were any doubts that Rapace could kick ass as well as Matt Damon and Jason Statham, she relieves of us them early in the loud and violent chases that follow. There are several points, however, when it becomes extremely difficult to parse the loyalties of the various hit squads and agency officials. Neither is it ever made clear which terrorist operation is planning the bio-attack. Screenwriter Peter O’Brien’s sole credits are for work he’s done on the “Halo” video-game series, where action always trumps logic. As convoluted and uninvolving as Unlocked can be, the screen lights up whenever Malkovich and Douglas pop up in the story. It doesn’t really matter what they’re required to say, either. Bloom and Collette aren’t bad, either. Take them out of the picture and it’s just another straight-to-video shoot-’em-up. The disc adds a making-of featurette.

Talon Falls
Amityville: The Awakening Blu-ray
I don’t know whose idea it was to shoot a horror film in an actual Halloween haunted house, but it worked well for writer/director Joshua Shreve, who didn’t even have to stretch for a title. Talon Falls could easily serve as a 75-minute infomercial for the Talon Falls Screampark, located in a forested patch of southwestern Kentucky. The attraction goes dark after Halloween, so there was probably plenty of time to take advantage of the buildings, monsters and implements of torture already installed there. Not surprisingly, a car full of teenagers stops at a dilapidated gas station, which appears to be abandoned but is inhabited by a fat hillbilly with a mysterious collection of VHS cassettes. After scaring the crap out of them, he directs the overamped quartet to the haunted house at Talon Falls. Sure enough, it’s every bit as scary as advertised … and far more realistic than any such scream park they’d previously experienced. Repulsed and thrilled in equal measures, they decide to investigate what’s happening behind the scenes. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that the “actors” aren’t mannequins or even really acting. They’re prisoners of a family of fiends, who wear hideous masks and wield fire axes and sledges hammers. The charred face of the character in the electric chair hasn’t been created by makeup-effects artists, either. By then, of course, it’s too late to escape the tormenters’ clutches. Spoiler: there’s a final girl. There’s also a making-of featurette.

And, speaking of haunted houses, the Big Kahuna of all such gateways to hell still can be found in Amityville, New York. Unfortunately, for Dimension/Weinstein interests, anyway, Amityville: The Awakening stumbled out of the gate and was only able to scare up $742 in gross revenues on its one-night-only release on the Saturday before Halloween. Considering that the umpteenth entry in the franchise – the first released theatrically since the 2005 remake of the original – had been scheduled for release into DVD/Blu-ray through Lionsgate so soon after the holiday, anyway, the “Hail Mary” strategy probably wasn’t a bad idea. Once again, Harvey Weinstein’s problems might have had something do with the meager distribution and marketing effort. It also debuted two weeks earlier on Google Play … for free. On the bright side, “Awakening,” has posted revenues of $7.4 million in the overseas marketplace. Not horrible, especially for a movie whose production and release have been postponed seven times in five years and was re-edited to fit the MPAA guidelines for a PG-13. “Awakening” is the first theatrically released “Amityville” film made from a completely original story. I use the term, “original,” advisedly. Here, Belle (Bella Thorne) and her siblings move into the famously demonic house, which was sold to her troubled mother, Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), for a song. Mom claims she needed a house that large to accommodate the unwieldy life-support equipment keeping her son, James (Cameron Monaghan), breathing. She’d recently lost her husband to cancer and wasn’t about to accept the opinions of strangers about her son’s condition. Neither has the youngest sister, Juliet (Mckenna Grace), given up hope. When James’ motor skills unexpectedly appear to kick into gear, what appears to be a miracle probably has more to do with Satanic meddling. “Awakening” delivers a few quick shocks to the system, but nothing terribly fresh. Completists might even enjoy it. It arrives with a making-of featurette.

In This Corner of the World: Blu-ray
Tam Cam: The Untold Story
It would be difficult to think of a less likely subject for an animated feature than life on the Japanese home front in the years leading up to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This isn’t because there weren’t compelling stories to be told about the civilians left behind by husbands, fathers and friends sent to war in name of Emperor Hirohito and ambitions of blood-thirsty nationalists. The characters we meet in In This Corner of the World, based on a manga by Fumiyo Kono, accept the rationale for war provided them by authorities and assume that victory is always somewhere in sight. We meet the protagonist, Suzu (Non), as a girl growing up in pastoral bliss, anticipating the same essential events in a woman’s life as were experienced by her mother, grandmother and others in their unexceptional lineage. In 1943, our newly-turned-18 protagonist leaves Ebi, a rural town in the Hiroshima prefecture, for an arranged marriage in Kure, a seaport about 14 miles from the doomed city. It’s been decided that her husband will be Shusaku Hojo (Yoshimasa Hosoya), the son of a naval engineer. While he’s a pretty good catch, his sisters aren’t nearly as kind to Suzu. Neither does the activity in the busy harbor betray the cold reality of Japan’s fortunes in the war and the family’s place in the country’s future. If shortages and rationing are only to be expected at such times, the deployment of women in factories and repurposing of kimonos as workplace attire come as a surprise. As the story progresses, the lighthearted tone established by co-writer/director Sunao Katabuchi (Mai Mai Miracle), changes to reflect the fear that comes from being bombed by an enemy that civilians assumed was decimated at Pearl Harbor. Still, Suzu strives for happiness, while anticipating the long-promised peace. When the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima by the still-faceless enemy, the horror is depicted in ways that are subtle, but realistic. The carnage is like nothing anyone in the world has ever seen or would believe possible in a single blow. The charred bodies of the dead are strewn around the demolished city like fallen leaves in a forest on the brink of winter. Survivors can’t differentiate between a burn caused by radiation and a bruise they may have suffered in a fall during the blast. Viewers know far more about what hit them than they do. The other sad fact of life in the dead zones is that survivors have no more of an idea whether their loved ones will return home intact than the soldiers and sailors who’ve been told about the ferocity of the atomic bombs and have yet to learn the fate of their family and homes. It’s a roundabout way to deliver an anti-war message, but it will resonate from Tokyo to Tonopah. The beautiful hand-drawn illustrations are of a piece with other Japanese animation to which we’ve become accustomed from Studio Ghibli. (Katabuchi was assistant director to Hayao Miyazaki on Kiki’s Delivery Service.) At a time when Americans are being told that they might become the next victims of a nuclear attack, it’s important to understand what the results might look like to innocents and non-combatants. The Shout!Factory package adds interviews and featurettes on the artistic process.

Most fairy-tale romances conclude with a cheery, “and, they lived happily ever after,” leaving readers and viewers to imagine what might constitute happiness in a royal marriage not complicated by the ravages of war or burdened with the cruel task of collecting taxes from peasants. Based on a traditional Vietnamese folk tale, Tam Cam: The Untold Story doesn’t really take flight until the slippers – in this case, golden – are matched and “ever after” becomes “today, tomorrow and the foreseeable future.” Set in a lovely corner of Vietnam, the story turns nasty very quickly. In fact, the king’s new bride, Tam, disappears from physical view after she’s murdered by her wicked stepmother and replaced by stepsister Cam. From this point on, the story is dominated by fairies, witches, conjurers and battles enhanced by Hong Kong-style wire work. Reincarnations aren’t out of the question, either. The lush locations and palace sets add to the fun. “Tam Cam” was directed by Veronica Ngo, who plays the stepmother and wrote new, “untold chapters” into her script. She did so specifically to showcase in key roles members of the boy-band 365, which she manages. (Ngo can also be seen in the new “Star Wars” installment.) If the special effects don’t always hold up under close scrutiny, it’s easy to see how Ngo’s meager budget might have forced her to choose between grade-A visuals and the colorful costumes, wigs and backgrounds.

Slamma Jamma
Way back in Jurassic Age of college basketball, NCAA officials determined that UCLA phenom Lew Alcindor – later, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – had too great an edge on players from other teams, primarily because he could “dunk” the basketball. Rather than celebrate Alcindor’s obvious superiority, the NCAA decided to nip it in the bud by forbidding dunking as an offensive weapon. The ban lasted from 1967 to 1976. It wasn’t a new move, by any means. Seven-foot-tall Oklahoma Aggie and two-time Olympian Bob Kurland is credited with introducing dunking to the game in the mid-1940s. At 6-foot-10, the brilliant DePaul center George Mikan was the only other player who could go toe-to-toe with Kurland. Their prowess convinced NCAA rules makers to widen “the lane” from 6 to 12 feet; outlaw defensive goaltending; enforce three-second violations; and introduce the 24-second clock to the NBA. With their fluidity and athleticism, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain added a dimension to the center’s position that Kurland and Mikan lacked. Yes, they were white, but so were most players in the NBA and NCAA at mid-century. The ban, which many considered to be racially motivated, fell far short of crippling Alcindor’s game, which perfectly complemented the talents of John Wooden’s recruits to the Westwood campus. Similarly, the collegiate ban against “spiking” the football after a touchdown – a celebratory act, mimicking the slam dunk, attributed to Homer Jones of the New York Giants, in 1965 – was similarly greeted with skepticism by fans, who saw it as an attempt to contain the enthusiasm of black players. When the NFL attempted to eliminate all end-zone demonstrations, in 2016, it only took a year for the competition committee to recognize the blunder. It’s against this historical background that I considered the faith-based sports drama, Slamma Jamma, written and directed by Timothy A. Chey (The Epic Journey). The filmmaker may not have been born when sportswriter Thomas Bonk nicknamed the University of Houston’s men’s basketball squad, Phi Slama Jama, and it stuck a chord among fans Along with Louisville’s “doctors of dunk,” the “tallest fraternity in Texas” popularized the daredevil “above the rim” style of play that pervades college basketball to the present day and helped launch the rabid brand-name popularity of March Madness. In the professional ranks, the annual Slam Dunk Contest was inaugurated by the old American Basketball Association, at its All-Star Game, in 1976, the same year that the ABA and NBA merged. It wasn’t until 1984 that the reconstituted league reintroduced what has become a highlight of the All-Star Weekend. By extension, then, it’s possible to see how Slamma Jamma, owes its title, at least, to Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, et al.

It tells the story of a former college basketball star and slam-dunk champion, Michael Diggs (Chris Staples), whose pursuit of NBA glory was thwarted when he inadvertently became an accessory to the robbery of a gun merchant, in which a murder was committed. Instead of cutting some slack for the mostly innocent young man, who stood to become an instant millionaire in the draft, the judge decided to make an example of him. After spending six years in prison, during which time he found religion, Diggs returns home here in search of redemption. He would settle for a job that paid enough money to provide his seriously ill mother with proper medical care, but that’s not as easy to come by for ex-cons. In the interim, Diggs’ brother has turned to crime to make money, and his former girlfriend is coupled with an old rival. The only people willing to look beyond his soiled reputation are the playlot ballers, who require him earn their respect on the court. Knowing that a minimum-wage job will only take a convicted felon so far in L.A., a local priest offers him an opportunity to rehab a neighborhood church in his spare time. Ultimately, Diggs will test himself, once again, in an international slam-dunk contest that’s conveniently being staged in Santa Monica. Made on a budget reported to be $1 million, it wouldn’t be logical to think that Slamma Jamma would resemble a studio production. It cuts all sorts of corners to reach an ending that could be foreseen 10 minutes into the narrative. The acting is only as good as it has to be. As is the case with so many other faith-based pictures, Chey knows that his target audience will forgive the movie’s flaws, in return for a strong spiritual message and credible Christian characters. In that respect, Slamma Jamma delivers the goods. I could have very easily lived without a cameo by Jose Canseco, however.

Funeral Parade of Roses: Blu-ray
Desert Hearts: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
If Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses isn’t always listed alongside the films of Kenneth Anger as seminal influences on the New Queer Cinema, it’s only because the kaleidoscopic study of life in Tokyo’s gay demi-monde quickly disappeared from view after its limited American release in 1970. Pigeonholed among other experimental works of the late-1960s, it was, in fact, an accomplished work of New Wave cinema influenced by Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and Pier Paolo Pasolini and as confidently rendered as any indie film made in the U.S. at the time. Stanley Kubrick would cite the film as a direct influence on A Clockwork Orange. After being restored in 4K from its original black-and-white negative and sound elements, the Cinelicious Pics release looks as if it might be relating a contemporary story, instead of one that is of historic significance to the LGBT community. Funeral Parade of Roses follows Edie Sedgwick look-alike Eddie (Shinnosuke Ikehata), a hostess at Tokyo’s Bar Genet, in her day-to-day ramblings and a violent love-triangle with reigning drag queen, Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), for the attention of club owner Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Best known for his experimental and documentary short films, Matsumoto bends and distorts time, as in Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, while freely mixing interviews, Brechtian film-within-a-film asides, Oedipal premonitions of disaster, his own avant-garde shorts, and on-screen cartoon balloons, enhanced by fuzz bass and performance art. Whether she’s laughing with drunken businessmen, eating ice cream with her girlfriends or fighting in the streets with a local girl gang, Ikehata’s ravishing Eddie is something to behold. “She has bad manners, all she knows is coquetry,” complains her rival Leda. In fact, Eddie is an indefatigable force throughout Matsumoto’s drama. The Blu-ray package includes eight newly remastered avant-garde short films by the director; audio commentary by Chris D; original marketing material; and a new essay by Hirofumi Sakamoto, director of the Postwar Japan Moving Image Archive.

Also enhanced by a fresh 4K digital transfer, Desert Hearts (1985) has long been regarded as one of the most influential and widely seen LGBT films of all time. While its explicit depiction of lesbian sexuality is the film’s centerpiece, the honest portrayal of a soon-to-be-divorced woman’s coming out in Reno, 1959, is what allowed Donna Deitch’s debut feature to excel on the arthouse circuit. Natalie Cooper’s screenplay is based on Jane Rule’s 1964 novel, “Desert of the Heart,” itself a landmark work. Straitlaced east-coast professor Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) arrives in Reno to file for divorce and wait out the residency requirement, at a dude ranch established for just such occasions. She quickly winds up catching the eye of the significantly younger and infinitely more free-spirited Cay (Patricia Charbonneau). It touches off a slow seduction that unfolds against a breathtaking desert landscape, vividly captured by cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood). No one should be surprised to learn that Desert Hearts was an entirely independent production, made on a self-financed shoestring budget, or that casting directors predicted that the careers of the lead actors would be severely damaged by participating in it. While it hardly registered as a speed bump for Shaver, Charbonneau’s resume mostly contains supporting roles in films and guest-star bits in television series, through the 1990s and early oughts. (Neither did Marielle Hemingway’s honest depiction of a bisexual athlete, in Robert Towne’s excellent 1982 drama Personal Best, interfere with her blossoming career.) The chemistry between the lead characters – and, by extension, the actresses – remains palpable. The Criterion Collection set adds vintage commentary with director Donna Deitch; new conversations between Deitch and actor Jane Lynch, and Deitch, Elswit and production designer Jeannine Oppewall; fresh interviews with Shaver and Charbonneau; an excerpt from “Fiction and Other Truths: A Film About Jane Rule,” a 1995 documentary about the author of “Desert of the Heart”; and an essay by critic B. Ruby Rich, who’s been credited with coining the term, New Queer Cinema.

Zoology: Blu-ray
How does a rising writer-director create a non-exploitative drama about a woman, who, at a certain age,, develops a distinctive physical deformity, without demeaning the character or turning his film into a freak show or dark comedy? Unfortunately, the nature of the lead character’s malady prevents me from answering that question, without posting an easily ignored spoiler alert. Indeed, in his sophomore feature, Russian writer/director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy waits until the second or third reel to reveal the movie’s crucial element. Instead, he builds to the moment by fleshing out the character of Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova), a lonely, middle-aged woman, who’s overweight and almost intentionally unattractive. She holds an administrative position at a Crimean zoo – thus, the title, Zoology — where her co-workers delight in taunting her and she spends her off-hours sharing food with her only friends, the animals. Natasha lives with her God-fearing mother and leads a dull existence without prospects. The bizarre change in her appearance is greeted more with apprehension than shock, perhaps because it isn’t immediately visible to others, and it’s only one more thing for her to mourn. Nonetheless, she chooses to visit a handsome, young radiologist, Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), to see what can be done about it. The X-rays don’t immediately pan out, but it doesn’t prevent doctor and patient from crushing on each other. Even as the relationship appears to blossom, however, Natasha makes it difficult for Peter to give in to love. While the strangely affecting Zoology can stand on its own merits, it may remind viewers of genre-bending films by David Cronenberg and Aki Kaurismäki. The Blu-ray adds interviews with Tverdovskiy and Groshev, critical analysis and an illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Michael Brooke.

J.D.’s Revenge: Special Edition:  Blu-ray
This late-period blaxploitation flick was given short-shrift by AIP executives upon its release in 1976, mainly because they insisted on seeing an early print of the work-in-progress, in black-and-white, and it made no sense to them. That’s because the supernatural thriller, J.D.’s Revenge, involved flashbacks and flash-forwards that were shot out of order and characters whose appearance necessarily changed over time. Thanks to the archivists at Arrow Video, their loss was our gain. After a dinner date, a mild-mannered New Orleans law student, Ike (Glynn Turman), indulges his girlfriend’s whim by participating in a hypnotism show at a Bourbon Street bistro. While audience members enjoy the silly antics of the other participants, Ike suffers mysterious impressions that smack of déjà vu. In fact, he’s channeling the spirit of an old-school gangster, J.D. Walker (David McKnight), who was accused of a heinous crime he didn’t commit. J.D. was framed for killing his sister, Betty Jo (Alice Jubert), who was married to his archenemy Elija Bliss (Louis Gossett Jr.). Elija discovers J.D. standing over Betty Jo’s body and has him shot on the spot by the actual assailant (Fred Pinkard). When he isn’t studying for the law boards or driving a cab, Ike assumes the characteristics of the razor-toting, zoot-suit-wearing J.D., whose violent nature manifests itself in a frightening incident with the elderly passenger in his cab, an attack on the jealous husband of a one-night stand and attempted rape of his girlfriend, Christella (Joan Pringle). At the time, Turman was just coming off a breakthrough performance in Cooley High, while perennial television guest star Gossett was a year away from his standout portrayals of the dangerous Haitian drug dealer Henry Cloche, in The Deep, and Fiddler, in “Roots.” In a neat gag, director Arthur Marks (Friday Foster) even required Turman and Pinkard to wear conk wigs. After 40 years, J.D.’s Revenge holds up as well as, or better than, most other blaxploitation titles. The Blu-ray features a new 2K restoration from original film elements; fresh interviews with producer/director Marks, Turman, Pinkard and Jaison Starkes (The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh); trailers from such Marksian exploitation efforts as The Monkey Hu$tle, Friday Foster, Bucktown, A Woman for All Men and Bonnie’s Kids; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips; and a booklet containing new writing by Kim Newman, author of “Nightmare Movies.”

George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn: Blu-ray
In the wake of George A. Romero’s death, last July, at 77, distributors with access to his work have rushed to turn out Blu-rays that represent both his zombie epics and early obscurities. As the title of this Arrow Video set suggests, the trio of films included here were released between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978). Those of you keeping score at home might already know that There’s Always Vanilla (a.k.a., “The Affair”), Season of the Witch (a.k.a., “Jack’s Wife,” “Hungry Wives”) and The Crazies, were sandwiched between “Living Dead” and Romero’s sports documentary, “O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose.” The rest is horror history. Although none holds up to scrutiny today, each title bears one of Romero’s fingerprints, at least.  If nothing else, they share Pittsburgh locations with most of his other pictures. There’s Always Vanilla, which suffered from being written by someone other than the master, was an exercise in post-hippie angst. A footloose young man (Raymond Lane) returns to his hometown and, after showing no great interest in finding a job, moves in with an aspiring actress (Judith Ridley), who provides him with emotional and financial support. Before long, Lynn tires of Chris’ lack of ambition and he stops listening to her complaints about doing commercials for toilet cleansers. Made in 1971, two years before Rowe v. Wade was decided, Lynn’s pregnancy pushes the relationship to its breaking point. Chris re-establishes ties to a boy who may or may not be his son, while Lynn decides to have a back-alley abortion, rather than tell her lover. The chemistry between the lead actors and their characters can’t be denied, even if everyone else involved in the picture disowns it in a bonus featurette.

Season of the Witch is a far more interesting movie, positioned to take advantage of the nascent feminist movement and its slow advance into Suburban America. Joan Mitchell (Jan White) is a Pittsburgh housewife – as homebound women were identified, back in the day — whose dissatisfaction with her humdrum life and frequently absent husband causes her to seek solace in the occult, which has become a topic of discussion in her canasta circle. After visiting local herbs merchant Marion Hamilton — a tarot reader and leader of a secret black-arts coven — she comes to believe that she possesses wiccan powers. She begins slowly, by conjuring a visit from a local lothario for the purposes of satisfying her pent-up sexual desires. Even though the guy probably would have paid Joan a visit, anyway, after hearing that her husband was out of town, it helps convince her that she’s on the right track. Afterwards, she withdraws into a fantasy world of witchcraft and other hocus-pocus, sinking increasingly deeper into her new lifestyle. Finally, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred and tragedy results. White, the rare professional actor in an early Romero film, carries Season of the Witch with her entirely credible impression of a hot and sexy MILF. Released in 1973, The Crazies is a straight-forward cautionary tale from the Cold War period. After a plane crashes into a nearby stream, residents of small rural town in west Pennsylvania start behaving like murderous loonies. What the federal troops and medical personnel know that the populace doesn’t is that the plane carried a vial, or two, of a weapons-grade virus. Dressed in white Hazmat uniforms and masks, the troops might as well be aliens from a belligerent culture on another planet. They don’t answer questions or refrain from pointing their weapons at anyone who tries to leave the quarantine zones. Finally, the enraged citizens take matters into their own hands. Even on a budget reported to be in the neighborhood of $270,000, for Romero The Crazies reflects a quantum leap forward in production and creative values.

Romero buffs likely will be as excited by the bonus features as the films, which mostly qualify as curiosities. Each newly restored disc adds fresh and vintage commentaries and featurettes; interviews with cast and crew members; galleries; commemorative booklets; marketing material; and newly-commissioned artwork. The best added feature is “When Romero Met Del Toro,” in which kindred filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro chats with George Romero in a comfy living-room setting.

Evil in the Time of Heroes
Island of the Burning Damned
In last month’s review of Shout!Factory’s Land of the Dead re-release, we noted the bonus featurette, “Sean Meets George,” in which Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright paid a set visit to George A. Romero and briefly ended up playing zombies in a wild scene. Among other things, it demonstrated Romero’s willingness to embrace the creators of the Dawn of the Dead parody, Sean of the Dead, but also their acknowledgement of the Master of the Undead’s influence beyond traditional genre lines. As noted in the review of Season of the Witch (above), the delightful conversation, “When Romero Met Del Toro,” reveals just how great an impression Night of the Living Dead left on aspiring filmmakers upon their first viewing, years earlier. “Sean” opened the door to an international buffet of parodies and homages, specific to the countries of original: Juan of the Dead (Cuba), Cockneys vs. Zombies and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (England), Seoul Station and Train to Busan (Korea), La Horde (France), Kill Zombie! (Holland), Berlin Undead (Germany), Schoolgirl Apocalypse (Japan), Zombio 2: Chimarrão Zombies (Brazil), Zombiehagen (Denmark), Dead Snow (Norway), Warm Bodies, Fido and, of course, MILFS vs. Zombies (USA). I’m sure that I’m missing a few hundred other Romero-inspired titles, but you get the picture. Greece hasn’t been immune to the zombie apocalypse, either. Giorgos Nousias’ Evil (2005) was an Athens-based variant on 28 Days Later, with a fast-spreading virus turning bitten humans into fast-moving, cannibalistic monsters. While his 2009 follow-up, Evil in the Time of Heroes – newly available in DVD, from Doppelganger Releasing – picks up where that gorefest left off, it also traces the affliction to ancient Greece, where it was planted in the Athenian soil like a time-release plague. Conveniently, a mysterious cloaked hero, Prophitis (Billy Zane), is sent by the gods to rescue the uninfected humans. Flash ahead a few millennia and survivors Melitis, Marina, Jenny and Vakirtzis are still on the run from the endless onslaught of zombies that threatened Greece in the original. Apparently, the outbreak has been checked at Greece’s boundaries with its northern neighbors, because the United Nations has decided to bomb the Cradle of Democracy back to the Stone Age to end the threat to mankind. It has given survivors a few days to escape, but it won’t be easy. Fortuitously, the gods have re-enlisted Prophitis for duty in modern Athens. Horror buffs should know that Evil in the Time of Heroes is only slightly less amusing than it is gory, which is to say that it’s lots of fun … even in the native tongue. Zane may be a founding member of the Straight-to-Video Hall of Fame, but he still sells DVDs off his performances in Titanic, Zoolander and the ongoing Sniper series. The Chicago native also speaks fluent Greek. If the special makeup effects don’t measure up to the carnage inflicted on the characters in other zombie epics – the actors and extras volunteered their time – the cheesiness quickly is integrated into the comedy.

Fans of Hammer Horror can safely ignore the presence of such studio stalwarts as director Terence Fisher and actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the half-baked sci-fi misfire, Island of the Burning Damned (a.k.a., “Night of the Big Heat,” “Island of the Burning Doomed”). The trio had worked together on such Hammer classics as Horror of Dracula and The Mummy, but briefly left home for Planet Film Productions, which produced all of five mid-1960s genre specimens, none of which are memorable. While mainland Britain shivers in deepest winter, the Scottish island of Fara bakes, with temps in the 90s … and the mercury is rising. The only ones who appear to know what’s happening are the sodden blokes at the local pub, the Swan. Although no one has actually seen any aliens and global warming had yet to be invented, it stood to reason that invaders from outer space were responsible. If nothing else, the influx of visitors, combined with the unusual heat wave, the Swan’s proprietor sold a lot of ale. Adding to the rise in temperatures is the unwelcome arrival of steamy hot Jane Merrow, who plays the former lover of a decidedly married local author (Patrick Allen). Lee and Cushing play scientists looking for the source of the heat wave, but, like everyone else on the island and audience, wind up spending most of their time in the pub. For most of the movie the romantic entanglement supersedes anything else in the story, which is just as well, because the aliens are none too impressive. The distributor, Cheezy Movies, doesn’t pretend otherwise.

Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait: Blu-ray
Julian Schnabel’s stature as one of our greatest living artists and a remarkably intuitive filmmaker – Basquiat, Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — is never in doubt in Pappi Corsicato’s gushing biodoc, Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait. The fact that his genius has been challenged in the past is mentioned, but left to hang in midair, like an untethered question mark. I took me a while to notice that the artist is also listed as an executive producer, but it explains why the film feels more like a testimonial than the critical retrospective some viewers might have expected. In addition to chronicling the Brooklyn-born Schnabel’s formative years in Brownsville, Texas, and beginning of his professional career in New York City in the late 1970s, the “Portrait” traces his rise to superstar status in Manhattan’s art scene and international acclaim as a leading figure in the Neo-Expressionism movement. Time is spent on the set of his movies, inside studios large enough to accommodate his outsized canvases and homes in Montauk, Long Island, and Manhattan’s West Village. We also spend time with him and family members on vacations in seaside villas that would be the envy of the gods. The problem is that Schnabel’s ego, posturing and ostentatious lifestyle effectively distance the subject from merely mortal viewers. Neither does the fawning commentary from friends, family, actors and artists, including Al Pacino, Mary Boone, Jeff Koons, Bono and Laurie Anderson, offer much insight into the subject at hand. Even his contributions to a memorial to the late Lou Reed, while admirable, reflect more on Schnabel than the musician. Even so, anyone looking for a starting point in their approach to the man and his work could do worse than this extended edition of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Finding Joseph I: The HR From Bad Brains: Documentary
Whose Streets?
In the 70 years since Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry put their permanent imprints on rock-’n’-roll, distinguishing it from R&B and rockabilly, the number of African-American rock groups could be counted on the fingers of two hands. A straight line can be drawn from the founding fathers through Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee, Sly & the Family Stone and the Chambers Brothers, to Mandrill, Living Colour, Fishbone and the BusBoys, and on to Prince, James Blood Ulmer and Lenny Kravitz. If listeners tended not to differentiate rock from the R&B of Ike &Tina Turner, the reggae of Bob Marley & the Wailers, Latino rock of Cyprus Hill and War, the funk of James Brown and Funkadelic, soul of Stevie Wonder, blues of John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal, hip-hop of Public Enemy and N.W.A. and gumbo soul of the Neville Brothers, but radio stations and record labels sure did. Bad Brains stood out for being in the forefront of the early-1980s hardcore punk scene, but also for embracing reggae, funk, heavy metal, hip hop and soul. James Lathos’ Finding Joseph I: The HR From Bad Brains chronicles the eccentric life and musical inclinations of the band’s frontman, Paul “H.R.” Hudson. (The initials stand for Human Rights.) The band began its life in 1976 as Mind Power, a jazz-fusion ensemble composed of musicians from Washington, D.C. A year later, it took an abrupt left turn into the city’s burgeoning hardcore-punk movement, which incorporated elements of heavy metal and reggae. The band moved to New York in 1979, after being the subject of an unofficial ban among Washington, D.C., area clubs and performance venues. The documentary describes H.R.’s battles with schizophrenia – along with SUNCT, a rare neurological disorder that causes occasional excruciating headaches – and their negative effects on the band. Rastafarianism plays a key role in the story of the band, which has experienced many changes in the 40 years of its sporadic existence. As is the case with many schizophrenics, H.R. is alternately lucid and incomprehensible. The doc probably will be of interest exclusively to people who already are aware of Bad Brains’ contributions to rock and reggae. There isn’t enough music included to form opinions on its worth, one way or the other. For that, Lathos has called upon friends, peers and collaborators, who recall the highs and lows, while sharing their happiness that H.R. is still among the living.

When I reviewed In His Own Home last week, I wasn’t aware of Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’ Whose Streets? The former describes what happened when trigger-happy campus police shot and nearly killed a Ghanaian graduate student for the crime of disturbing a neighbor. It went on to discuss the propensity of police around the country to militarize their departments, thus making it even easier for such deviations from protocol to happen. That film appeared to suffer from lack of funds that might have allowed Malini Schueller to broaden the investigation. Whose Streets? is a far more polished film about a case that received international attention and inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. The tight focus here is on the reaction of African-American residents of Ferguson, Missouri, when unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed by police and left lying in the street for hours. The story is told by the activists, relatives and participants in the uprising that followed the boy’s death, one of several such incidents that occurred in 2014-15. Once again, the police reacted to the initial protests as if they were in Afghanistan, surrounded by Taliban forces, by calling in National Guard reinforcements and further limiting the movements of the citizenry. If the film isn’t as even-handed as some documentarians would prefer, I suspect that police weren’t allowed to respond, possibly due to ongoing litigation.

The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson
Although British puppeteer Gerry Anderson’s sci-fi creations look primitive today, it’s interesting to note that “Supercar,” “Fireball XL5,” “Thunderbirds” and “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” were introduced only a few years before or concurrently with “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The stories about space exploration, espionage and other Cold War intrigues integrated pint-sized marionettes into live-action scenarios, not unlike Hollywood genre fare. Because the Supermarionation process limited the puppets’ movements to upper-torso and facial features, leaving the characters’ legs looking paralyzed, the effect bordered on the comical … unless, of course, you were a kid and possessed an ability to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the storylines. Blu-ray and DVD compilations of episodes from Anderson’s shows have already been released, but “The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson” serves as a DVD debut for his rarely seen films, ranging from “Here Comes Kandy” (1955) to the final segment of the stop-motion animated comedy series, “Dick Spanner, P.I.” (1987). Also included are Anderson’s pilot films, “The Investigator” — the last Supermarionation project from the original key crew; “The Day After Tomorrow,” an obscure telemovie concept that spanned the production of “Space: 1999” (1975-77), which starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain; and “Space Police,” a sci-fi adventure that served as the template for “Space Precinct.” There’s also a commemorative postcard signed by Anderson’s son and head of Anderson Entertainment.

TV-to-DVD
Lifetime: Indiscretion
PBS: NOVA: Eclipse Over America
D.C. Follies: The Complete Series
Mussolini: Untold Story
Nickelodeon: Albert: A Small Tree with a Big Dream
Nickelodeon: Regal Academy: Rose Cinderella in Fairy Tale Land
If the wife of a political candidate is smart enough to be a practicing psychiatrist and possesses Mira Sorvino’s looks, why, in God’s name, would she risk everything, including her life and marriage, by having an affair with a heavily tattooed artist being treated by another psychiatrist, with whom she’s friendly. Sorvino, who, at 50, has never looked more radiant, plays the shrink, who falls for a hulking bohemian type most people would guess was dangerously off his rocker, if only by the sculptures on display in his gallery exhibit. It’s where Dr. Veronica Simon meets Victor, played by Sorvino’s real-life husband, Christopher Backus, who’s 14 years younger than the Oscar-winning actress. So, that much at least makes sense in the Lifetime Original Movie, Indiscretion. Plus, the story is set in New Orleans, a city where appearances of normalcy are never to be trusted. While Veronica’s husband is out of town courting backers, she decides to sample the delights of Bourbon Street with her new friend, after which they play hide-and-seek in a warehouse full of krewe paraphernalia for Mardi Gras. After one weekend of adulterous bliss, Veronica has decided to bid adieu to her lover and swear allegiance to her husband (Cary Elwes), who’s believed to have had an affair of his own. As could have been anticipated by anyone who’s seen Unfaithful, or a dozen other such passion plays, Victor has decided that Veronica is the love of his life and nothing she says can dissuade him from acting on it. When she refuses to return his obsessive affections, he devises a way to squeeze her, using her daughter as leverage and befriending her husband by chatting up their mutual hunting skills. I’m pleased, if not completely shocked to report that Indiscretion has followed in the footsteps of Lifetime movies that go beyond the usual stereotypes and don’t require a box of tissues to sit through. John Stewart Muller’s direction may have its shortcomings, but they aren’t of the paint-by-number variety. Neither should husbands or boyfriends dismiss it as just another Lifetime weeper. The DVD also appears to have unfiltered some of the naughty language removed from the original presentation.

Now that President Trump has bravely demonstrated that concern about being blinded by staring directly at the sun during an eclipse – brain damage was never an issue, apparently — it’s worth checking out some of the other things eclipse-science researchers learned. Apparently, a lot. In what is being described as the fastest “NOVA” turnaround film to date, producers for “Eclipse Over America” followed teams working on the forefront of solar science and solar-storm detection. In doing so, they employ user-generated content, NASA footage and immersive CGI animation to reveal the sun’s secret mechanisms and integrate stunning sequences of the eclipse itself, including scenes filmed at familiar locations along the path of the eclipse. At its apex, the eclipse left a lunar shadow that was 73 miles wide, across a path that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina, allowing continuous observation for 90 minutes. Anyone with enough money could lease a plane to follow the eclipse across the country, without leaving the shadow.

Shout! Factory’s release of Sid and Marty Krofft’s syndicated comedy series, “D.C. Follies,” recalls a period in American history when compromise wasn’t a dirty work and Republicans and Democrats could find common ground for laughs, instead of a mutual fear that World War III is just around the corner. The show’s use of puppets that mimicked pop culture and political figures was similar to the British series, “Spitting Image,” and the nearly life-size cast of characters wasn’t limited to familiar inside-the-Beltway faces. They ranged from Moscow, London and the Vatican, to New York, Hollywood and the Bible Belt, often in the same scene. Although the bartender-in-chief of “D.C. Follies” is the ever-delightful Fred Willard, he left the ventriloquism to the Kroffts. Celebrities would join Willard and the puppets in skits staged in the well-stocked tavern, just down the street from the White House. Although the series ran from 1987-89, the gags and references will be extremely familiar to anyone born before the Clintons took office. Many of the characters are still making headlines, as well as movies and TV shows. I was surprised at how well the humor, most of which was topical, holds up after 30 years. The set includes all 44 episodes.

For most of the last 20 years of George C. Scott’s life, his acting was limited to only a handful of movies, with television mini-series and made-for-TV movies filling his dance card, along with stage appearances. He wasn’t the easiest person to work alongside, but no one questioned his talent or dedication to his craft. In the 1980s, Scott suffered a series of heart attacks that might have limited his ability to find decent roles. Scott probably is the only American actor who’s played two very different generals — George S. Patton Jr. (twice) and “Buck” Turgidson, in “Dr. Strangelove” – as well as a German colonel, Franz Ritter (The Hindenburg); Shylock; Ebenezer Scrooge; Fagin; Beast (“Beauty and the Beast”); and Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. MVD Visual has released “Mussolini: The Untold Story,” a seven-hour NBC mini-series that was based on the memories of Vittorio Mussolini, the oldest son of ”Il Duce.” It opens in 1922, as Mussolini gathers power through his Black Shirt militia. Promoting himself as Caesar reincarnate, he provoked a nationalist fervor that peaked after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), in 1935. In 1938, Mussolini attempted to convince Hitler not to invade other European countries until 1943, but that fell on deaf ears. Foreseeing a German/Italian takeover of the continent and northern Africa, Mussolini decided to support the Axis effort, extending his reach into Albania and Greece, before being turned back in an embarrassing defeat. Then, when the Allies defeated Axis forces in the desert war, Italy’s backdoor was open to invasion by the good guys. Scott is impressive as Il Duce, but seven hours of the dictator’s trademark posturing can be a long haul. Any resemblance to the current resident of the White House probably isn’t coincidental.

From Nickelodeon comes the original holiday movie, “Albert: A Small Tree with a Big Dream,” which tells the story of Albert, a tiny Douglas fir who dreams of becoming Empire City’s most famous Christmas tree. Along with his friends Maisie and Gene – a persistently positive palm tree and blisteringly honest weed, respectively — he begins the trip of a lifetime to prove his worth to the selection committee. On their journey, they encounter the villainous and prickly Cactus Pete and a horde of hungry rabbits. Along the way, of course, they discover the true meaning of friendship and team work, while saving Christmas along the way. The voicing cast for Max Lang’s delightfully drawn picture includes Judah Friedlander, Bobby Moynihan, Rob Riggle and Mary Pat Gleason.

Also from Nickelodeon, “Regal Academy: Rose Cinderella in Fairy Tale” is comprised of the first three episodes of the network’s “Regal Academy” series for little girls who dream of becoming princesses when they grow up. (OK, boys can have the same ambitions.) Rose Cinderella (Jessica Paquet) thinks she is a regular teenager, but things change when she finds a magic key unlocking a world where fairy tales come to life. While there, she discovers that Cinderella is not only her grandmother but also the headmistress of Regal Academy, a school where fairytale families teach the next generation how to become heroes. The 73-minute set includes “A School for Fairy Tales” “The Great Dragon Race” “The Swan in Swamp Lake.”

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“Would I like to see Wormwood in a theater on a big screen? You betcha. I’d be disingenuous to argue otherwise. But we’re all part of, like it or not, an industry, and what Netflix offers is an opportunity to do different kinds of films in different ways. Maybe part of what is being sacrificed is that they no longer go into theaters. If the choice is between not doing it at all and having it not go to theaters, it’s an easy choice to make.”
~ Errol Morris

“As these stories continue to break, in the weeks since women have said they were harassed and abused by Harvey Weinstein, which was not the birth of a movement but an easy and highly visible shorthand for decades of organizing against sexual harassment that preceded this moment, I hope to gain back my time, my work. Lately, though, I have noticed a drift in the discourse from violated rights to violated feelings: the swelled number of reporters on the beat, the burden on each woman’s story to concern a man “important” enough to report on, the detailed accounting of hotel robes and incriminating texts along with a careful description of what was grabbed, who exposed what, and how many times. What I remember most, from “my story” is how small the sex talk felt, almost dull. I did not feel hurt. I had no pain to confess in public. As more stories come out, I like to think that we would also believe a woman who said, for example, that the sight of the penis of the man who promised her work did not wound her, and that the loss she felt was not some loss of herself but of her time, energy, power.”
~ “The Unsexy Truth About Harassment,” by Melissa Gira Grant