MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: All the Money in the World, Surge, Sweet Virginia, Basmati Blues and more

All the Money in the World
It’s entirely possible that the infamous and still debated kidnapping of Patty Hearst, by an easily impressionable collection of left-wing misfits, was inspired by the abduction of John Paul Getty III, in Rome, six months earlier. Both involved the heirs to great fortunes, whose stories were doubted by police and family members. While Hearst’s kidnapping inspired movies and mini-series, it’s taken forty-five years for the Getty III case to spark such high-profile projects as Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World and Danny Boyle’s “Trust,” currently on FX. (Two very good films were made about the 1983 abduction of brewing executive Freddie Heineken, in 2011 and 2013, as well.) All the Money in the World was adapted, in part, from John Pearson’s “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty,” which includes significant content on the 16-year-old Getty’s ordeal. In it, Getty III is played by Charlie Plummer and, as a young boy, by Charlie Shotwell. In “Trust,” Harris Dickinson portrays Getty III. While the mini-series takes a more sensational approach to the family and the crime, the primary contrast is between the two fine actors who play the greedy oil tycoon: Donald Sutherland (“Trust”) and Academy Award-nominee Christopher Plummer. Key highlights of the kidnapping, investigation and police dragnet are also different. The contrast between the family’s chief investigator – played Brendan Fraser (“Trust”) and Mark Wahlberg – is striking, as well. The facts that remain the same are old man’s initial refusal to contribute to the ransom and the delivery of a portion of Getty III’s ear to a media outlet, forcing the old man’s hand. The boy’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), is the only Getty who comes off relatively unscarred in the movie version.

Scott deserves the highest praise for pulling All the Money in the World from the jaws of disaster. When Kevin Spacey was called out for sexual misdeeds, Scott decided not to ashcan the project, even though it was nearly completely filmed. He was able to get Plummer on board and reshoot scenes in which Spacey interacted with other characters. Fact is, the older and more patrician Plummer probably should have been Scott’s first choice, all along. While maintaining Getty’s dignity, Plummer easily conveys the moral and ethical decay whose stench can’t be disguised by wealth. Everything else about the production is first-class, even though it occasionally feels staid next to “Trust.” All the Money in the World contains several deleted scenes and featurettes, “Ridley Scott: Crafting a Historical Thriller,” “Hostages to Fortune: The Cast” and “Recast, Reshot, Reclaimed,” dealing with the eight-day reshoot to replace Spacey, including cast and crew response and the technical details and challenges of the process. (I can’t recall if the other scandal – this one, involving Williams being cheated out of her rightful pay for reshoots — is mentioned.)

Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel: Blu-ray
Some movies about comic-book superheroes look as if $200 million was allocated by the studio for special effects, stars and marketing, with very little left over for a decent screenplay. Antonio Lexerot and Vincent J. Roth’s way-beyond-campy Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel appears to have been made for $2 million – maybe even $200,000 – with most of the money going into the recruitment of a dozen, or so, familiar faces, and creation of some cheesy sci-fi sets and costumes. The story won’t make a lot of sense to people unfamiliar with the 2004 original, Surge of Power: The Stuff of Heroes, in which we’re introduced to Surge, the world’s first openly gay superhero. Like it, the sequel is a tongue-firmly-in-cheek spoof of superhero culture, with multiple nods to some of the most beloved touchstones of nerd culture over the past half-century. It’s for cosplay obsessives who plan their vacations around every new ComicCon. Here, Surge’s nemesis and supervillain, Metal Master (John Venturrini), attempts to reform, but his parents’ refusal to accept his sexuality keeps him in a tailspin. He heads to Las Vegas to steal some powerful crystals — “Celinedionium” — for evil mastermind Augur (Eric Roberts). Upon hearing about it, Surge (Roth) cranks up the old Surgemobile and points it toward Vegas to thwart Auger’s evil plan. Among the actors making cameos are Linda Blair (Exorcist), as Metal Master’s homophobic mother; to Nichelle Nichols (“Star Trek”), as one of the most powerful superheroes in this galaxy; Gil Gerard; Robert Picardo; Bruce Vilanch;  Lou Ferrigno; Dawn Welles; Martina Sartis; “Superman” favorites, Noel Neill and Jack Larson; “Seinfeld” Soup Nazi, Larry Thomas; Rebecca Staab; Kato Kaelin; such Vegas showroom stalwarts as fomer mayor Oscar Goodman, impersonator Frank Marino, “Pawn Stars” regular Mark Hall-Patton, Unknown Comic Murry Langston, singer/comedian Frankie Scinta, Elvis impersonator Jesse Garon and Cher impersonator Heidi Thompson; and a bunch more “celebrities.” Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel has already been followed by a podcast triquel, Surge of Power: Big City Chronicles. If I didn’t get the joke, it’s probably is because I haven’t attended a ComiCon in nearly 30 years … yes, before it became cool. It adds several featurettes.

Sweet Virginia: Blu-ray
Blessed with A-list actors and a proven writer-director in Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was accorded an opportunity to succeed commercially in ways that other recent small-town noirs – for lack of a better term— were denied. A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised by Eshom and Ian Nelms’ Small Town Crime, which generated vibes similar to “Three Billboards,” and shared terrific performances by John Hawkes. Jamie M. Dagg and the China Brothers’ similarly edgy Sweet Virginia was judged to be too insignificant to receive anything more than a single-screen theatrical release. I’m sure that all three of these dark-and-lowdown thrillers owe a debt of gratitude to the Coens’ Blood Simple, as well, but things are different now that VOD provides a primary distribution for such unpolished indies. Set in a tiny Alaska burg, but shot in Hope, British Columbia, whose forests, rivers and mountains provided backdrops for First Blood (1982), Sweet Virginia opens with the inexplicable murders of three local men, playing poker in a bar after hours. The next time we see the killer, Elwood (Christopher Abbott), he’s checked into a motel owned by Sam (Jon Bernthal), a onetime rodeo star whose bull-riding days are long over.

Sam is as quiet and withdrawn as Elwood is restive and unpredictable. Over dinner, they strike up a friendship based on Elwood’s father’s admiration for Sam’s rodeo exploits. The other things they hold in common are relationships with two of murdered men’s wives. Sam has carried on a long-term affair with Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt, while, as we learn rather quickly, Elwood was hired to kill the husband of their mousy friend, Lila (Imogen Poots), who provides the cherchez la femme angle. He even decides to throw in the other two victims gratis. An insurmountable problem arises when Lila learns that her husband has squandered their savings and she can’t pay Elwood. Clearly, the contract killer isn’t about to leave town without payment and, despite their incipient friendship, Sam now stands as the only roadblock between him and a possible solution to his dilemma. Dagg allows the tension to build at a pace that ranges from leisurely to explosive, with a few solid surprises thrown in to keep viewers guessing. It deserves to be seen.

Permanent: Blu-ray
As co-creator of the wonderfully offbeat HBO series, “Hung,” it was only natural for writer/director Colette Burson to take a shot at something bigger and, perhaps, more prestigious. Permanent appears to be a semi-autobiographical feature about a square-peg family in a round-hole community, somewhere in Virginia, in 1982. It overflows with the kinds of comic conceits that are able to carry a successful cable comedy over the course of a dozen commercial-free episodes. The same format  doesn’t necessarily work within the confines of a 93-minute feature, however, if only because too many wacky characters can spoil the broth. In Permanent, the family unit not only is dysfunctional, but also completely out of place within its time frame and setting. Rainn Wilson plays Jim Dickson, whose transition from military to civilian life isn’t going as smoothly as he imagined it would be. Dickson recently lost his job as a steward on Air Force One and he wants to earn a medical degree. While this explains his laughably imperious demeanor, it doesn’t make sense that Dickson would refuse to remove his hideous toupee to pass a swimming test that’s required by school administrators. (Don’t ask.) One would think that, in 1982, a military pension and proximity to world leaders would afford the family a comfortable life, at least until Jim gets his degree.

Instead, his wife, Jeanne (Patricia Arquette), is forced to take up waitressing to support the family, causing her feet and resentment to swell. (For some reason, Arquette either was asked to gain weight for the role or is wearing a fat suit as sad as Wilson’s wig.) Teenage daughter Aurelie (Kira McLean) must adapt to a new school, where she is immediately mocked for both her unusual first name and the perm she got from a beauty-school apprentice, because her mom was too cheap to pay for a professional hairdresser. Again, in 1982, it’s difficult to believe that a perm would cause her to be bullied by her new classmates or that girls her age could get away with equating her Little Orphan Annie hairstyle with being African-American. By now, Afros were common, as well, atop curly-haired Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans and the occasional Swede. As small as the Virginia town may be, easy access to MTV, Teen and Seventeen magazines, and teen-oriented horror/slasher films, argued that being hip wasn’t determined by zip code. McLean’s spirited portrayal of a “new girl” who challenges the popular clique not only is refreshing, but it also carries the other silly stuff to their illogical conclusions. I suspect that McLean will enjoy a long, prosperous career. Some fine local talent scores high marks, as well. The Blu-ray adds deleted/alternate scenes and “Getting Permanent with Rainn Wilson.”

Basmati Blues: Blu-ray
While I’ve watched several excellent documentaries on genetically motivated organisms and agri-business interests that want farmers to become dependent on their non-perennial seeds, Basmati Blues is the first romantic musical I’ve seen on the subject. Dan Baron’s directorial debut isn’t the first to merge Hollywood storytelling with the singing and dancing of Bollywood – that might have been Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge! – but it succeeds better than most I’ve seen. That’s because its producers managed to cast Brie Larson in 2013, before she scored small, with Short Term 12, and big with Room. In it, she plays a western scientist, Linda, who, along with her father (Scott Bakula), has developed a genetically modified strain of rice that could radically change the way Indian farmers grow their most essential product. Their boss is played by Donald Sutherland, who does corrupt, greedy and unethical as well as any living actor. After one salesman embarrassed the company in India, he sends Linda to a remote corner of the subcontinent, where rice growers have been using the same methods for centuries. Lately, though, they’ve been confronted by pests and diseases as new as this morning’s papers. The perception of cultural appropriation and other white-savior conceits derives from Linda sweeping in from the Great White West and selling the farmers a bill of goods – based on a single season’s productivity — that will indenture them to the company for years to come. When she figures out the scheme’s ramifications, Linda is forced to re-convince the farmers that they made a mistake by taking her advice and they should join her revolt. In the meantime, she’s kinda, sorta fallen in love with a couple of the locals, with whom she jams, dances and sings. If Basmati Blues hardly qualifies as fresh, it benefits greatly from Larson’s winning performance and the Indian locations and actors. The Blu-ray adds several making-of featurettes.

The Railway Children
Edith Nesbit’s beloved children’s novel, “The Railway Children,” has been adapted for newspaper serialization, the stage, radio, screen and television for more than a century. Because of the continuing importance of trains throughout Europe, the story still naturally resonates more in the U.K. than it ever would in the U.S., where, until recently, our passenger railroads have been left to decay. Still, it shouldn’t be too difficult for American kids, reared on “Thomas the Tank Engine,” to understand and enjoy. In it, Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis are the railway children whose lives change dramatically when their father is mysteriously taken away by men in long coats. They move from London to a cottage in rural Yorkshire with their mother, where they befriend the local railway porter, Perks, and wave to passengers they recognize from their daily commute. The strangers will play a key role in the adventures the kids embark upon in their quest for answers to their father’s disappearance. This, the latest filmed iteration of The Railway Children, represents a joint York Theatre Royal and National Railway Museum production, which was staged in a venue near Kings Cross Station in London. The audience sits on bleachers that line a stage bisected by an improvised track, depot and moving train cars. It’s an interesting way to introduce kids to live performances, by actors who aren’t all that much older than they are. If, at first, the costumes and narrative feel a tad antiquated, it won’t take long for them to empathize with the railway children’s dilemma.

TV-to-DVD
Netflix: 13 Reasons Why: Season 1
When teen-oriented movies and television shows, such as Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” find success taking on serious topics, like suicide, bullying, LGBTQ issues and sexual harassment, it’s a safe bet that one conservative watchdog group or another will demand changes that border on censorship. In turn, Hollywood offers to add warnings before the opening credits, during commercial breaks and content ratings that no one pays attention to anymore. (In 1972, the Italian-American Civil Rights League convinced the producer of The Godfather to omit the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” from the film’s dialogue. By Godfather II, they were back in. In response to expected boycotts and protests, NBC taped a special preface for its “The Godfather Saga” broadcast, featuring Talia Shire, explaining that the “Godfather” stories were fictional and not “the story of an entire people, whose contributions are positive and tremendously valued by us all.” No shit.) In “13 Reasons Why,” based on the best-selling books by Jay Asher, sensitive teenager Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) returns home from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, lying on his porch. Inside, he discovers a group of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) — his classmate and crush object — who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah unfolds an emotional audio diary, detailing the 13 reasons why she decided to end her life. They are dramatized in flashbacks throughout the mini-series’ 13-episode season, now encapsulated on DVD. “Thirteen Reasons Why” weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that feels extremely real, but which might come as a surprise to parents. The conservative Parents Television Council has asked Netflix to postpone the upcoming second season until “experts in the scientific community have determined it to be safe for consumption by an audience that is comprised heavily of minor children.” Previous controversies have prompted experts from the other side to argue that the opposite impact is the more likely response to such teen dramas. By putting a spotlight on these shows, they say, such complex issues as bullying, sexual assault, suicide and betrayal can be brought into the open and used to convince troubled teens that they’re not alone in the world and have options to suicide. The fact is that “13 Reasons Why” is an excellent presentation, directed by such estimable talents as Gregg Araki (White Bird in a Blizzard), Kyle Patrick Alvarez (The Stanford Prison Experiment), Carl Franklin (“House of Cards”), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Helen Shaver (Desert Hearts) and Jessica Yu (“Grey’s Anatomy”). Instead of censoring the show, I suggest that advisory groups invite parents and kids to watch “13 Reasons Why” together and engage in group discussions.

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Dretzka

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch