MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Hostiles, Moon Child, Violent Life, Backstabbing, Strings, Grease at 40, Joe, Ringo and more

Hostiles: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
Writer-director-actor Scott Cooper’s behind-the-camera career began auspiciously, in with the award-winning drama Crazy Heart in 2009. Jeff Bridges won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a broken-down country-music singer in dire need of redemption, while Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett’s “The Weary Kind” was awarded Best Original Song and Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category. At the Independent Spirits’ beach party, Crazy Heart was named Best First Feature; Bridges won Best Actor; and Cooper was nominated for Best First Screenplay. It should have been a tougher act to follow, but Out of the Furnace (2013) and Black Mass (2015) proved his freshman success was no fluke. Based on a manuscript by Donald E. Stewart (The Hunt for Red October), who died in 1999, Hostiles presented Cooper with a larger-than-life challenge, not only because it’s a traditional widescreen Western shot almost entirely outdoors, but also because the independently produced and distributed picture was targeted from the get-go for awards consideration. We know that because it was put into limited release on December 22 and forced to compete for the eyes of critics, awards committees and big-city audiences during the year’s busiest week and against studio-financed marketing campaigns. It’s difficult to argue that Hostiles was snubbed by the Academy, but outstanding performances by Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike deserved more consideration than they got, as did cinematographer Masanobu “Masa” Takayanagi (The Grey). Cooper took full advantage of the most beautiful and rugged locations northern New Mexico and Arizona have to offer, including locations near Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch. While good, old-fashioned American bigotry and genocide are on full display in Hostiles, Cooper’s balanced depictions of Native American customs, language, culture and, yes, cruelty to settlers and other tribes were lauded by the National Congress of American Indians for the film’s “authentic representation of native peoples.”

The picture opens with the slaughter of a family of homesteaders by a rogue band of Comanches. Pike’s Rosalee Quaid barely survives the attack, but she is deeply scarred by the loss of her husband and children. At approximately the same time, a short distance away, Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker and his men have captured an Apache family that escaped from detention at Fort Berringer, New Mexico. They resist the temptation to beat or hang the head of the family, which was less a threat to their safety than a stray coyote or angry prairie dog. Upon his return to the fort, Blocker is ordered – very much against his will — to escort the desperately ill Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal lands in Montana. Along the way north, Blocker’s platoon chances upon the Quaid’s burned-out cabin, where they find Rosalee grasping the dead body of an infant. Yellow Hawk and his son, Black Hawk (Adam Beach) volunteers to help Blocker track down the renegade Comanches, but he refuses the offer. His intransigence will soon cost him the life of one of his trusted soldiers and the use of another. When they reach Fort Winslow, Colorado, the camp commander asks Blocker to escort a disgraced sergeant (Ben Foster) to a fort further north, where he’ll be court-martialed and hanged for actions no longer approved by the army. Both men participated in the slaughter at Wounded Knee and other atrocities, so the sergeant begs for mercy and frontier justice. No dice. In addition to having to escort the Indians and angry captive north, the widow Quaid has decided to accompany Blocker all the way to Montana.

As if to demonstrate the Comanches don’t have a monopoly on shameless behavior, a ragtag group of miners kidnap Rosalee and Black Hawk’s wife, for the sole purpose of beating and raping them whenever the mood strikes. With Yellow Tail’s help, Blocker rescues the women, but not before they’re traumatized emotionally. Cutting to the narrative chase, Hostiles then provides Blocker and Yellow Hawk – who’s committed his own fair share of war crimes – to weigh their past actions, seek forgiveness for their sins and, for lack of a better term, bury the hatchet between them. They know they’ve reached the end of a bloody era and the fate of the West rested in the hands not of warriors, but lawyers, robber barons and thieves. Hostiles is a long picture and viewers looking for non-stop action may find their patience tested by the many contemplative parts that fans of revisionist Westerners will like better. When Cooper and Takayanag make the time to linger on the magnificent western landscapes, the beauty and goodness of nature overwhelm the follies of men. The final scenes, which include a bloody skirmish at a sacred burial ground, will leave audiences dizzy with mixed emotions. Viewers with 4K UHD units will especially appreciate Takayanag’s wide-screen cinematography, as Hostiles looks as if it were chosen by advocates of the format to showcase its benefits. The lengthy making-of featurette is well worth perusing, as well.

Moon Child: Blu-ray
Loosely inspired by a novel written by British occultist Aleister Crowley in 1917, Moon Child was invited to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, but it pretty much disappeared immediately thereafter. It isn’t that difficult to see why it could find distribution, really. Thirty years later, though, it’s easy to see how an adventurous distributor, such as Cult Epics, might take a chance on Agusti Villaronga’s mystical fantasy on Blu-ray. (A version duped from a European VHS tape was passed around a few years ago, but it was a mess.) Moon Focus’ focus is on 12-year-old David (Enrique Saldana), an orphan who’s been placed in a research facility for kids with extraordinary mental powers. There’s no reason to think that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, creators of the X-Men comic books, were inspired by Crowley’s book, but certain parallels can be drawn between the facility here and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in X-Men. David has reason to believe that he’s the Child of the Moon, whose arrival has long been prophesized by shamans gathered at a central African watering hole. They agree that the boy will be of a pale-white complexion, possibly an albino, and his arrival will be telegraphed by something resembling a fire storm emanating from the full moon. The despotic administrators of the school have been made aware of the same prophesy and, as occultists, are anxious to make it work to their benefit.

They orchestrate the forced impregnation of a dimwitted female student (Lisa Gerrard) by the grandson (David Sust) of the expatriate mystic who delivered the prophesy to them. David’s ESP causes him to anticipate just such a scheme, which requires the couple to have sex on a table positioned under a hole in the ceiling, directly in line with the moon’s path. After Georgina and Edgar seal the deal, David convinces them to escape with him to Africa, where the shamans will either recognize him as the Moon Child or the baby being carried by the increasingly weak Georgina. Hoping to short-circuit David’s plan, the administrators ask a sympathetic teacher, Victoria (Maribel Martin), to follow the trio’s trail, by plane, as they make their way from oasis to oasis through the Sahara Desert. It isn’t likely that Georgina will ever be strong enough to return to the institute, but Victoria devises a plan to make the plane work in David’s favor and satisfy the shamans. At two hours, Moon Child probably could have benefitted from more time spent observing the students’ telekinetic powers and determining how they could be exploited by the administrators. Even so, Villaronga (In a Glass Cage) capably establishes a tone of sinister intent and mystery, while also taking advantage of some extraordinary African settings and music by the ethereal Australian band, Dead Can Dance. The Blu-ray has been remastered from original 35mm elements and adds a new interview with Villaronga, a lobby-cards gallery and isolated score by Dead Can Dance.

A Violent Life
Among the world’s storied organized-crime organizations, the Corsican mob has claimed a niche disproportionate to its numbers and the size of the island that its members call home. You could trace the history of today’s crime families back to Louis and Lucien Franchi, twin protagonists of Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novella, “The Corsican Brothers,” but the book’s vendettas, greed and lusting for power probably didn’t originate in the authors imaginations. Some grudges have kept families on Corsica and Sicily feuding – like our Hatfields and McCoys –for much longer than 180 years. Besides their fondness for evening scores, Corsican criminals have gained a reputation for making sure that they get a cut of whatever illegal commerce passes through the island’s ports and markets, and their willingness to cut deals with crime families from the European mainland, Africa and the Middle East. Their notoriety has inspired filmmakers to use Corsican criminals in dozens of movies and TV mini-series, including MHz Choice’s “Mafiosa,” Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, Peter R. Hunt’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, the Japanese anime series, Noir, and Thierry de Perett’s Apaches. In some of them, Corsican assassins travel far and wide to perform onerous tasks for crime families of many different nationalities. In A Violent Life, Corsican native De Perett revisits the island’s violent nationalistic and separatist struggles of the 1990s. Jean Michelangeli plays Stéphane, an 18-year-old student who’s busted after agreeing to carry a bag loaded with weapons from the mainland on a ferry. During his incarceration in Bastia, Stéphane is radicalized by members of a nationalist splinter group, hoping to provide an alternative to the government’s commercial ambitions for the island, an established separatist organization and the traditional interests of organized crime. Stéphane isn’t accorded a position of authority within the fledgling nationalist group, but he gets caught up in the maelstrom triggered by the assassination of one of it leaders, during a wedding reception. Another fiery assassination, this time of a relative, demands of Stéphane that he remain in hiding – possibly forever – or stand up for his convictions, by returning to his home town for the funeral. I initially expected A Violent Life to more closely resemble Gomorrah or The Mafia Kills Only in Summer, but, like Corsica, itself, it is more French than Italian, favoring narrative over action. It’s well made, however, and more than a little bit suspenseful. I recommend watching it before sampling the more contemporary Apaches.

Last Seen in Idaho
Typically, when an actor plays the protagonist in a thriller they wrote and was directed by a spouse, the result is a movie that errs on the side of promoting the character’s virtues and dialing up the threats from less-than-credible villains on the way to a contrived ending. I expected as much from Last Seen in Idaho, which debuted on DVD this week and promised nothing more than an interesting title. Although there’s nothing particularly new here, Eric Colley’s no-frills direction nicely complements Hallie Shepherd’s taut script, providing ample room for suspense. Shepherd plays a financially strapped young woman, Summer, who works in an automotive garage frequented by shadowy characters. One night, she witnesses a murder and flees the scene, carrying a cellphone containing video evidence of the crime with her. Summer doesn’t get very far before she’s involved in a fiery crash that should have killed her, but leaves her in coma, absent any memories of the night’s events and the whereabouts of the phone. Not long after she awakens, she starts having shocking premonitions of a kidnapping and murder, both involving her future safety. And, yes, some of them are realized. Casper Van Dien, Wes Ramsey and Shawn Christian are among the men – some posing as undercover cops and lovers – who present threats to the safety of Summer and her ditzy sister, Trina (Alexis Monnie). The DVD adds a half-hour making-of feature, a shorter backgrounder on the action sequences and a blooper reel.

Backstabbing for Beginners: Blu-ray
If there’s one thing upon which most cynical Americans agree, it’s that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even if they’ve never heard of British politician Lord Acton, what he said in 1887 still rings true. What voters can’t seem to agree upon is whether it’s safer to retain the crook you know or elect someone new, whose inevitable corruption might work in your favor. Newspaper columnist Mike Royko condensed Acton’s observation to explain how things have always worked in Chicago. He proposed that Chicago’s official motto, Urbus en Horto (“City in a Garden”) be changed to Ubi Est Mea (“Where’s Mine?”). Unfortunately, both sentiments apply directly to America’s post-World War II foreign policy, which appears to be based on a belief that the easiest way to assure the support of foreign leaders is to allow them to “wet their beaks” by siphoning off a generous percentage of the money we send them in aid packages. If a tinhorn despot decides to steal more than we feel is due him – or threatens to shift allegiances to someone willing to raise the ante – it’s been easy enough to install someone who would play ball. Or, as happened in Cuba, politicized insurgents would find ways of dealing with blatant corruption on their own terms. We all know how that turned out.

Per Fly’s riveting diplomatic procedural Backstabbing for Beginners, which debuts on Blu-ray/DVD and DirecTV this week, describes how corporations and political leaders around the world wet their beaks in the UN’s humanitarian Oil-for-Food program when sanctions were imposed on Iraq after the first Mideast war. Cynical Americans assumed that Operation Desert Storm was intended less to contain Saddam Hussein’s power grab than to maintain the flow of moderately priced oil from the region to the U.S. and its allies. Reinstalling the royal Kuwaiti family and protecting Saudi Arabia’s rulers was the easiest way to do that, short of a full-blown invasion of Iraq. After he left the Defense Department, where he oversaw that war, Dick Cheney became Chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company, which profited mightily from business done with Iraq in the wake of Desert Storm. As Vice President to George W. Bush, Cheney made sure Halliburton was free to make its beak even wetter by controlling the supply lines to allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. None of this was lost on participants in Oil-for-Food, who found ways to rig the allocation of oil exports, send expired pharmaceuticals to Iraqi hospitals and overcharge for all imported products. Hussein not only received his cut, but he made sure that aid packages were divvied unevenly between Shiites and Sunnis, and different ethnic populations within his borders. In a nutshell, that’s what aspiring diplomat Michael Soussan (Theo James) discovers after being hired as an assistant to Pasha (Ben Kingsley), a seasoned diplomat and Michael’s boss at the UN.

It doesn’t take Michael long to smell a rat in the Oil-for-Food program or to find the nest of vermin directly under the nose of Pasha’s boss, Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Pasha should have known better than to hire an idealistic young diplomat whose father was killed in a terrorist bombing in Lebanon, but he lets hubris get in the way of pragmatism. He believes that he can convince Michael of the efficacy of compromising the Oil-for-Food program to benefit of everyone, including, eventually, the people who needed the food. If, he reasoned, the graft was eliminated, no one at the UN, Pentagon, Baghdad or on Wall Street would have any reason to keep it active. And, Pasha was probably right. On the other hand, the corruption was so onerous to other diplomats – including Jackie Bisset’s Christina Dupre – that they threaten to risk toppling the house of cards to advance reform and protect the Kurdish population, upon whose population Hussein had unleashed toxic gases. Michael is confronted with so much conflicting information that he nearly gives up trying to get to the bottom of things. When Pasha’s chief rival is assassinated, however, he decides to spill the beans to the Wall Street Journal, whose reporters perform the legwork necessary to expose the scheme. When one spigot is shut down, however, another is allowed to flow unchecked. Today, billions of dollars in aid money continue to disappear into Swiss and Panamanian back accounts. Although Backstabbing for Beginners is a tad dry and talky, it should appeal to fans of Syriana and The Constant Gardener. It includes the featurette, “The Truth Behind Backstabbing for Beginners.”

The Final Year
It’s difficult to imagine any liberal Democrat being able to sit through Greg Barker’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Final Year, without shedding a tear, or two, in anticipation of its inevitable ending. The film revolves around President Obama’s foreign policy team as they travel the world, attempting to solidify and “lock in” policies they believe will define their legacy, promote diplomacy over large-scale military actions and fundamentally alter how the U.S. government confronts questions of war and peace. The key players include such seasoned diplomats and dedicated politicians as Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. ambassador Samantha Power, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and national security adviser Susan Rice, with their boss appearing every so often to deliver pep talks and words of wisdom to young and old, alike. Even though the GOP presidential primaries have begun to swing in the direction of a Trumpian juggernaut, no one is ready to acknowledge what the Republican candidate’s team already knows: Hillary Clinton is vulnerable in traditionally Democrat strongholds, where voters have lost faith in their leaders and are willing to gamble on a man who openly flaunts their core beliefs. What the people we meet here can’t possibly know, even when it becomes clear that Trump has won the electoral college, is how much of their work in Obama’s name will be nullified in the coming months. Neither could anyone in Washington have imagined how truly inept Trump’s revolving-door replacements would prove to be, especially by comparison to the diplomacy on display here. The Final Year doesn’t reveal any greater truths than that, however.

War of the Planets
If this truly silly Italian sci-fi drama had been released in the early 1950s, instead of 1977, it might be remembered as a reasonably prescient precursor to Star Wars, “Star Trek,” 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella and John Carpenter’s wonderfully do-it-yourself space-comedy, Dark Star. As it is, however, War of the Planets incorporates ideas from all these pictures – including Spock’s ears, Roddenberry-inspired uniforms and insignias – without adding anything more intriguing than a zombie twist at the end. How this public-domain extravaganza has managed to avoid being lampooned on “MST3K” is anyone’s guess. Distributed by Cheezy Flicks Entertainment, War of the Planets (a.k.a., “Cosmos: War of the Planets,” “Cosmo 2000,” “Cosmo: Planet Without a Name” and “Year Zero: War in Space”) is not only considered to be a remake of the Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965), but also the first of four films in Alfonso Brescia’s rapid-fire sci-fi series: Battle in Interstellar Space (a.k.a., “Battle of the Stars”), War of the Robots (a.k.a., “Reactor”) and Star Odyssey (a.k.a., “Seven Gold Men in Space”). The film begins with the crew of an Earth-based craft reporting explosions in space and asteroids flying by it. They are afraid that they are going to be hit, but their vessel’s computer, named Wiz, tells them that they were seeing the “refraction” of an event that took place millions of years ago. Meanwhile, a mysterious signal from deep space reaches Earth, disturbing all communications, and a UFO appears above the “Antarctic Sea.” Captain Alex Hamilton (John Richardson) and his crew are tasked with finding the origin of that signal, finally reaching a planet where a crazed and short-circuited robot has enslaved an entire population of humanoids by sapping their psychic energies. A fiery climax reminded me of how some bad little boys dispose of the toys they no longer want. Hint: firecrackers and lighter fluid.

Strings
Forever My Girl: Blu-ray
Movies that extol the redemptive powers of country music have become a subgenre of contemporary melodrama. Some moderately budgeted films, like Forever My Girl, carry a faith-based message and enjoy the backing of the Dove Foundation. Others tell stories about musicians whose lives hinge on making it big in Nashville, a task only slightly less challenging than being discovered at a soda fountain on the Sunset Boulevard. Almost everyone involved in the creation of Strings is making his feature-film debut, including recording artist Jason Michael Carroll, co-directors Patrick Dunnagan and Robert Wagner, and writer Adam Tarsitano. It’s a familiar tale, Jimmy Ford has grown weary of living the life of a rock-’n’-roll road warrior and hopes to change his luck in Music City. Rock and country music are practically interchangeable today, so all some artists require to make the transition is a change in shoes and hats. Despite his obvious talent and expectations, Ford will run into barriers unique to the commercial music mills in Nashville. Success proves elusive until Malinda Price (Katie Garfield), an up-and-coming singer, takes an interest in him. As their relationship blossoms, so do his musical prospects. Just as his career and personal life begin to take off, however, Ford is forced to face past issues. How he deals with them could make the difference between happiness and despair. T’was ever thus.

Bethany Ashton Wolf’s super-sappy Forever My Girl is based on Heidi McLaughlin’s first novel, of the same title. The romantic drama enjoyed a decent theatrical release in January, making enough money to cover its production costs and then some. This, despite a formulaic premise and a relatively unknown cast … and temperatures averaging between 110-115 degrees on the frequently stormy Georgia location. The movie opens as future country-music superstar Liam Page (Alex Roe) is about to leave his lovely fiancé stranded at the altar of his father’s church. We won’t know why he pulled such a cruel trick on Josie (Jessica Rothe) until much later in the film. Presumably, he decided that the pursuit of fame and fortune was more satisfying than marriage and small-town life. What he didn’t know is that she was carrying their bun in her oven.  Eight years later, Liam returns home for the funeral of a close friend. His reunion with Josie doesn’t go well. It should come as a surprise to no one that Liam will learn that he’s father of Josie’s delightfully precocious daughter, Billy, who shares his gift for music. His father tried to inform him of this blessed gift, but Liam was too preoccupied with his drug-and-booze-fueled career to answer phone calls and letters from home. Forever My Girl adds a twist or two – a helicopter trip to New Orleans that’s straight out of Fifty Shades of Grey — before conjuring a best-of-both-worlds outcome in which Liam is forced to re-consider what it takes to be a dad and superstar simultaneously. Despite some very negative reviews, however, it’s safe to surmise that fans of the book won’t be disappointed.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: In Concert: Blu-ray
When it comes to snubbing great artists and repeatedly recognizing the same tried-and-true acts – individually and as members of noteworthy bands — the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is right up there with the Academy Awards and Hollywood Walk of Fame. After a few years of clearly warranted inductions, the foundation began putting a premium on record sales and longevity over innovation and underground credibility, and label executives with chips on their shoulders could veto musicians simply to punish past bad behavior. When the foundation was established in 1983, there was no guarantee that rockers known for throwing televisions out of hotel windows and destroying the instruments on stage would agree to show up for gale induction ceremonies or donate memorabilia without being reimbursed in kind … as was the practice with the Hard Rock Café and, later, Planet Hollywood collections. Well, it didn’t take long before labels, agents and publicists convinced their acts of the financial benefits of appearing on the televised awards ceremony and happily accepting the trophies. Thirty-five years later, most of the more egregious snubs have been corrected and the Cleveland landmark is a major tourist attraction … just like the far-less-legitimate Hollywood Walk of Fame. One thing that’s remained consistent, however, is the enjoyment that comes from watching the live performances and jam sessions that accompany the frequently moving induction speeches and shots of stars in funky formal wear. From Time Life/WEA comes the latest edition of “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: In Concert,” in DVD and Blu-ray, which covers ceremonies from 2014-2017. There’s something for everyone in this generous package, including fans of groups who probably could have waited a few more years for induction. Among the highlights are Bruce Springsteen joining belated inductees, the E Street Band, for the deep-cut classic, “The E Street Shuffle”; Pearl Jam delivering thundering performances of “Alive,” “Given to Fly” and “Better Man”; also from Seattle, Nirvana survivors Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic being joined on stage by Lorde, Annie Clark, Kim Gordon and Joan Jett; a long-exiled Yusuf Islam (a.k.a., Cat Stevens) performing a version of “Father & Son” that drew tears from the Barclays Center crowd; Journey performing “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Lights” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”; previous inductee Ringo Starr being welcomed into the hall as a single act, with a little help from Paul McCartney; Zac Brown doing a killer version of Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Born in Chicago”; and induction speeches by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, for Peter Gabriel; Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, for Deep Purple; Patti Smith for Lou Reed; Stevie Wonder, for Bill Withers; Fall Out Boy members, for Green Day; and Glenn Frey, for Linda Ronstadt.

Grease: 40th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray, 4K UHD HDRDoctor Detroit: Blu-ray
I don’t suppose there’s anything to infer from the almost simultaneous hit runs of pop musicals “Hair” and “Grease” on Broadway and, nearly a decade later, on film. Tonsorial architecture played key roles in both entertainments, demonstrating how much hairdos changed in little more than a decade. Brylcreem and hair spray gave way to a more natural, often shaggy look. Because mainstream America looked askance at all deviations from the norm, teenagers used extreme hairdos to declare their independence. The styles worn by the teenagers in Grease — Olivia Newton-John being the sole exception – looked prehistoric by the time the musical was adapted for the stage and screen. Hair only felt outdated when the military draft was eliminated and no one in the audience faced the same fate as Claude Hooper Bukowski and his surrogate, George Berger. Both musicals were honed at nightclub theaters, before reaching Broadway, and they’ve enjoyed dozens of revivals, re-mountings and reconsiderations ever since. More to the point, they remain exceptionally entertaining in their various iterations. In February, Olive Films released a no-frills DVD of Hair, while Paramount is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Grease with a 4K UHD HDR upgrade and enhanced Blu-ray, supervised by director Randal Kleiser. The bonus package is dominated by ported-over features, but it also includes “Grease: A Chicago Story,” which features new interviews with writer Jim Jacobs and original cast members of the Chicago show, itself revived in its original form in 2011; an alternate ending salvaged from the original black & white 16mm print, discovered by Kleiser; and alternate animated main titles. Both versions are markedly improved over previous Blu-ray versions. In addition, a “Grease Collection” is available in a Steelbook Locker, containing the 40th Anniversary Blu-ray of Grease, as well as Grease 2 and Grease: Live! on Blu-ray for the first time.

Arriving three years after The Blues Brothers, Universal expected Doctor Detroit to tap into the same audience that made the “SNL”-spinoff act an oddball sensation in-concert and on big and small screens. Several things worked against those expectations, though: 1) John Belushi’s death put a damper on the production and marketing plans; Dan Aykroyd’s unproven ability to carry the weight of a lead role; anticipation over the release of “Return of the Jedi” had already begun to build; and complete absence of positive buzz. Based on a Bruce Jay Friedman story, the adaptation whitewashed the original characters by making them pimps and whores with a heart of gold … white gold, that is. It effectively dulled the edge built into Friedman’s story. When fast-talking pimp Smooth Walker (Howard Hesseman) finds himself in hot water with Chicago crime boss Mom (Kate Murtagh), he claims that there’s a new player in the game: Doctor Detroit. There isn’t, but the ruse buys him the time he needs to find someone who can be molded into a bad-ass pimp and merciless enforcer. He arrives in the form of a nebbishy college professor, Clifford Skridlow (Aykroyd), who jogs to work and worships the chef at the local Indian restaurant. A night spent partying with Smooth and his girls convinces Skridlow that it might be fun to join the gang, even if he couldn’t tell the difference between a prostitute and a Girl Scout selling cookies. Meanwhile, he’s expected to fulfill his responsibilities to the school, which is run by his father (George Furth) and is in desperate need of a cash infusion. The setup ensures all sorts of slapsticky gags based on crossed wires and mistaken identities, none of them particularly funny. The best moments in Doctor Detroit arrive courtesy of a pair of set pieces choreographed to a James Brown rave-up and the festive atmosphere of a Pimps-and-Hos’ Ball. In my opinion, Doctor Detroit would have fared better if it had been handed to Ralph Bakshi and he adapted the original story more faithfully as an animated feature. As such, there would be no pressure on him to cast the working girls — Fran Drescher, Donna Dixon, Lynn Whitfield and Lydia Lei — as freshly polished graduates of a finishing school. The Blu-ray includes commentary with director Michael Pressman and pop culture historian Russell Dyball; a separate interview, in which Pressman details the development of the movie from serious novella to “a Dan Aykroyd comedy” and tactical revisions in the soundtrack. He shares a story about Glenne Headly’s deleted role, clarifies what the “The Wrath of Mom” sting was all about and talks extensively about his 1979 movie, “Boulevard Nights,” which was recently selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.

A Pistol for Ringo/The Return of Ringo: Two Films by Duccio Tessari: Blu-ray
One tell-tale sign that a Western is of the spaghetti or Euro variety, and not one made in the American west, is the presence of windmills more appropriate in an adaptation of “Don Quixote.” That, of course, and the slippery dubbing. There’s one such windmill, at least, in A Pistol for Ringo (1965), a movie that, despite its Andalucian locales, looks very much like it might have been shot in the American Southwest or Durango, Mexico. Alongside The Return of Ringo (1965), Duccio Tessari introduced another iconic hero to the genre, dominated by such brand names as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Terrence Hill’s Trinity and Franco Nero’s Django. Here, Ringo (Giuliano Gemma, as Montgomery Wood) is a clean-cut sharpshooter, who, for much of movie, has been stripped of his gun. After wiping out an entire family of bad guys — in self-defense, of course – and being thrown in jail, Ringo cuts a deal with the sheriff. Ringo can earn his freedom by infiltrating a ranch taken over by Mexican bandits and freeing their hostages, one of whom is engaged to the lawman. It’s no contest. Ennio Morricone’s music adds to the fun.

In The Return of Ringo, which isn’t easily identifiable as a sequel, the title character has been transformed into a former Civil War captain named Brown. He’s forced to enter his home town incognito, because a different gang of Mexican banditos, led by Esteban Fuentes (Fernando Sancho), has seized control of it. To Brown’s consternation, he’s been declared dead and his wife, Helen (Hally Hammond), may be forced to marry the jefe. Both films set the foundation for a flood of Ringo flicks to come, perhaps, even, the animated Western, Rango. The refurbished Arrow Video package adds commentaries for both films by Spaghetti Western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke; the 38-minute “Revisiting Ringo,” with learned and entertaining analysis by Tony Rayns; a pair of archival featurettes, “They Called Him Ringo,” with Giuliano Gemma, and “A Western Greek Tragedy,” with Lorella de Luca and camera operator Sergio D’Offizi; original trailers and promotional images; and a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranc.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Him
I don’t know if the folks at Arrow Video planned to release this special edition of the cult classic – or kult klassic, if you prefer — Killer Klowns from Outer Space in anticipation the phenomenal international success of New Line’s It. If so, their timing was impeccable. Unlike too many other killer-clown movies being sent out in the wake of It – including Him, a.k.a. “The Devil’s Warehouse” – the re-release of the Chiodo brothers’ movie can be justified for all sorts of reasons. Most of all, it’s entertaining. On a dollar-per-dollar basis, it can stand on its own against most pictures costing 10, 20 or 30 times as much to make. Next month, Killer Klown’s 30th anniversary will be celebrated at Los Angeles’ Montalban Theater with multiple performances, as well as fortune tellers, contortionist Bonnie Morgan (Rings), a Q&A with the cast and crew, and a screening with a live-score accompaniment from the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra, conducted by John Massari. Most movies of that vintage must settle for a re-release on Blu-ray and a few fresh featurettes. Moreover, the Chiodos are pursuing a series for cable. “We wondered, should we do a sequel to the first one or do we do a remake? We came up with a ‘requel’ – it’s a sequel and a remake. It follows the continuing adventures of new people who are experiencing this phenomenon of a Klown invasion, and, once in a while, you see some of the old guys pop up and hear their stories … find out what happened over the last 25 years.” That should be something. The Arrow Video edition has been restored from a 4K scan of the original camera negative and newly remastered stereo 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Among the extras: vintage commentary with the Chiodos; “Let the Show Begin,” a new interview with the original members of the American punk band, the Dickies; “The Chiodos Walk Among Us: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking,” a documentary highlighting the making of their childhood films, from the monster epics made in their basement to their experiments in college; fresh HD transfers of the complete collection of the brothers 8mm and Super 8 films; “Tales of Tobacco,” an interview with star Grant Cramer; “Debbie’s Big Night,” with Suzanne Snyder; “Bringing Life to These Things,” a tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions; deleted scenes and bloopers; and a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck.

Luis Antonio Rodriguez and Humberto Bocanegra’s 80-minute non-thriller, Him, is only likely to appeal to Killer Klown Kompletists, I’m afraid. When a businessman fails to keep his end of a deal with a mysterious emissary from hell, his warehouse becomes the property of the devil. When some young paranormal investigators decide to spend the night at the warehouse, they soon find that the rumors of its haunting by a mysterious clown “are not only real, but they can also be deadly.” Evil-doll completists might also find something useful here as they’re scattered around the warehouse as warnings of the devil’s presence.

Joe: Blu-ray
Just as presidential-candidate Trump prompted his blue-collar followers to attack protesters and journalists at his rallies, President Nixon encouraged patriotic construction workers to confront anti-war protesters in the streets of New York. The symbolic difference between the two groups of aggrieved patriots is represented in their choice of hats. Nixon’s legions were known by their “hard hats,” decorated with American-flag decals, while Trump supporters prefer red baseball caps with “Make America Great Again” embroidered on them. Back in the day, protesters preferred to let their “freak flags” fly in defiance of the status quo, and it made them easy targets. As a symbolic rebuke of Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” comments, tens of thousands of protesters headed for the Women’s March on Washington wearing “pussy-power hats,” created by an army of knitters, crocheters and needlesmiths from coast-to-coast. With this in mind, I re-watched John G. Avildsen’s era-defining drama, Joe, for the first time in nearly 50 years. Employing an Us-vs.-Them scenario and dialogue that would be deemed prohibitively inappropriate today – on either side of the political divide — Norman Wexler’s script set viewers up for a confrontation between stereotypes so diametrically opposed to each other that they shouldn’t be able to co-exist in the same country. But, they did, in the same way that the cardboard villains in Death Wish would come alive, four years later. Credit for this belongs to the amazing portrayals of polar-opposite characters by Peter Boyle and Susan Sarandon, in their theatrical debuts.

If Wexler’s interpretation of Boyle’s Joe Curran now feels like a parody of blue-collar ideals and attitudes, the actor stops well short of caricature. He finds a kindred spirit in Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick), an advertising executive who makes Joe’s acquaintance at a neighborhood bar, boasting that he killed a drug-dealing hippie (Patrick McDermott). Pressed for facts by the intrigued hard-hat, Bill attempts to retreat from his boozy confession, saying that he was merely joking. When, a few days later, a news report confirms the rage-induced murder, they form an unlikely vigilante alliance. Before the incident occurred, Bill had determined that the long-haired pusher had kidnapped, brainwashed and forced the non-fatal overdose of his flower-child daughter, Melissa (Sarandon), on a smorgasbord of psychedelic drugs. After she learns of her father’s culpability in her boyfriend’s death, Melissa leaves the hospital prematurely. After confronting her parents, she splits the city for an Upstate commune. Joe and Compton search for her in the Village, finally locating a group of hippies who might know her whereabouts and plying them with drugs Bill stole from the pusher. An unlikely “orgy” leads to a confrontation in which the hippies are forced to give up the location of the commune. It’s where Joe and Bill will be given the opportunity to put up or shut up. If any of this sounds silly, I can assure you that it was taken very seriously by audiences and critics in 1970. Boyle and Sarandon would go on to become major Hollywood stars, while Avildson’s credits would include Rocky and The Karate Kid, and Wexler would pen Saturday Night Fever and Serpico. Absent any bonus features, viewers are allowed their own parallels to the 2016 presidential campaign and the current air of provocation.

Disney Z-O-M-B-I-E-S
Dead Justice
Cyborg: Blu-ray
Apparently, we live in a cinematic universe in which humans not only must learn to defend themselves against flesh-eating, foot-dragging zombies, but also how to co-exist with Disney Z-O-M-B-I-E-S. Just as there’s a huge difference between the plague-carrying mice now spreading death and disease throughout the American Southwest and Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, there are significant differences between these legions of the undead and the ghouls terrorizing an Old West town in Dead Justice (a.k.a., “Cowboy Zombies” and “Walking Dead in the West”). They’re recognizable by the way they shuffle their feet, attack with their arms raised and pointing forward, and a hunger for human flesh that causes them to approach mortals in suicidal waves. The eponymous creatures who populate the Disney Channel’s “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S” are based on an unaired TV pilot, “Zombies and Cheerleaders,” purchased by Disney, and they could hardly be more dissimilar. Although their origin story resembles that of the protagonist in The Toxic Avenger, the characters more closely resemble those in Disney’s “High School Musical.” Fifty years after an explosion at a local factory covered half of the city of Seabrook with a toxic lime slime, the undead survivors have co-existed peacefully with human survivors in parts of the city separated by fences and other barriers. A cure for their condition arrived in the form of “smart bracelets” that allow zombies to quell their appetite for flesh and enjoy some semblance of normalcy.

Except for the strictly enforced segregation, Seabrook qualifies as the kind of idyllic suburban city Walt Disney intended Celebration, Florida, to be. This is the year that the Seabrook school board has decided to integrate the local high school, by transferring the zombie kids from their separate, unequal facility across town. To reduce the fear of the human kids, the school is maintaining its segregation of the computer class, pep squad and sports tryouts. When the aspiring zombie football player, Zed (Milo Manheim), makes a love connection with the fiercely determined human cheerleader, Addison (Meg Donnelly), all attempts to deliver a subtle, understated message about diversity, tolerance and equality will disappear. That’s because Addison has been hiding a deformity of her own from her friends and fellow students, suspecting that their bigotry will come to the fore and she’ll be ostracized. As anomalies go, Meg’s prematurely white hair isn’t really all that weird. Teenagers can be cruel, however, even on the Disney Channel. Not only have the zombies in “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S” been rendered more of less harmless, but they also can sing, dance, cheer and play football as well as anyone else in the school … better, in some cases. They’re also clean, happy, conscientious and friendly. If George A. Romero hadn’t died last year, Paul Hoen’s light-hearted “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S” might have killed him. The DVD package adds a blooper reel and deleted scenes; audition footage, with Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly; “Survival Guide to High School,” hosted by Donnelly and Manheim; music videos; a dance tutorial, with Donnelly, co-star Kylee Russell and choreographer Christopher Scott; and glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoos.

Dead Justice is a traditional Western in most ways, except that the 1870’s town is being terrorized by the undead, instead of rampaging Indians, drunken survivors of a long cattle drive, kinfolk determined to spring a son or brother from the hoosegow, or outlaws waiting for the stagecoach to arrive. It is the 27th film to be shot on the Cowtown Studios Old West, in Arizona, and the town, indeed, looks as if it might double for a dude ranch attraction. Co-writer/director Paul Winters plays the town’s marshal, Frank Wilcox, who, along with a Buffalo Soldier from the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army (Calion Maston), must galvanize a group of survivors to fight back when the living dead rise and seek the flesh of the living. They’re joined by an Apache chief, outlaw prisoner, preacher, a dwarf and a couple of bar girls. The zombie makeup isn’t bad, though, and the unusually diverse cast makes up for some of the structural missteps.

In 1989, Cannon Group’s dystopian martial-arts actioner, Cyborg, described what happens when, in the not-so-distant future, a plague cripples civilization. Known as the “living death,” its victims behave very much like zombies. Dayle Haddon plays half-human/half-cyborg scientist Pearl Prophet, a gorgeous blond capable of developing a vaccine. Her quest is cut short, however, after being captured by cannibalistic Flesh Pirates, who plot to keep the antidote for themselves and rule the world. It’s left to the saber-wielding mercenary (a.k.a., slinger) Gibson Rickenbacker – Jean-Claude Van Damme in an early starring role — to rescue her and save civilization. Cyborg is full of the kind of improbable action and despicable characters that would mark Albert Pyun’s tenure with Cannon. The post-apocalyptic sets serve nicely as backdrops for fights and hiding places for zombies. There’s also a terrifically entertaining fight staged in a salt marsh. The movie did well enough to inspire two sequels: Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow (1993), starring Elias Koteas and Angelina Jolie, and Cyborg 3: The Recycler (1995), a direct-to-video release, with Zach Galligan and Khrystyne Haje. The Shout Factory collector’s edition features a 4K remaster of the film; new commentary with writer/director Pyun; “A Ravaged Future: The Making of Cyborg,” featuring interviews with Pyun, actors Vincent Klyn, Deborah Richter and Terrie Batson, director of photography Philip Alan Waters and editor Rozanne Zingale; “Shoestring Fantasy: The Effects of Cyborg,” with visual-effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr., Go-Motion technician Christopher Warren and rotoscope artist Bret Mixon; and extended interviews from Mark Hartley’s documentary “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films,” with Pyun and Blood Sport writer Sheldon Lettich.

Henry Miller: Asleep & Awake
Filmed when the author was 81, “Henry Miller: Asleep & Awake” opens the door to what must have been the coolest bathroom in America. Miller turned it into a shrine, celebrating his life, loves and many friendships with photos and drawings collected over the course of his travels and career. Graciously, in his unmistakably raspy voice, Miller points out the highlights of his improvised gallery decorated with images of philosophers, writers, painters, mad kings, women and friends … naked and clothed. He says that guests frequently disappear for an hour or more after paying a visit to the loo, just to study the memorabilia. Along the way, Miller’s muse, Brenda Venus, makes an unforgettable cameo. Director Tom Schiller also was able to get Miller to travel to his onetime home in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. This selection from IndiePix is part of a recent series of vintage releases currently available to subscribers via streaming and DVD platforms. It’s always nice to see a purveyor of arthouse titles join the fray. Recent offerings include Daniel Hoesl’s Soldate Jeannette; Paola Mendoza and Gloria LaMorte’s Entre Nos; Rayya Makarim and Ravi Bharwani’s Jermal; Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots; Joël Lévy Florescu and Michaël Lévy Florescu’s So Bright Is the View; and Syllas Tzoumerkas’ Blast. The ones I’ve seen are very good.

TV-to-DVD
ITV/PBS: Masterpiece Mystery!: Unforgotten, Season 1: Blu-ray
PBS: Bill Nye: Science Guy: Blu-ray
PBS: Nature: Animals With Cameras
PBS: Impossible Builds, Volume 1
PBS: Survival Guide for Pain-Free Living
Digimon Adventure tri 4: Loss: Blu-ray
Currently holding a secure place on PBS’ Sunday-night lineup, “Masterpiece Mystery!: Unforgotten” debuted on Britain’s ITV in October 2015 and has already completed a second-season run. It was created by Chris Lang (“The Tunnel”), a former actor with two more mini-series already on the drawing boards for the network, besides a third stanza of “Unforgotten.” If it isn’t likely to make anyone forget “Prime Suspect,” “The Vice” or “Endeavour,” it’s a solid procedural that features two of British television’s most popular stars: Nicola Walker (“MI-5”) and Sanjeev Bhaskar (“The Kumars”). When the skeletal remains of young man are discovered, buried in a derelict building, first-responders immediately suspect that they might have been lying there since Roman times. A little more digging uncovers a rusty key for a sports car of more recent vintage. DCI Cassie Stuart and her partner, DI Sunil “Sunny” Khan, use its markings to identify the car to which it belonged, if not its owner. Once that question is answered, the detectives are led to a farm outside London, where they discover the car’s decaying frame, wheel covers and a bag containing a barely legible diary. A tad more sleuthing leads the team to four elderly suspects, each with something to hide. As their deceptions are discovered, the people they love most begin to wonder what else they might have done. It’s likely that same mystery would have been solved within one or two episodes of “Law & Order,” but Lang keeps the story moving in forwardly direction with explosive revelations, crude deceptions and great writing. The veteran cast, which includes Tom Courtney, Peter Egan, Trevor Eve, Gemma Jones and Ruth Sheen, does the rest. The UK version of “Unforgotten, Season 2” will be released on May 15.

At a time when President Trump and his Cabinet members are working hard to prove that all science is fake science and good things happen to dumb people, it’s nice to know that “Bill Nye: Science Guy” is here to disabuse our children of such notions. Nye has made it his personal mission to stop the spread of anti-scientific thinking around the world. In this behind-the-scenes portrait, Nye sheds his lab coat to take on those who deny climate change, evolution and a science-based world view. The former host of a popular kids’ show on PBS now is CEO of the Planetary Society, where he’s leading a project to launch LightSail, a satellite propelled by sunlight, while, in turn, fulfilling the legacy of his late professor and Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan. As Bill Nye: Science Guy, he also continues to inspire millennials to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. Also appearing are astrophysicist, author and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson and “Cosmos” co-writer Ann Druyan.

The “Nature” presentation “Animals With Cameras” may, at first, bring back memories of David Letterman’s monkey-cam, which, when affixed to the head of a hyperactive primate, came to symbolize the anarchic side of the host’s personality. He recently recalled the time the monkey bit comedian Sandra Bernhard by quipping, “Actually looking back, maybe it wasn’t that much fun.” Technically, there isn’t a world of difference between the original monkey-cam and the cameras worn by the animals – a cheetah, chimp, seal, bear, sheep dog, penguin, meerkat, chacma baboons and Chilean devil rays – which take viewers to places they’ve never seen and in real time. We follow them as they hunt, hide, evade predators and settle into their hidey-holes. It’s a simple concept, but one that’s thoroughly engrossing.

Impossible Builds” examines the creation of some of the world’s most technologically advanced and architecturally imaginative construction projects, from sub-aquatic homes to futuristic towers and pencil-thin skyscrapers. These are structures nobody thought could be committed to a blueprint, let alone built. Now, however, revolutionary technology and cutting-edge construction materials are being used on five improbable projects taking shape across the world. They include Miami’s curvaceous Scorpion Tower; six islands off the coast of Dubai, designed to remind visitors of Europe; and a floating villa with living spaces above and below the surface of the sea … where else, but Dubai.

Yoga is as commonplace today as doing sit-ups and push-ups was for several generations of GIs and high school weaklings. For 40 years, Peggy Cappy has been teaching yoga to students of all ages, abilities, shapes and sizes. In the PBS special “Survival Guide for Pain-Free Living,” Cappy and neuromuscular therapist Lee Albert demonstrate how easy-to-do stretches and other yoga moves can help relieve pain in your back, knees, hips and head, including chronic migraine headaches. The four-disc set features four separate yoga regimens that are easy – yeah, easy for you to say – and effective in controlling pain.

Digimon Adventure tri: Loss” is the fourth in a series of six feature-length movies produced by Toei Animation to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Akiyoshi Hongo’s Digimon franchise. They serve as a direct sequel to the first two television series, “Digimon Adventure” and “Digimon Adventure 02.” After the “reboot” and Meicoomon’s rampage, Tai and friends arrive in the Digital World. They reunite with their fellow Digimons, who have all lost their memories. As everyone discusses what they should do from here in the Digital World, Meicoomon suddenly appears and then disappears. Meanwhile in the real world, Nishijima receives word that Himekawa has gone missing. Special features include “The Evolution So Far,” in which Joshua brings fans up to date on the series.

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“There are different signs that this is not stopping. I don’t think that anger and frustration and those feelings can go away. I hope they don’t. The attention and support for the victims needs to be continued, more than people worried about these abusers and what’s next for them, how are they going to move on — shut up. You know what? If any of these people come back, I would say, “I can’t wait to see who is actually going to support them.” That is going to be the glaring horror. Who is going to be, like, “This is a pressing issue, and we need to get them back?” If a janitor was so great at cleaning the building but also tended to masturbate in front of people, would the people at that building be like, “Yes, he masturbated, but I’ve never seen anyone clean so thoroughly, and I was just wondering when he’s going to get his job back, he’s so good at it.” No, it would be, “That’s not acceptable.” It’s fame and power that people are blinded by.”
~ Tig Notaro in the New York Times

“It’s never been easy. I’ve always been one of the scavenger dogs of film financing, picking up money here and there. I’ve been doing that all my life. This was one was relatively easy because certain costs have gone down so much. I made this film in 20 days whereas 30 years ago, it would have been made in 42.”
~ Paul Schrader