MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Madea Funeral, Sharon Tate, Gloria Bell, Women at War, Guy, Farinelli, Screwball, The Kid, Andromeda Strain, Woody Guthrie, Jack Ryan, Sara Stein … More

A Madea Family Funeral: Blu-ray
Kinky
No one has more at stake in the controversy over Georgia’s heartbeat abortion bill than multi-hyphenate mogul Tyler Perry and the businesses and individuals who count on him for income. It took a while, but Hollywood and cable producers have fallen in line behind calls for a boycott of the state, if the legislation is fully enacted. (Among other things, a woman who isn’t aware she’s pregnant could be put on trial for miscarrying the fetus.) In 2016, Perry spoke out against legislation, which, effectively, would allow businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. The governor’s decision not to sign the law may have been influenced by Perry’s comments. (His drag persona, Madea, may have beaten the actor to death with her purse if he hadn’t spoken out.) Three years later, it remains unclear where Perry stands on the abortion bill, which soon will be winding its way to the Supreme Court, along with similarly draconian legislation in a few other Southern states and Ohio. (When did the Buckeye state join the Confederacy, anyway?) Earlier this week, in a media blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rodney Ho pointed out that “Perry has committed hundreds of millions of dollars into the state. … (He) has expressed a deep commitment to Georgia and has not shown any inclination to leave.” Nor should he, if he once again uses his influence to turn back a law pushed by predatory right-wing evangelicals.

What’s also at stake is Perry’s partnership with Atlanta-based TBS and Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, as well as a long-term deal with Viacom, with shows slated mostly for BET. (Based in Georgia, as well, is the subsidiary of AT&T that oversees TBS, TNT and CNN.) While former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams understands the power of a boycott to force such issues to the fore, she’s also aware of the impact on people who benefit directly from the $2.7 billion Hollywood spends yearly in the state. Hollywood has a lot to lose in a boycott. Of that $2.7 billion figure, an estimated $800 million comes back to the studios in the form of the highest yielding, uncapped tax-incentive program in the nation. Abrams would prefer that some of that money be directed to pro-choice politicians and activists, working tirelessly to bring Georgia into the 21st Century. Because Abrams is well aware of the fact that Georgia continues to look for ways to prevent blacks and other minorities from voting, such a call could prove fruitless, in any case. Perry and Winfrey’s support for the boycott, in conjunction with the solicitations for contributions to the legal battle could tip the balance. And, why stop in the Deep South? Couldn’t Cleveland’s tourist-friendly Rock and Roll Hall of Fame use its weight to pressure Ohio’s governor?

Certainly, Perry has no problem with euthanizing his most popular creation before she’s drawn her last breath. He revealed last year, on the SiriusXM show “Bevelations,” that he’s finished playing the tough old bird, Madea. “I’m happy to kill off that old bitch,” he said. “I’m tired, man. I just don’t want to be her age, playing her.” Detractors of the 11-film series would be relieved for countless other reasons. It’s tough to laugh at Madea’s antics and coarse dialogue, knowing that she’s personified political incorrectness since 1999, when the musical play, “Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” was performed before mostly black audiences around the country. Even as a girl, Madea was in constant trouble with the law, supporting herself by stripping, pole dancing, professional wrestling, gambling, fraud and theft. She’s admits to killing two of her nine dead husbands, to collect life-insurance settlements and because she despised them. She carried a gun and a knife but was equally adept at fisticuffs and dispensing poison. If Madea softened over time and the transition to film – 2002’s Madea’s Family Reunion – it remained difficult for her children to pull the wool over her eyes. Stifling our laughter over Perry’s brilliant use of Ebonics and ghetto mannerisms hasn’t been easy for viewers to stifle.

There are plenty of laughs to be found in A Madea Family Funeral, which begins during a road trip with Madea; her younger brother, Joe (Perry); Joe’s son Brian (Perry), a defense attorney; feisty diner owner and family friend, Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely); and partner-in-crime, Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis). Ostensibly, they’re on their way to backwoods Georgia for a joyous family reunion. They are required to stick around for a funeral, as well. Because of the nature of their relative’s death – hint, Viagra is involved – the funeral and its various rituals turn ugly. In hurriedly planning the funeral, Madea declares that it will be strictly be an African American affair, with an old-timey flare. Largely, this means that the ceremony will be long (eight hours), confessional and interactive. Depending on where one stands on impolite humor, Perry’s latest creation – Madea’s wheelchair-bound brother, Heathrow — will either be seen as delightfully offensive or just plain offensive. I’m in the former category. Despite the usual array of negative reviews, “Family Funeral” did extremely well at the domestic box office and, as usual, almost no business overseas. (I doubt that much effort was put into it.) I don’t know what Madea’s position is on abortion – who could? – but, even if she’s adamantly pro-life, she could also be against legislation that enslaves women and denies them their right to choose.

Operating in the long shadow of Tyler Perry, and well under the radar of mainstream media, is NuLite Media. Formed in in 2002, it is an independent production company, with a focus on niche films targeting African American audiences. Like Perry’s various endeavors, NuLite has produced dozens of movies, TV shows and live events that run the gamut from raw and risqué (Kinky, Chocolate City), to faith-based (The Sins of Deacon Whyles) and provocative (Color of the Cross), with forays into such genre fare as the revisionist Western, Gang Of Roses and the ensemble comedy, Nora’s Hair Salon. The Chocolate City spinoff, “Black Magic Live,” is billed as the only all-black male revue in Las Vegas. Moreover, Haitian American co-founder Jean Claude La Marre has 51 acting credits on his IMDB.com, ranging from Malcolm X (1992) and Fresh (1994), to Trapped: Haitian Nights (2010) and Basketball Girlfriend (2014). His Pastor Jones is a recurring character and Vivica A. Fox routinely appears in starring and co-starring capacity. They both appear in Kinky, in non-prominent roles.

Written and directed by La Marre, Kinky could have been re-titled “50 Shades of Ebony” – 50 Shades of Black was already taken — and reached the same audiences as those attracted by the DVD’s slightly naughty cover photo and posters. In them, a stunning black surgeon, Dr. Joyce Carmichael (Dawn Richard), clad in black leather lingerie and a freaky Lone Ranger mask, is being gently held from behind by a handsome black investor, Tyrone Bernard (Robert Ri’chard), wearing only a Rolex. The satin bedspread is littered with rose petals, while a padded set of handcuffs awaits its turn on a pillow. Although the film’s overly punitive R-rating would suggest something harder, that image sums up the movie’s tame approach to sexuality. That said, however, there may be a ready audience among African Americans for a PG-13 romance in an R-rated package. I wouldn’t know. Set primarily in Perry’s own backyard – Atlanta’s affluent Buckhead neighborhood — the story follows the “talented, yet introverted” Carmichael, as she struggles with the fact that she is still single, despite all her professional success and well-manicured exterior features. Joyce’s strict Christian upbringing is a constant source of internal conflict for her, and it sets unwanted boundaries on the men she dates. What isn’t so obvious is her being blackmailed by a mysterious man who has photos of her in incriminating S&M poses. Tyrone decides to stalk the doctor to learn why she’s been so glum, lately. He discovers the mysterious man’s dungeon, where another young woman is being held, and a fire is about to erupt. The ending is both happy and ominous. Even so, Kinky makes “50 Shades” look like Deep Throat. Beyond the needlessly tame sex scenes, the writing, direction, set design and most of the acting are substandard, at best. If such shortcomings haven’t already stopped La Marre – and his films didn’t make money –we wouldn’t be here, right now.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate: Blu-ray
I’ve yet to see Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood or Mary Harron’s Charlie Says, which is floating around the Internet. I have seen Daniel Farrands’ The Haunting of Sharon Tate, though, and it’s done nothing to make me want to rush out and see the other two. Supposedly inspired by premonitions reported by the rising Hollywood star and pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, writer/director Farrands (The Amityville Murders) re-creates the events of August 8, 1969, at 10050 Cielo Drive, in Benedict Canyon. Since the so-called premonitions were so similar, Farrands likely saved money by filming the actual attack and two flashbacks simultaneously. Only one of them is the real thing, but they all look curiously similar. As has been reported, Tate and her soon-to-be-late friends encountered Manson and “Family” members several times before the massacre. The first contact came when he believed that record producer Terry Melcher still lived there, with Candace Bergman, and he wanted to personally deliver a recording to him. Not finding them there, Manson directed his gang to haunt and harass the current residents. With her husband in Europe doing God knows what, Tate approaches her delivery date with trepidation. OK, you know the rest. While Farrands’ version isn’t remotely new or newsworthy, it does avoid digging up cliched attempts to psychoanalyze Manson Family members and contextualize their actions as a harbinger of bad times to come. It’s a gory home-invasion thriller that tells us precious little about Tate we didn’t already know and even less about the other victims. It’s exploitation, pure and simple. Hilary Duff does a credible job as the ravishing blond protagonist … otherwise, zilch.

The one thing that struck me, however, was the incorporation of Manson’s “Cease to Exist” into the soundtrack. (It was covered by the Beach Boys as “Never Learn Not to Love”) It’s a freaky song, even by the standards of the time. Hearing it played as part of Tate’s nightmares makes some sense, but it also led me to wonder who licensed the song to Farrands and continues to profit from the tragedy. It isn’t an easy task. In the last 50 years, several bands have added the song to their repertoire, simply for the weird pleasure that comes with doing something shocking and reprehensible for personal gain. In 1993, Sharon’s sister, Patti, Tate confronted David Geffen and board members of Geffen Records over plans to include a song written by Charles Manson on the Guns N’ Roses album, “The Spaghetti Incident?” She commented to a journalist that the record company was “putting Manson up on a pedestal for young people … to worship like an idol.” Geffen wouldn’t budge. A year earlier, Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, sought inspiration by moving into the house 10050 Cielo Drive. He built a studio, called “Le Pig,” for recording “Broken” (1992) and “The Downward Spiral” (1994), with collaborations from other musicians. It soon, would later be demolished and renumbered. Reznor’s seeming glorification of evil ended during a random encounter with Tate’s sister. According to Reznor, in a 1997 Rolling Stone interview, she asked, “‘Are you exploiting my sister’s death by living in her house?’ For the first time the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face.” Redd Kross member Jeff McDonald expressed regret for covering Manson on 1982’s “Born Innocent.” He said the move was largely done to annoy the band members’ parents. (By law, Manson wasn’t allowed to collect royalties. Others, including ESP-Disc, Come Organisation and Susan Lawly, have seen their videos and recording widely ripped off by YouTube pirates. Too bad.)

In what must have appeared, at first, to be an ironic marketing decision, Sony originally scheduled Tarantino’s 160-minute epic to be released on August 9, 2019, as if it were the pop-cultural equivalent of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. The studio then changed the release date to July 26, 2019, insisting that August 9, 1969, is recognized, as well, as the date the hippie movement, free-love era and the 1960s, as a whole, came to a screeching halt. Someone forgot to mention this to the 500,000 freaks who gathered at Woodstock a week later or, for that matter, the 300,000 who attended Altamont. It wasn’t until the Family was rounded up and put on trial, beginning June 15, 1970, that it became safe to write obits for the hippie movement and, as I recall, for hitchhikers to return to the nation’s highway, albeit at greatly reduced numbers. On Monday, Gavin Newsom overruled a parole board’s decision to free Leslie Van Houten, marking the third time a California governor has stopped the release of the youngest member of Manson’s cult. No candidate for higher political office wants such an extreme show of mercy on their resume.

The Kid: Blu-ray
In his sophomore feature, The Kid, Vincent D’Onofrio takes on the legend of the Charles Manson of 1880s’ New Mexico, William H. Bonney (a.k.a., Billy the Kid). As criminal cult figures go, however, Bonney probably bore a closer resemblance to John Dillinger than the man reputed to have killed the 1960s. Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness) is at least the 50th actor to portray the murderous young fellow, who died of a gunshot wound, administered by Sheriff Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke), at 21. That much has remained consistent in Hollywood histories – I use the term advisedly – although he makes frequent extended cameos in such cross-genre fare as BloodRayne: Deliverance (2007), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid (1979), Gas-s-s-s (1970) and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966). In The Kid, DeHaan looks the part of a baby-faced killer, but was 32 when the film was released. (I wonder how many times Bonney has been played by someone his age.) The kid in the title may just as well refer to the boy, Rio (Jake Schur), who, after killing his abusive father, finds himself on the run from an uncle (Chris Pratt), who feels obligated to avenge his brother’s death. After Garrett captures Billy the Kid and saves him from being lynched, Rio and his sister, Sara (Leila George), hitch a ride with them to Santa Fe for the trial. In a very real sense, Rio finds two legitimate father figures in the older men. The Kid is a modern retelling of a classic Western legend, but it isn’t as revisionist as other oaters I’ve seen lately. All of the actors appear to be enjoying themselves and the frontier ambience is enhanced by cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd’s visions of the frontier state in the 1880s. (Lots of places in the Land of Enchantment haven’t changed all that much in the last 140 years.)

Gloria Bell: Blu-ray
A couple of weeks ago, in the general vicinity of the DVD Wrapup, Ray Pride reviewed Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria Bell and Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, ahead of their concurrent theatrical release in Chicago and almost simultaneous arrival in DVD/Blu-ray. As there are no good reasons to repeat raves in this space, I’ll simply reiterate my believe that I can’t think of more appropriate excuse for spending nearly five hours – plus, featurettes – in front of a television, in the company of two of the finest actresses in the world. It also would provide an excellent excuse for combining a monthly book-club meeting with a post-screening dissection of the protagonists, Juliette Binoche’s Isabella and Julianna Moore’s Gloria. Anyone with a bit more time on their hands might also want to check out the Chilean-born filmmaker’s 2013 comedy/romance/drama, Gloria, from which Gloria Bell was adapted, with the formidable Chilean actress Paulina Garcia in the lead. I suspect that you won’t see three better performances this year, even at awards time. Binoche is about four years older than Moore and Garcia, who were born within a week of each other, in 1960. In addition to being of the same age and divorced, with two adult children, both Glorias embrace their freedom by dancing in clubs, in which disco has never gone out of fashion. (Wisely, she’s surrounded by adults of a certain age and Lelio has resisted the temptation to re-paint Gloria Bell as a MILF or cougar. She’s sexually active and isn’t afraid to meet new men at the bar.) Oh, yeah, the Glorias also share a wiry hairless cat, possibly of the Ukrainian Levkoy or Peterbald persuasion. One problem all three women experience is a mutual inability to avoid men with baggage stuffed with issues. Gloria Bell is exactly the kind of mature, observant film that American studios have abandoned, except for awards consideration, leaving some great talent on the sidelines. Also prominent here are John Turturro, Rita Wilson, Sean Astin, Jean Tripplehorn, Holland Taylor, Brad Garrett, Barbara Sukowa, Alanna Ubach, Caren Pistorius and Lelio’s male muse Michael Cera. The Blu-ray adds commentary with the director and the featurette, “An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman: Making Gloria Bell.”

Woman at War
All You Ever Wished For
These days, you never know from which corner of the Earth a truly offbeat gem is going to emerge. Iceland usually is a reliable place to start looking, though. Directors of sci-fi and fantasy epics routinely take advantage of its otherworldly landscapes, volcanoes, lava fields, hot springs, mountains, fjords, glaciers and waterfalls. Native filmmakers tend to look inward and in the rugged faces of it citizenry for inspiration. Having to adjust from seemingly eternal darkness in winter, to summer’s frequently off-putting Midnight Sun, can drive Icelanders to drink … and usually does. And, those surnames … Guð minn! Like so many other Icelandic entertainments, Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War starts small and ends bigger than one would expect. Halldóra Geirharõsdóttir (Sense8) plays a 50-year-old eco-terrorist, Halla, who, when she isn’t sabotaging high-tension wires leading to an aluminum plant, is the town’s well-respected choir director. She fears that Chinese investors and government officials will agree on plans for building a new aluminum smelter and find other ways to exploit the land. She takes it upon herself to trek into the mountains, usually by herself – or accompanied by an imaginary band and folk dancers — and take out the power line, using a makeshift bow-and-arrow. As federal police zero in on her, the self-described Woman of the Mountain knows that the time for her to complete her mission is running short. Halla also knows that an arrest could curtail her plans to adopt a Ukrainian child and experience motherhood. Her conflicted sense of urgency leads to a pretty exciting climax. Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson’s expansive cinematography goes a long way toward explaining the importance of Halla’s quest. Jodie Foster is said to be interested in developing an English-language remake.

Emmy and Academy Award-winning writer Barry Morrow (“Bill,” Rain Man) tried his hand at directing in All You Ever Wished For, a fairytale romance set so high and deep in the Italian Alps that it might be the product of a spell cast by fairies. “Glee” alumnus Darren Criss plays Tyler Hutton, the almost impossibly handsome son of a Gordon Hutton (James Remar). The old man wants his kid to quit farting around and join the family business in a meaningful way. The curly-haired young man is sent to Milan, where he’s expected to finalize some deals. No sooner does he step out of the airport than he’s kidnapped by local Mafiosi, who immediately send a ransom note to Gordon, in New York. Tyler is whisked off to the Alpine village, where the locals await further instructions. Unbeknownst to most of the villagers and viewers, Tyler has fallen under a spell that makes him covet the first person he sees. Here, it’s the exotic Rosalia Drago (Mãdãlina Ghenea), who looks as if she had just been plucked from the centerfold of Romanian Playboy. As obsessed as Tyler is with her, Rosalia is equally resistant to his advances. Conveniently, the ransom money winds up in the hands of the village’s mayor, who declares it to be a miraculous windfall that calls for a celebration, which requires masks, costumes and dancing. It’s during this delightful interlude that the spell is lifted and the elder Hutton arrives with the mobsters, who want their ransom money back. Things get complicated for a while, but not long enough to spoil the happy ending. At this altitude, all sorts of magical things can happen. Like Woman at War, All You Ever Wished For is gorgeously shot, this time by Stefano Falivene (Still Life). The film may sound hopelessly schmaltzy, but, hey, it’s a fairytale.

Guy
Farinelli: Blu-ray
My knowledge of French pop and chanson singers from the 1960-80s is limited to Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg, Johnny Hallyday and Patricia Kaas. Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf arrived and departed before pop popped. That’s probably three or four more names than most Americans know. Chanson required more intimacy between the artist and audience and, by then, their American counterparts were building moats between themselves and their fans, if only for the sake of personal security. It explains why it took a while for me to figure out that Alex Lutz’ faux documentary, Guy, is just that: faux. Co-writer/director Lutz also stars as the title character, Guy Jamet, who, at 72, may or may not have another concert tour left in him. Faux-documentarian Gauthier (Tom Dingler), who’s just learned from his mother’s letters that he may be Guy’s love child, wants to probe the singer’s memories of her … if any. For years, the handsome, rail-thin singer affected a loosely combed white-as-snow coiffure, which makes him immediately identifiable to his faux fans, who adore him for reprising the songs to which they fell in love. Tony Bennett is the American singer who comes the closest to approximating Jamet’s appeal and willingness to play small clubs. Lutz’ ability to mimic his characters’ traits kept me guessing as to whether Guy was pulling my leg or was kidding on the square. Any film that can maintain my interest and curiosity in equal measures, while also being completely scripted – Vincent Blanchard and Romain Greffe’s songs, too – is worth a closer look by viewers outside France and Belgium. In case you’re wondering, Jamet is a dead ringer for Klaus Kinski and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), depending on their need for a haircut or dye job.) Dani (Day for Night), Élodie Bouchez (Wild Reeds) and Marina Hands (Tell No One) are the most recognizable of co-stars. For his effort, Lutz was awarded a Cesar Award as Best Actor, along with Blanchard and Greffe’s songs. Guy was a finalist for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound and Best Director.

When I was growing up, one of the more disturbing urban legends affecting boys assigned to choir duty in Catholic schools involved the probability that priests served as recruiters for the Vatican’s glee club. That’s because the heavenly chorus was in constant need of pre-pubescent sopranos, who could expect to be castrated on their arrival in Rome. Apparently, the pope’s musical director required a handful of boys each year, whose unnaturally high and powerful voices could survive puberty and last as long as they maintained their youthful appearance. Boys were chosen over girls because side-effects of the castration process gave them unrivalled vocal stamina and breath capacity. Moreover, because their vocal cords remained compact and flexible, their voices could replicate the sounds of amorous songbirds. No one bothered to tell us that the legend – which isn’t mythical, at all — was less than a century out of date. The Church didn’t officially ban the procedure until 1903. Indeed, the last Sistine castrato to survive was Alessandro Moreschi, who lived long enough to make solo recordings. Farinelli is the stage name of Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi, perhaps the most celebrated, well-travelled and highly rewarded castrato of the 18th Century. Although Gérard Corbiau’s 1994 drama, Farinelli, took many liberties with the history of the singer and his composer brother, Riccardo Broschi (Enrico Lo Verso), as well as their feud with composer George Frideric Handel, what truth there is in it is both fascinating and wonderfully decorous. Not at all graphic, the film’s most sensational scenes include demonstrations of the Broschis’ tag-team approach to copulation and pro-creation with their female fans. Even with the handicap of possessing only a single penis between them, the technique was pretty effective. Their partners were so overwhelmed by the presence of the superstar, Farenelli, they barely noticed when the brothers made the tag. Anyone who gets through the 111-minute costume drama and wants to learn more about castrati should make it a point to check out the featurettes, “Farinelli: Nostalgia for a Lost Voice,” “Farinelli: The Birth of a Voice,” and new essay by film critic Kenji Fujishima. Ewa Malas-Godlewska and Derek Lee Ragin are shown combining their talents to produce a single radiant sound, with the help of a synthesizer.

Screwball
As long as athletes from Eastern Bloc nations were the ones abusing steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, Americans could simply blame the commies for corrupting amateur athletics and ignore what was happening in their own back yards. By the time world-class cyclist Lance Armstrong acknowledged his own bending of the rules – almost 20 years after suspicions first were raised – dozens of professional and collegiate athletes had already been rounded up and put into the penalty box. Some of the best players in their sport have been suspended, fined and returned to the game. Still, the problem persists. In the surprisingly entertaining documentary, Screwball, director Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys) describes how Miami PED peddler Anthony Bosch built a lucrative business by supplying steroids – not all of them illegal – to body builders, fitness fanatics and athletes, mostly on the strength of word-of-mouth advertising. It wasn’t unusual to see photographs of the fake doctor in locker rooms and in the company of all-stars. A petty dispute with a hapless “juice” junkie would set off a chain of events that not only led to his own imprisonment, but also brought down such stars as Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro  and Ryan Braun … temporarily, at least. In the process, Bosch also revealed the hypocrisy of Major League Baseball executives, who exploited the triumphs of homerun hitters Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds to sell tickets and merchandise, but, then, kowtowed to Congress by cracking down on users. Incredibly, MLB then paid Bosch and his accuser hundreds of thousands of dollars to join its flawed investigation. As we learn here, the whole mess could have been avoided if he’d repaid a $4,800 loan from a muscle-bound doofus, Porter Fischer, who hung out at his tanning salon and was desperate to help spread the message. Now that the eye of the hurricane has passed, Corben gives Bosch and Fischer plenty of time to tell their stories to the unblinking eye of his camera. In a stroke of genius, he also employs the considerable talents of a dozen, or so, pre-teen actors to impersonate other players in the scandal. Although the kids stick to the script, their costumes, padding and hairstyles turn what could have been a dry recitation of nearly forgotten events, into a comedy of errors worthy of Carl Hiaasen and the late, great Elmore Leonard. The common denominator in Screwball isn’t necessarily greed, however. Simply put, the performance-driven pros wanted to gain the same statistical edge as other athletes, whose almost freakish achievements spoke for themselves. They did so during pennant races and before their contracts expired. Finally, though, Bosch was done in by his own expensive habits and a mad desire to bask in the spotlight of his clients’ glory. Fischer simply wanted to be respected by people he admired. A $4,800 reimbursement would have discouraged him from snooping around the office and supplying evidence to a reporter at a weekly newspaper. For his part, A-Rod enjoyed the protection of influential media pundits, who bought into his story, and local gangsters, who, for a price, would fulfill his requests. Meanwhile, MLB executives sought the same authority to chase down outlaws as the FBI and DEA. The real schmucks here, however, are the parents of Little League and high-school athletes who went to Bosch to score steroids and PEDs, so their kids could excel at the next level. Sounds a bit like Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and the other millionaire moms and dads who only wanted to give their kids an edge, by paying a fortune to get them enrolled in the most prestigious colleges.

Trapped Alive: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Andromeda Strain: Special Edition: Blu-ray
If the disappearance of drive-in theaters in the 1970-80s weren’t so devastating, the release of Leszek Burzynski’s reasonably entertaining Trapped Alive might not have been delayed for five years, with the distribution rights handed off to a completely different company. It didn’t help that it was the first movie to emerge from Wisconsin’s now-defunct Windsor Lake Studios, which would go on to produce a number of genre treasures (Mindwarp) under the Fangoria Films label. Otherwise, Trapped Alive wallowed in VHS hell as just another mutant-cannibal/slasher thriller that showed its seams at every turn and required T&A to keep its audience from dozing off every 15 minutes. Today, it’s considered to be a minor cult classic by genre buffs, whose opinions carry weight on niche websites. Cameron Mitchell (The Toolbox Murders) tops the marquee, even though most of the action involves a pair of teenage pals, Robin and Monica (one-time wonders, Sullivan Hester and Laura Kallison), who, one wintry night, are carjacked on their way to a Christmas party. Three desperadoes have just escaped from the local penitentiary and can’t decide whether to hold them for ransom – which never works – or simply force them to disrobe and submit to their demands. That happens after the jamoke driving the stolen car manages to cause it to plummet down a hill and into an abandoned mine shaft. Unbeknownst to the trapped humans, they’ve trespassed their way into the lair of a mutant cannibal, who has been living in the cavern for a couple of decades, waiting for such happy surprises to arrive. Soon enough, they’re joined by a sheriff’s deputy, who’s just finished schtupping the Cher wannabe who’s married to the mine’s dullard caretaker. Even by drive-in standards, Trapped Alive remains a smallish picture of interest primarily to genre geeks, teenage boys and topless-scene completists, and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t get a kick out of it. Arrow gives it a spanking new 2K restoration from the original camera negative; new commentaries with Burzynski, special-effects artist Hank Carlson, horror writer Josh Hadley and The Hysteria Continues; a fresh making-of documentary, featuring interviews with Burzynski, cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, production manager Alexandra Reed and actors Alex Kubik and Sullivan Hester; a vintage episode of “Upper Michigan Tonight”; a 1988 television documentary on Windsor Lake Studios, featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the DIY set of Trapped Alive; contemporary interviews with Burzynski, producer Christopher Webster and production designer Brian Savegar;  “Leszek Burzynski: The Early Years”; a reversible sleeve, featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn; and a collector’s booklet, with new writing by Zach Carlson. Some genuine classics haven’t received this much coverage when they launched in Blu-ray.

Before he created Westworld and Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton first blurred the line between science fiction and science fact with his breakout novel, The Andromeda Strain. Its success forced the 6-foot-9 Harvard Medical School student to begin using his real name – instead of clever pseudonyms – and move west to try his luck in the movie dodge. (God only knows what such a mind might have accomplished had he stayed in medicine.) Two years after the novel’s publication, Robert Wise was hired by Universal to direct the film adaptation. Wise brought in  screenwriter Nelson Gidding, with whom he collaborated on  The Haunting (1963). In 1972, Crichton joined the ranks of directors, by adapting his novel, “Pursuit,” for television. Then came Westworld (1973) and Coma (1978). The Andromeda Strain effectively linked the noir-tinged procedurals Panic in the Streets (1950) and The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), with And the Band Played On (1993), also about an imported plague, AIDS. In The Andromeda Strain, almost an entire New Mexican town is wiped out by an air-borne virus carried into Earth’s atmosphere by a spent satellite. Curiously, only a baby and elderly alcoholic seem immune to the crystalline menace. The remains of the satellite and both survivors are sent to Wildfire, a top-secret underground laboratory equipped with a nuclear self-destruct mechanism. Because of the remote location of the town, the lethal organism has yet to spread elsewhere. It’s only a matter of time, however, and the clock is ticking. In hindsight, the movie’s state-of-the-art computers and other high-tech implements look pretty primitive. The interaction between scientists and technicians – men and women – still holds up to scrutiny, however. The production benefitted from Douglas Trumbull’s post-2001 visual effects and an avant-garde electronic musical score by Gil Melle (The Sentinel). The Arrow Video package is highlighted by a new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative; commentary by critic Bryan Reesman; a worthwhile critical appreciation, “A New Strain of Science Fiction,” by Kim Newman; “The Andromeda Strain: Making the Film,” an archived featurette, with Wise and Gidding; “A Portrait of Michael Crichton,” also from 2001, featuring an interview with Crichton; “Cinescript Gallery,” with highlights from the annotated and illustrated shooting script by Gidding; a BD-ROM: PDF of the 192-page ”cinescript” with diagrams and production designs; a reversible sleeve featuring original newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley; and, first-pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring new writing on the film by Peter Tonguette and archival publicity materials

Woody Guthrie: All-Star Tribute Concert, 1970
Previously unreleased on video, except for excerpts shown recently on PBS, “Woody Guthrie: All-Star Tribute Concert 1970” provides a visual record of one several concerts and CD collections honoring the American saint, who died in 1967, at 55. It represents the second of two star-studded concerts produced by Harold Leventhal to benefit research into hereditary diseases, like the one that stilled the voice of the hugely influential singer/songwriter. (“It’s a folk singer’s job to comfort disturbed people and to disturb comfortable people.”) The first was staged at New York’s Carnegie Hall, three months after Guthrie lost his battle with Huntington’s chorea, which also claimed his mother. The 1970 tribute concert was held over two nights at the Hollywood Bowl. (It might have inspired George Harrison to organize “The Concert for Bangladesh,” a year later.) At 80 minutes, the DVD couldn’t possibly cover all of the highlights of the concerts and still allow room for readings by actors Will Geer and Peter Fonda. Considering that live-concert recordings of such events had yet to be perfected – at times, there were too few microphones and cameras to handle the number of musicians involved – the DVD looks and sounds remarkably good. The performers on “Woody Guthrie: All-Star Tribute Concert 1970” include Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Odetta, Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald and Richie Havens. It isn’t designed to take the place of more complete CD collections from Bear Family Records, Sony Legacy and Smithsonian Folkways. Listening to Woody singing his own material is a completely different experience than listening to other artists covering him. And, yes, his songs are every bit as relevant today as they were during the Dust Bowl, Great Depression and Red Scare. Extras include three never-before-seen songs performed by Baez, Odetta and Ramblin’ Jack, as well as concert rehearsal footage and audio interviews with Arlo and Ramblin’ Jack.

TV-to-DVD
Amazon: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Season One
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi: Blu-ray/4K UHD
Film Movement: Sara Stein: From Berlin to Tel Aviv: The Complete Series
Nickelodeon: Paw Patrol: Jungle Rescues
Fox/Saban: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
When John Krasinski finished his 188-episode run on “The Office,” portraying Jim Halpert, the gentle homewrecker and stabilizing force at dysfunctional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, it wasn’t easy to predict what he’d do for an encore. In addition to voicing characters in several animated features, he lent his support to Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit (2017), Cameron Crowe’s Aloha (2015) and Michael Bay’s 13 Hours (2016), since rebranded as “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (see below). He also turned his attention to directing the rom/dram/com, The Hollars (2016), and co-writing, directing and co-starring in the wildly successful supernatural thriller, A Quiet Place (2018). The Amazon Prime mini-series, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” proves that “13 Hours” wasn’t a fluke and Krasinski could handle playing a kick-ass soldier with the best of them. As the titular character, Krasinski joined Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine as protagonists drawn from the Clancy’s so-called “Ryanverse.” (Unlike the other theatrical installments, “Jack Ryan” wasn’t adapted from a Clancy book.) Just like every succeeding actor who played Ryan, Krasinski brought something different to the character. Here, he’s in the beginning stages of his career, serving the CIA as a financial analyst. I found it a tad ironic that this iteration of Ryan combines elements of Jim Halpert and Krasinski’s Jack Silva, from 13 Hours. When the former Marine stumbles upon a suspicious series of bank transfers, his search for answers catapults him from the safety of his desk job, into a global game of cat-and-mouse with an up-and-coming terrorist leader, Mousa bin Suleiman (Ali Suliman). If this Ryan ultimately is an Everyman in extremis, Suleiman is a fully realized character, with well-founded reasons for becoming a jihadist and a complicated family life. He’s also a monster. Because the story unfolds over eight hourlong chapters – it’s been renewed for two more seasons – the audience learns everything they need to know about the characters, their backgrounds and motivations. Spook jargon occasionally gets in the way of normal human discourse, but viewers get the picture soon enough. Also prominent here are Wendell Pierce, as Ryan’s tough-to-like boss, Jim Greer; Abbie Cornish, as Ryan’s easily deceived girlfriend; Dina Shihabi, as Suleiman’s courageous wife; and several extremely convincing child actors. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

Although the events depicted in 13 Hours have been manipulated beyond recognition by disingenuous Republican politicians and Hillary haters, the movie retains its power to impress. Hardly anyone makes action films with the same verve, intensity and signature touches as Bay, and Krasinski is credible as the leader of the commando force facing incalculable odds. As was the case with Black Hawk Down (2001), where our intelligence services underestimated the ferocity of Somali militia fighters, the CIA contractors in 13 Hours were at a disadvantage when Libyan militants attacked our ambassador’s compound in Benghazi and the nearby CIA annex on September 11, 2012. Four Americans died in the assault: Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith and two CIA operatives, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both former Navy SEALs. Apart from being the anniversary of the 9/11 catastrophe, intelligence officials at the CIA, Pentagon and State Department should have foreseen how a leaderless Libya might be ripe for an uprising coordinated by members of the Islamic militant group, Ansar al-Sharia. Requests for increased security at American diplomatic facilities went unanswered until the Benghazi attacks demonstrated the possible shortfalls. When everything went wrong for the American team, six men had the courage to take it upon themselves to unscramble the clusterfuck, for which there was plenty of blame to go around. This is their story. Paramount’s marketing strategy targeted the same audiences that supported Lone Survivor and American Sniper, with a special emphasis on Republican lawmakers, whose primary goal was to discredit President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. Thus politicized, the picture barely covered its $50-million production nut – not accounting from marketing costs — with another $16 million generated the foreign box office. The 4K UHD presentation upgrades Paramount’s already excellent 2016 two-disc Blu-ray. Here, the bundled Blu-ray includes the earlier supplements, “For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise,” “Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers,” “Preparing for Battle: Behind the Scenes of 13 Hours,” “Operation: 13 Hours Premiere” and “In Memoriam.” The Atmos track is every bit as invigorating as one would expect.

Recent DVD and Blu-ray releases from the BBC, MHz, Acorn and other off-brand streaming services attest to the notion that the world has caught up with American producers of crime-based mini-series and courtroom dramas. While U.S. networks continue to shove impossibly young and physically attractive cops and lawyers down viewers’ throats – with the occasional veteran actor to add a sense of gravitas to the proceedings – the foreign imports are far more diverse and less obsessed with youth, beauty and bosoms. While Film Movement’s four-chapter, “Sara Stein: From Berlin to Tel Aviv: The Complete Series” doesn’t attempt to break much new ground in the genre, it tweaks the clichés and tropes is unexpected ways. The first involves locations largely unfamiliar to American viewers. Sara Stein (Katherina Lorenz) is an Israeli criminal investigator, working as a police investigator in Berlin. It’s entirely likely that she moved to Germany to avoid family entanglements that involve at least one overbearing Jewish mother, intrusive friends and the macho camaraderie that erupts when she returns to Israel and joins a police unit comprised of military veterans from the same unit. Even after Sara proves herself worthy of their support, she’s trips the wire on a long-buried secret among the smug male detectives. The four telefilms require that she solve the murders of an Israeli deejay in Berlin; the police inspector in whose seat she now sits; an archeologist corrupted by fame and money; and a human rights activist whose severed hand and forearm wash up on a beach. Apart from the occasional subtitle, the films are easily relatable to audiences here.

Nickelodeon’s latest compilation, “Paw Patrol: Jungle Rescues,” is comprised of seven adventures that are set, you guessed it, in a jungle. It features a double-length episode, in which they’re also required to solve the mystery of the Monkey Queen. In other episodes, the patrol swings into action, when an enchanted coconut turns Mayor Humdinger into a baby; an elephant gets trapped on a jungle gym; and a gigantic ape wanders into Adventure Bay.

First released in 1995, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie has been passed around as if it were a movie in the public domain that suddenly got hot. The brand name, alone, has been monetized to the point where you’d think the law of diminishing returns would have kicked in years before the new Blu-ray release. Still, the franchise keeps bouncing around the world, in search of audiences that weren’t born when the last re-release was launched. In the U.S., it’s carried the fingerprints of several different units of Twentieth Century Fox (now Disney-21st Fox), Saban Entertainment and Toei Company. Twenty-four years after the show’s boom times, Shout! Factory has picked up distribution rights. It’s been presented theatrically, in VHS, on cable and broadcast television, on DVD and, finally, on Blu-ray. In it, a giant egg is unearthed at a construction site. When opened, it releases the terrible Ivan Ooze. who wreaks vengeance on Zordon — an inter-dimensional being and the ultimate fighter for good — for imprisoning him six millennia ago. He is the leader of most of the Power Ranger teams. As always, the live-action heroes skydive, skateboard and engage in hand-to-hand combat, after morphing into their color-coded Power Ranger alter egos. Here, they fight giant metallic monsters and a villain who smirks like Freddy Krueger and leaves gobs of purple goo in his wake. With Zordon dying and their powers lost, the Rangers head to a distant planet to find the mystic warrior, Dulcea. The Blu-ray includes, “The Mighty Leap to the Silver Screen,” a new 44-minute documentary that covers the script’s origins, casting, the Australian locations, Ivan Ooze’s makeup, stunts, the Rangers’ armored suits, reception at the movie’s premiere and interviews with director Bryan Spicer, stars Jason David Frank, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Karan Ashley, Paul Freeman, Jason Narvy and some of the stunt performers; and the original 4½-minute promotional featurette.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin